Note: Daniel Schmidt of Iola, Wisconsin, is the editor of "Deer
& Deer Hunting" magazine and has been in the writing business
QUESTION: Dan, how'd you start out in the writing
ANSWER: I worked for a newspaper and began freelancing a column
and doing some other freelance work. I did that for about four years,
after I got out of college. Then I got a job working in magazines.
QUESTION: What'd you learn in those four years
ANSWER: That's a hard question. Freelancing is definitely a hustle.
There's something you told me once that's stayed with me. "Freelancing
is unpredictable, and you have to keep your nose to the grindstone. If
you want to make money doing this, you can't get discouraged, and you
must learn from every assignment and rejection."
QUESTION: How much did you make from freelancing
during each of those four years you were freelancing?
ANSWER: Not much. I probably made less than $1,000 a year.
QUESTION: Why did you stay with it?
ANSWER: Since I was a kid, I knew I wanted to work for magazines,
be it freelancing or as an editor. When I got to college, I knew being
an editor was the best route, in terms of a steady job and a steady income.
However, I also realized that to break into it I had to do freelancing.
QUESTION: How did you start working at "Deer
and Deer Hunting?"
ANSWER: In 1981, when I was in 8th grade, I wrote a paper about
how I wanted to be editor for "Deer and Deer Hunting" when I
QUESTION: Why did you want to be editor for that
ANSWER: I can't tell you, really. I just love deer hunting so much.
It's something that's been in me since a little kid. I always thought
"Deer and Deer Hunting" was the top magazine for deer hunters.
Being an editor there was something I aspired to do. There's a funny story
about that. Just to get my foot in the door at Krause Publications (the
company that owns "Deer and Deer Hunting"), I took a job at
"Blade" magazine, another Krause publication. I had that job
for five months. I knew that eventually something would come up and that
would be my shot.
QUESTION: How did you go from "Blade"
to "Deer and Deer Hunting"?
ANSWER: Internal promotion. The whole history is that I applied
for the associate editor job at "Deer and Deer Hunting" in 1993,
and I was turned down. I applied again in 1994 and was turned down again.
I said, "I'm gonna do this. I'll keep going." In 1995, when
I was with "Blade," the job came up again. I put my best foot
forward and beat out everyone else who applied. I became associate editor
- essentially the guy who does everything and gets no credit.
QUESTION: How did you become editor?
ANSWER: When that position came open, I went into the interview
and pretended I didn't know my boss (he'd been my boss for eight years).
I said, "This is what I've done, and this is what I want to do."
Good advice for somebody in that position is, don't assume you'll get
something just because you're in the company. Approach everything like
you're somebody off the street.
QUESTION: How many queries do you get a month?
ANSWER: It averages. From blind submissions, I get 15 to 20 queries
a month. From established freelancers, I get 20 to 30 queries a month.
I get about 50, total, a month.
QUESTION: What kind of query peaks your interest?
ANSWER: The biggest mistake people make is not researching the
market. They don't know what separates the magazines. At "Deer and
Deer Hunting," we're looking for something other than something that's
already been done. We're looking for something more analytical. Our niche
is scientific-based hunting. That's part of it. The other thing we look
for in queries is an idea that's out of the ordinary -- something the
average guy can relate to in a unique way.
QUESTION: What's the biggest mistake people make
when they send you a query?
ANSWER: The biggest mistake is not reading the magazine. They send
me something we've already done, and then they get upset when they get
a rejection letter. Study the magazine. Who writes for the magazine? Break
it down like this. Are articles being produced in-house? If articles are
produced in-house, we save money, so it's an article we won't buy from
anybody else. Study what we buy.
QUESTION: How do you like your queries?
ANSWER: We used to always insist on paper, but it's easier to respond
by E-mail. I prefer to accept queries via E-mail.
QUESTION: What causes you to get excited by a
ANSWER: When somebody says, "I did this just for 'Deer and
Deer Hunting,'" I get excited. I can tell if they're genuine. Or,
it's good if they reference an article from the past and provide a twist.
That impresses me. Then I know they've been reading the magazine. That's
what people need to do. When I worked for the newspaper and freelanced,
I tried to know what the magazines were looking for. I would write and
say, "Remember when you did this story? Well, I have a story that's
not the same, but it's along the same lines."
QUESTION: Out of the 50 or so queries you get
per month, how many will you buy?
ANSWER: That's seasonal. Usually I may buy two or three a month.
Other times, I may be backed-up and not buy any for six months.
QUESTION: When you reject an article, does that
mean it's a bad idea?
ANSWER: Definitely not. There are a lot of good ideas I reject
simply because we don't have space or because the rules that I'm bound
by don't allow me to buy so far in advance. So, I have to time it a little
bit better. An idea may look good to me. So, I may try to contact that
freelancer six months, or even a year later. They already may sold it
by then. But that's usually the way I go about it.
Question: What advice would you give free lancers
just starting out?
Answer: I always pound this repetitively -- really study the magazines
you want to work for. Study them, and know what they sbuy. When you are
first starting off, shoot small. Try to get maybe news brief or something.
With an editor and a freelancer, especially a new freelancer, the editor
gets comfortable with the guys he works with and with the guys who will
produce solid work. You have to produce on time. You have to hit your
deadlines. If you don't hit your deadlines, I can guarantee you are probably
not going to get another assignment. If you are not satisfied with the
way it turned out or what you got paid for it, you always have to keep
in the back of your mind that small things eventually lead to big things.
Just try to get your foot in the door at first. Then prove that you can
do the job, and be happy with what you can get as far as assignments starting
off. Build that relationship. When somebody trusts that you can deliver
a clean article on time, eventually it will fall into place, and you will
sell some articles.