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Dear Writers, here are some questions that I am asked frequently:

1. In the outdoor writing field, and among other professional outdoor writers, what is the standard for doing work on spec versus on assignment by contract? Is it ever acceptable to do work on a wink and a nod...and at what point in time (if ever) does the professional insist on work only done via contract?

John's Answer: I assume all work assigned or not is on spec. If an editor doesn't like the way I've handled an article, he will usually ask me to rewrite the piece. I have never forced an editor to buy a piece he doesn't want. Now, having said that here is what I do to keep from getting in this bind. If an editor asks me to write an article, I ask him to send me a letter of confirmation and to spell out exactly what he wants me to do. Failing to get a letter of confirmation, I send him a letter of confirmation. I tell him what we talked about and how I understand the article should be written. I also state that If I don't hear from the editor. I will write the article as I have described.

2. After submitting an article on spec I heard nothing back from the editor. This was an editor at a major, national publication I'd worked for in the past. I e-mailed the editor about 5 months after submission with a friendly, courteous question: "Was the piece accepted for publication -- I haven't received a contract. Could you please take a moment to check on the status, etc...Thank you." That was two months ago. No reply has been forthcoming. How long should I wait? Is this a typical situation?

John's Answer: ALWAYS SEND AN INVOICE WITH YOUR ARTICLE !!!!!! I have had editors hold my article and not get back to me, just like you. When I finally hear from them, they'll say something like, "Oh, yeah, we want to pay you for this article, but we were just waiting on you to send an invoice." Most magazines won't pay you without an invoice. And they'll use that as a way not to pay you. Don't expect an editor to remember what he's told you. Keep good paper trails. Most editors will send you an assignment via E-Mail if you ask for it, which confirms that you have an assignment but is not a guarantee to buy. If I meet all the requirements of my query and include what an editor assigns, then I expect to receive a kill fee( 1/2 of the agreed-on price) if he doesn't use the article. I hope this helps!!

Too, some editors just won't write you back -- perhaps they mean to and don't, or they're handling 20 magazines each by themselves. So, send a second invoice requesting payment. Call the editor and say, " I really like writing for your magazine, and I would write for you for free if it were up to me. But the folks I owe insist I get paid so I can give them the money you give me. So I am not calling to get my money . I'm really calling to get their money. O yeah, another important person I know is named Vito. Vito asks if you will please pay me." I also use my bookkeeper as the bad guy and say she's trying to settle up books and receive all overdue monies. Even if your bookkeeper is your wife, the editors don't have to know that. I always make these kinds of calls fun and not too serious to give the editor some wiggle rum. Also, I may start a conversation with, " Boy, I'm glad to know you are still at this magazine. I thought since I hadn't heard from you that either you died or got fired." Make getting paid fun for you and him at first, but let him know you need your money.

3. I was surprised by your -- and other writers' -- suggestions to not quit my day job. This seems like good advice for the beginner who hasn't developed his or her systems and writing quality to a professional level of organization. But in my case, it seems, I'm reaching a "critical mass" -- a point at which I know the amount of work my marketing produces (although I'm at about the $150 or less to $250 or less/article level) yet I'm not sure I can maintain a level of quality in terms of meeting deadlines and producing quality work by increasing that output (to your suggested 35, then 50, then 100 queries/manuscripts in circulation) while still working at a full-time job.

John's Answer: Yes, you can write more, if you're committed!!! I was a fulltime taxidermist and writing and selling about 200 articles -- newspaper, magazine, etc. a year. I got up at 4.00 am, wrote until 8.00 every day at least 6 days a week and still mounted over 200 deer heads a year. Most full time writers I know have at least three jobs to keep having a cash flow. They write book, lecture, consultant, guide etc. Most full time writers that I run with write from 150 to 350 articles a year. You also asked about the quality of your work? The market dictates the quality. If the article is good, it sells if it's bad, it doesn't sell. If the writers who write and sell 150 to 350 articles a year were producing poor-quality articles, they would not be selling as many as they do.

Her is another big misconception in our craft. "To write good, you have to write slow and go over and over and over your work." The reason this is the gospel that is preached is because the folks who are preaching that gospel have never learned to think logically and clearly quickly, neither have they learned to choose words correctly the first time they put them on paper.
Consider these great writers:
Louie L'Amor --- wrote 4 best selling paperback novels--- each year for over 20 years !!
Barbara Cartland -- wrote 5 romance novels each year for over 20 years.
James A. Michener -- wrote books that looked dictionaries every 2 years.
They learned to think quickly , clearly and choose words correctly the first time. Most magazine writers I know have an outline for an article -- at least in their heads if not on paper -- before writing. Look at city desk newspaper writers; many of them write 3 to 4 stories a day. Now, all of this is not to say that you don't need to carefully check, recheck your article (mine go through 2 - 3 edits before I send them to editors) and recheck your info -- -phone numbers, contact information, etc. I often work just as hard on an article for a low-paying magazine as I do a high-paying magazine, because I've learned that I have to keep numbers of markets working to insure I receive money each week. You may want to set a dollar amount on what you expect to get out each week and always try to meet that amount -- even if that means you don't go to bed, writing when you're sick, etc.


Writing is a craft, like bricklaying is a craft. These 2 crafts are almost identical in how you become a master of either.
A beginning writer or bricklayer starts off slow and makes a lot of mistakes. As they learn their respective crafts, they get faster and make fewer mistakes. A beginning bricklayer may only lay 40 to 50 bricks a day. A master bricklayer will lay 400 to 500 bricks a day.
To become a master bricklayer, you have to learn to lay bricks better and faster. To be a master writer( money-making writer), you have to learn to write better, faster. The bricklayer who lays the most bricks the fastest makes the most money. The writer who learns to write the most quality articles the fastest makes the most money. Continue to write slowly, and you will continue to make about what you are making now. Decide to learn to write good quick, and you will make a lot more.

Your goal should be to sell twice as many articles this year as you did last year and then build on that. Yes, you can !!! It's easy. If you sell one article a month the first year, your next goal is to sell one a week . Meet that goal, and set another one. Keep moving your goals to the impossible. If you do, you will do the impossible. I know because I have, and you can too. Quit thinking about why you can't, and spend that same creative energy thinking about why you can. Not one of the really big outdoor writers of today have done any thing you can't do.

4. When an editor scribbles their "go ahead" on my query, but no details as to money, should I send a letter of confirmation and set my own price for the article? Then if I hear nothing back on the letter of confirmation, do the work and send the invoice after completion for that rate set by me (or based on the published rates of articles by the publisher)?

John's Answer:
1. Send an invoice for the same amount you got last time.
2. Next time, when you get a go-ahead, send a letter that says, "Thanks for the assignment. I understand that you want 2000 words by 6/6/03 and I will get paid $____."
3. When you don't hear back from an editor, call him.
4. Get to know your editors. Solve problems for those editors.Let them know they can count on you and you will get more work and have fewer problems.

5. What if the editor won't accept working with the writer unless the writer does the work, sends it in and relies totally on the editor to make payment, to determine price, to publish the piece at all?

John's Answer: This one is a tricky. I used to write for these kind of magazines also and usually got gypped. You have more than likely sold more articles than the editor. If she had sold anything she would not treat you this way. On this one you just have to ride it out. However, next time, find out ....
* what she usually pays for the number of words she wants. If she want tell you, then you can't write for her because you don't know whether or not writing for her is worth your time.
* what she want in the story. Explain that you want to write for her, but you don't want to write something she is going to reject, because that wastes your time and hers.

6. I send out an e-query to a statewide outdoors newspaper. The editor e-mails back, "Go ahead. Would want by 3-03-03 for issue #5." I do the work, send it in. It gets published. About one month later, my check comes. No contract, no letter of confirmation. This is news writing and the turn around time is fast. I''ve always gotten paid right on time, no problems. Is an invoice necessary here?

John's Answer: No, an invoice is not necessary. I do this kind of writing also. In this case, you have to build a relationship with the editor. There must be mutual trust because that's as good as it gets. Try building that kind of relationship with all your editors.

Should a writer have his/her own webpage?

Submitted from Laurie Lee Dovey, freelance writer & photographer, President
Outdoor Writers Association of America

Question: Do you have a Web site and is it a valuable part of your business?

Answer: Yes, I have a Web site that covers all of the services that I
offer as well as my writing, photography, speaking and teaching
credentials. The site is extremely valuable. It:

1. shows prospective clients that I'm up to date with technology, which is important to everyone that I work with;

2. gives me a place to keep my full bio that's easy for people to access if they need to know more about me, www.webimages.net/ceo.htm;

3. produces business. I get requests for work even though I don't market the site to get new clients. I use the site for potential clients that I've already contacted. I tell them to visit the site to see what I offer or check out my credentials. If I did focus on getting the site address out there a little, it would bring numerous. It's a step I must take soon;

4. cuts down on work time, substantially. I use the FTP portion of my site for receiving images from manufacturers and uploading images for magazines so they can download them. This saves time, money on postage and is proving a valuable service to the publications I work with;

5. allows editors to quickly view images. I use parts of my site to present images using PhotoShop's Web Gallery program. Editors can view images online and then simply tell me which pics they want me to send. This save the both the editor and I time and save me money. You can see an example at http://webimages.net/mission/ These are golf images I shot for Golf Illustrated for a fitness/driving distance article -- illustrative and not very exciting images -- but the sales I derived sure helped to pay the bills;

6. allows me to have visibility, internationally, that I could never get for the small price I pay the Web hosting company. I pay about $25 a month, but my site is very big. Most people can get by for $10 - $15 a month.