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Writing...Entry 2 - Day 3

click to enlargeThe Pivot Point Of My Career

John Phillips is a freelance writer from Birmingham, Alabama, who writes for several outdoor magazines, including "Alabama Whitetail and Bass," "Southern Sporting Journal," "Louisiana Sportsman," and "Saltwater Sportsman."

QUESTION: When was the pivot point in your career?

ANSWER: It came during the second year that I was trying to become a writer. I met a man named J. Wayne Fears, who today edits Rural Sportsman Magazine, one of the magazines published by Southern Living and Progressive Farmer. Wayne produced about 100 magazine articles a year, more articles than I believed anyone possibly could write within a year. When I told Wayne I wanted to become a writer Wayne said, "O.K, if you'll do what I tell you to do, you will become what I am." So, for five or six years, I followed Wayne around and did everything he asked me to do about interviewing, writing and photographing. I found that by following his directions, I shortcut the learning process of becoming a writer by about three to five years. I published my first national feature a year after I met Wayne Fears. So, I looked at my finding a mentor as one of the most critical keys to my success and pivotal points in my writing career.

QUESTION: How many stories did you produce after that pivotal point?

ANSWER: After I got 49-rejection slips, I sold about one out of every 10 story ideas I submitted. Then I sold about one out of every five articles, then one out of every three articles, etc. Today, that's about my average sale.

QUESTION: How many stories did you start sending out per month?

ANSWER: When I started, I would send four or five story ideas out per month. I felt that if I could sell one magazine article a week, I would be as high as I could climb in the writing profession. One article a week would total to 52 articles a year, which would be fantastic. However, I've learned since then that there are no limits, and that you can sell as many articles as you can physically write in a year. In the beginning if you get offers for one out of every 15 ideas, that's a really good average.

QUESTION: How did you accomplish your goals and get all of your stories written?

ANSWER: Writing the stories wasn't a problem. I had the biggest problem coming up with the story ideas. But I know several ways to come up with story ideas now. Go to the newsstands and look for the stories that the magazines are buying. Generally magazines will buy the same articles year after year. So once you learn what they'll buy, start looking for ideas on those same type of articles, and send queries on those kinds of articles. Consider that everybody you meet is the world's greatest something. All you have to do to come up with a story ideaand make money is to come up with the world's greatest WHAT. Focus on anything you've ever wanted to be or learn, and realize many other people also want to learn or be that also. If you learn what you don't know, or if you become what you've always wanted to be, and you write about how you've learned information, then you have a story idea. Use the daily newspaper. You can find at least five good magazine ideas in every morning or afternoon newspaper. If you're not creative at all you still can discover 10-story ideas per day out of the newspaper.

QUESTION: Would that be considered taking ideas from other stories?

ANSWER: Sure it would, but for example, I read in the newspaper about an alligator farmer in Alabama. I thought to myself that I didn't know anything about alligator farming. I read the story and interviewed the man and got enough information to send a query to a national publication. The publication wanted me to write the story. I went to the farmer's house, did the photography, interviewed him in greater detail and sold the story. I didn't steal the story from the newspaper reporter, I just found the idea and turned it into a magazine article.

Check back each day this week for more from John Phillips...