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Monday, August 18, 2014


When I first started writing, I began as an article and story writer. I was fortunate enough to sell the very first article I submitted to what was then FARM WIFE NEWS, but later became COUNTRY WOMAN MAGAZINE.  

It was a reflective piece on life as a farmer/rancher's wife. Called "Making Hay While the Sun Shines," it was more than a thrill to see it published. One thing I did well with that first submission is that I studied the market....and from that experience I learned that to build your career you have to look for opportunities, and from those opportunities (even if small), you can build your credits and marketability.

Expanding your network and author recognition requires even more work these days as authors look to the variety of media, including social networks and internet exposure. We, at Prairie Rose Publishing, are SO fortunate to have a number of savvy individuals working on our behalf! I know that Cheryl and Livia and Kathleen, in addition to the authors themselves, have made a HUGE "dent" in the marketing world, and we all benefit. Thank you, Ladies! I'm so thrilled to be a part of Prairie Rose.

To add to what PRP has done for us, I thought I'd prepare a list of three strategies that have helped me break into a variety of different marketplaces. Simple but effective, I know many of PRP's authors have probably done one or all of these things, but for writers looking to expand their exposure and network, I offer these as successful tips. Out of these strategies have grown connections to people and opportunities I could not have cultivated otherwise...

1. STUDY THE MARKET: As noted in the first paragraph, I learned early one that TARGETING your writing to your AUDIENCE is critical. Study the publications, if you're submitting to magazines or ezines or anthologies. I successfully marketed a number of children's story devotions to a Christian publication, Keys for Kids. Those stories were then 'resold' three times --- to family and children's devotional anthologies published by Tyndale. Though I didn't make a lot of money on any of them, I have the credits and those early credits did open doors to more marketing later. I have since written for several national/regional/educational/and Christian publications.  

Bottom line: I studied the publications and even highlighted other authors' stories to isolate the relevant patterns *if there were any* for submissions. I also took notes on every magazine's author guidelines. NEVER ignore those -- although a number of authors seem to. I also looked for content that had not yet been covered by other submissions; in the case of the Keys for Kids' devotionals, themes and/or scripture topics that seemed to have been overlooked. I looked for the niche or open place where my stories might just jump up and be different. It seemed to have worked :-)

2. LOOK FOR ALTERNATIVE MARKETS: In looking for new publications to query, I went way beyond what I normally would have picked up in the newsstands myself. That is, in looking at, for example, magazines on family life or kids, I went to the Writers' Market Guide that offers listings for family, children, teens, Christian (or Inspirational) and TRADE magazines, like TOY magazines and even REGIONAL magazines. Instead of just browsing, I literally walked, page by page, through the various categories, looking for tips that the individual agents/publishers/or publications were searching for.

RE: the Writer's Market Guide, I may not purchase a new copy every year, but I do pick one up at least every other has articles and tips, and listings for everything including agents, book editors, trade magazines, etc.

If you've never studied or picked up a copy of the latest Writer's Market guide, check it out (I find it an invaluable tool and an essential for every writer and author!).

 Bottom line: Do not overlook random and unique places to sell your stories or articles.

ANOTHER market I cultivated included creating and writing a COLUMN for families in our local newspaper. It was a column I designed and then "pitched" to our local editor/publisher. As a teacher and parent and writer, I put together brief articles on ideas from school/discipline/activities/historic and educational opportunities and locations, etc....I put together a list of 52 ideas and then sold that to the editor. It was a hit with readers and it lasted for a couple years.  

Bottom line: I used what I knew I could offer and put together the pitch to sell it. Again, I looked for a niche and specialized marketplace where I could "sell myself." Of course, nowadays, with the number of blog ideas, a writer can develop her own niche online....and I've done some of that, too.

A THIRD unique market I cultivated, and continue to write for, is our local NPR radio station, JEFFERSON PUBLIC RADIO's "As it Was" historical series.  I have mentioned this before, but this credit has benefited me in many ways. It's a daily broadcast (heard twice a day) and it is heard over hundreds of miles. It's a popular series and each month contributing authors write essays (I routinely write 3, sometimes 4 essays) on unique, little-known historical tidbits from the region, known here as the State of Jefferson. Because I have co-authored FOUR books on the "mythical, magical" State of Jefferson (three with Arcadia, one with Old American Publishing), this series has put my writing and my name in front of many people. I also write monthly for JEFFERSON BACKROADS, a regional publication that is free to travelers and locals and is found all over the area. 

In exchange for my monthly historical column, eg: one on Gold Mining, I get free advertising and promotion for my books.

It's an easy and great way to build up my credits and credibility as well as increase sales and name recognition. I have also blogged about the State of Jefferson and those blogs have been connected to other blogs; however, this is one area where I have not been as consistent or persistent -- obviously an opportunity I still need to work on!

One recent result of all of this interconnectedness is that I've been interviewed for an PBS special coming up this Fall on the State of Jefferson, and I was called and interviewed on History Channel's "How the States Got their Shapes" in 2011. Both producers told me that they listened to my essays, as well as researched my books. And I was also contacted recently by a production company on doing an interview on Black Bart.

My credibility rating obviously jumped as a result of those links!

Moreover, these links have led to other engagements: I have now appeared at a regional conference as a guest speaker on the State of Jefferson and the history of the area and I've appeared at a local conference on Joaquin Miller, sponsored by a nearby museum as well (see program).
Those engagements got me a nice write up and inclusion in a number of publications/blogs/reviews. In addition, I have been asked to speak at a least a dozen community and/or group meetings on the various subjects kindled by both my JPR writings and my State of Jefferson books.

Bottom line: Don't underestimate the power of connecting "forces" or interlocking and related opportunities. Many of the engagements that have flowed from these connections were not ones I pitched or pursued, but they grew out of the combination of writing and writing-related "jobs" I've taken on. Again, some (most) have not been paying "gigs" but they have LED to paying gigs!

3. DON'T OVERLOOK OPPORTUNITIES BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT "PAYING" GIGS: As stated above, two of my writing "jobs" are not paying jobs, but they have led to so many other paying jobs and offer incredible name recognition and promotional opportunities -- as well as to speaking and television opportunities -- that I do not view these as "Gimme" writing jobs. I see them as workable and awesome trades. I get what I'd otherwise have to pay for and I get it in a far bigger way than I might have been able to afford -- at least on the regional scene. For me, however, this regional scene spans portions of two states and about 20 counties in those states.....and the stretch actually goes beyond that.

Bottom line: Don't be so arrogant as to assume that everything you write must garner cash... sometimes garnering credits or promotion is worth far more than a paycheck.

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  1. Great ideas, Gail. You never know when one thing you write will lead to another. I was featured in Country Woman magazine in May 1990, about my dried flower business. I'll agree, it's quite a thrill your see work in a magazine.

    1. Hi Linda! Thanks for stopping by.....I still enjoy Country Woman although I haven't kept up a subscription. Too many choices to make these days :-) But I think even for novelists, article writing can be a great avenue for advancing credits. It also teaches you about writing concisely and about audience. Some of my earliest writing is what gave me some income (in addition to my teaching) to invest in my writing!

  2. Gail, what an excellent post! I hope everyone reads this today.

    My first "sold article" was to a local newspaper--I sold 4 of them--feature articles. After that, I sold a short story to Adams Media for an anthology they were putting together, and then several more subsequent short stories to them and then to Chicken Soup.

    It's funny, but no matter what else I write, people always say, "OH, you wrote some stories for Chicken Soup?????" It's something they recognize, and something that appeals to a lot of people.

    Thanks for sharing these tips with us, and giving us some insight into your road to success. Everyone gets there a little bit differently, so it's always interesting to see how each person arrives.

    Again, wonderful post today! And congratulations on all your many writing venues!


  3. Gail,
    What a wonderful post and your experiences give hope to other new and established writers. I think sharing our knowledge and experiences is the greatest gift we can give our fellow writers. I actually started speaking about my area of expertise ( history and women's history) before I ever started writing about it. My problem, there is so much I want to know and share I can get sidetracked pretty easily.
    Thank you again for this very helpful post. You are right, although paying gigs help to pay the bills, the 'freebies' end up paying you more sometimes. Doris

    1. Oh -- yes -- I easily get side-tracked and have struggled with that for a long time! So many things interest me and attract me that I'm always moving from one thing to another....on the other hand, most of them are linked in many ways! I love history, too -- as a former teacher the history, and making it appealing, is of great concern. I like the idea of speaking engagements but it does not come naturally (in spite of my years in the classroom!!)....Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Thanks, Cheryl! I think you're right -- our roads to publication vary and are so intriguing. I knew I always wanted to write fiction, but articles, stories, and then nonfiction were what gave me the opportunities and CONFIDENCE to build and grow. I submitted to Chicken Soup years ago and they accepted my story and then that "volume" never made it into publication! I always wondered why.... haven't tried since but loved that series....

  5. Gail,
    Wonderful post. Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I think one of the hardest things to let go of is the idea that being paid for writing somehow justifies your existence as a writer. I'm trying to do more 'free' writing--to gain experience and to make contacts. I'm not sure where it will lead, but it always benefits my own education as a writer.
    Take care!

    1. Thanks for stopping by! Yes, I think the freebies often bring about a lot of opportunities. As my grandma used to say, "What goes around comes around!" And just the act of sharing what you have with others is a lesson in itself! Good luck!

  6. Gail, I think too many writers overlook contributing to magazines, newspapers, and other media outlets as a potential promotional avenue. Personally, I think getting a byline "out there" can't hurt, and it may be very helpful -- especially if you can tie non-fiction articles/personal appearances/live interviews/etc. to your fiction. Building a portfolio of pieces published in a local, regional, or specialty market is a great way to start, and as you've demonstrated, somethings those credits can lead to big, national gigs. Thanks for sharing all your insight! :-)

    1. I agree -- building a portfolio as a writer is like that for any artist! You need to show that you can perform in a variety of ways and forms.... I have gained so much through all these opportunities. I'm grateful for what comes my way. Thanks!

  7. Very interesting and informative, Gail. Thank you!

    1. You're welcome! i enjoy this venue of our sharing with others.... I have learned so much from other writers....I guess it's the "pay it forward" kind of thing...and in the end, something good often comes along!

  8. Early on I learned one important detail about using the Writer's Market; be sure you're using a current issue. I once sent a submission to an editor and waited a year for a response. When it finally came, it turned out the editor had died 5 years before.
    These are all excellent marketing ideas, Gail. A very informative post.

    1. You're right!!! Current issue is important! One thing you can do is call and just ask who is the editor you're seeking....but otherwise, you could get into trouble.