Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Conference Dollars and One-Sheet Fillers: The Secrets to Writing Great Articles for Pay

Let's not lie. Writing can be expensive.

Well, maybe not the act of putting pen to paper. Bic ten packs of pens are only 99c and wide-ruled lined paper is on sale for 33c here with back to school.

Its the other things that add up. Yearly conferences. Business cards. Photo sessions. Using up ink cartridges to print up full-color one sheets. Computer maintenance.

All plenty of good reasons to allow some of your time on your hobby to also be lining your paycheck.

Today I would like to give you a few basic tips for breaking into the article market or growing your platform in the market. Not only is article writing an excellent way to build up your one-sheet and make a little cash in the process, its a great way to build platform for future readers. The style of writing will help you learn to write tight, a valuable skill in fiction.

1) Write your passion.

If you want to make a successful query on an article, pick a topic you love and are qualified to write about. For instance, I started off writing reviews for Christian websites because I love to read. It was not a paid market, unless you count free books by the scads (but as we all know, little is REALLY free in life), but it opened up more doors.

Before children (or BC as I like to think of it), I was an assistant librarian. As a result, I have some knowledge of the library market. The combination of my past reviews and my time spent in libraries opened up an opportunity to write some articles for Library Journal. This was a natural fit.

What are you super-knowledgeable about? Think about your past or current career, your college degree, extra coursework you have taken or even hobbies you have pursued on your own time...

The second market I have pursued is homeschooling. My master's degree was in elementary education, although I didn't teach in the public school system. For the past four years, I have been very active in our local homeschooling group. I've served in several leadership roles, helped lead a prayer group for homeschool moms, and taught numerous classes at our co-op.

I'm invested in homeschooling because it is the method I use to teach my own children. So I want to learn as much as I can (research). Homeschooling and education is a logical market choice for me.

Not everything you are interested in is the best choice for an article. I've fallen in love with the idea of food blogging. I come from a background of cooking: my father went to Le Cordon Bleu as a hobbyist and my brother graduated from ICE in NYC and works in the food industry. I love to cook, but right now I don't have time to create my own recipes. With homeschooling I'm in a season of life where getting food on the table involves thirty-minute meals. There are so many food bloggers who can devote their time full-time to creating beautiful photography and fresh recipe ideas.

Narrow your markets down to the best choices for you and your season of life. Identify possible markets for later, but choose your best one or two for now.

2) Less is more.

A good skill to develop in article and blog writing is tightening your word count. Any journalist can tell you this is worth its weight in gold.

To write a good article, you're going to have to force yourself to throw out words and lots of them. This is an important skill to carry with you for your fiction. Don't be afraid to toss it out!

Fitting the article length limit is super-important because of magazine and newspaper layout. On a blog it may be more flexible.

3) Know what style is needed.

A blog post has an informal, fun style yet still passes on valuable information to the reader. Newspaper articles start with the most specific information and continue with more general information. An academic journal will use the most technical language and it is necessary to know trade jargon. Magazines can vary from trade publications to general interest. Publisher's Weekly and Scientific American are much different than Good Housekeeping or Dog Fancy.

4) Use trade-appropriate jargon.

Information Technology journals might contain words like tuple, warehousing, indexing, and schema. On the other hand, if you are writing for a manufacturing journal, warehousing takes on an entirely different context. And for librarians, indexing has a new meaning.

Know the vocabulary of your trade or hobby to write the best possible articles. It is a MUST.

5) Get more bang from your buck by writing multiple articles.

Don't be wasteful. Throw away your words but not your research.

For instance: you decide to find out more about house plants for an article on gardening for Organic Gardening magazine. As you continue your research you discover many of these plants are not pet safe which leads you to write an article for Cat Fancy about plant safety and cats. This then leads you to think about which plants are poisonous since you have a toddler who likes to put everything in her mouth. You pitch an idea about plant safety and children to Parents magazine. Voila! One set of research, three articles.

6) Don't forget novel research can be put into articles.

A vast amount of research goes into most novels. Why not put that into good use before publication? If you are writing about a historical period, think about writing articles about that period. A credit in a a magazine can build into your marketing and is a great way to show your expertise in an area.

 Julia enjoys writing women's fiction whenever she can find a chair free of smushed peanut butter sandwiches and lego blocks. She is a wife and homeschooling mama of two littles. She also enjoys writing for Library Journal and Wonderfully Woven.


Jeanne Takenaka said...

What a practical post, Julia! I've not yet figured out what I'm an expert enough to write an article on. :) I love that you've got venues to write in. You've given me food for thought today.


Jeanne Takenaka said...

What a practical post, Julia! I've not yet figured out what I'm an expert enough to write an article on. :) I love that you've got venues to write in. You've given me food for thought today.


Jeanne Takenaka said...

Sorry I double posted! Oops (color me blushing!)

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Great stuff, Jules!

Julia M. Reffner said...


I'm sure you have several. Think about past jobs, hobbies you have invested serious time into, maybe even parenting teens??...



Sherida Stewart said...

Julia, thanks for this post. I was destined to read this today. My husband retired recently, so we're doing more traveling. I have a travel website (which sits idle most of the time), but this is a reminder to write more for that blog and develop articles for submission. Yes, I could save money for conferences...and that would be a very good thing!

Pepper Basham said...

Wow Julia,
This has such great info!! I love how you broke down the different writing styles in a quick reference kind of way.

And novel research into articles?!? I might need to seriously consider that!!

Julia M. Reffner said...


You can do it! Be sure to report back and let us know where your articles come out!


Believe it or not, you actually came to mind as I wrote this. With the amount of research you enjoy doing, you could come out with loads of great articles!