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|| Building a Professional Writing
by Lee Masterson
Regardless of what type of writing you do, most editors these days will give more consideration to the work of those writers who can display at least some form of verifiable publishing history.
Usually a publishing history will be vaguely summarized in a query letter, not giving the editor much information about the specifics of each sale or submission you may have made, but the fact remains that even small writing credits can do much to sway an editor's choice of which writer's work to represent.
This preference for seeing a verifiable writing history serves several purposes:
1) - Shows the editor that the author has worked with submission deadlines successfully.
2) - Proves that the author is serious about submitting to his specific publication.
3) - Lets the editor see what other professional markets have taken a chance with your work.
4) - Allows the editor to familiarize himself with the author's prior style.
5) - (in the case of short fiction stories) Gives the editor an idea of current popularity with other publications and readership.
There are other considerations that come into play as well, but these are the main factors we'll deal with for now. Please bear in mind that any form of self-publication does not actually constitute a professional writing credit to an editor.
I stressed this last phrase, because I am aware that most editors consider self-publishing sites as a form of vanity press and do not officially count publication in these forums toward a professional writing credit, despite the fact that there are lots of professionally researched and presented stories and articles available.
So how does a beginning writer gain those all-important writing credits? It's actually a lot easier than you think.
Beginning with the premise that "All editors need writers", remember that every newsletter, newspaper, magazine, periodical, publishing house, web site, radio station, television station and movie studio would be absolutely nowhere if some writer did not put pen to paper and WRITE! Without those writers, editors would be out of a job, and the newsagent's stands would be empty.
Now that nobody is so intimidated by the big, bad editors, let's take a look at how to fill that professional portfolio with published work.
This is often the hardest obstacle for new writers to overcome. Finding the confidence to send your work to a complete stranger can often delay, or even halt, a fledgling writing career.
Get online. Check out as many potential markets as you can find. Create a file for these sources and rate them as to how difficult or how accepting you would consider them to be. If you've done even a vague amount of homework on these, you would begin to realize that some markets will be relatively easy to crack.
Submit articles to non-paying online sites. These sites won't make you buckets of money (if any at all!) - unless you're into major self-promotion - but they will help you to develop some confidence in your abilities.
Focus on the reader, or even editorial, feedback. You will soon discover which articles held that 'spark' which pulled readers in and which articles did not make the grade. Learn from this and follow your own examples when you write your next piece. When you are confident in your ability to give readers something valid, aim a little wider with your focus.
If you are the type of person who prefers to aim high, then go right ahead and aim straight for the top paying markets right off the bat. There's nothing wrong with that approach at all.
But if you would prefer to see your professional portfolio grow, and thus ensure that the larger markets will eventually take you more seriously as a writer, then begin submitting your work to the smaller markets.
Small press newspapers exist in almost every town in the world, serving the communities with local news, events, and trivia. Most of the time, these small press papers exist on a shoe-string budget, but almost all of them will gladly accept a submission from a fledgling author. Offer your work in return for only a by-line (your name printed below the article or story title).
I am aware that advocating "Writing for no pay" will bring a round of protests my way, but I am not suggesting you do it often. You only need to submit this way for as long as it takes to get that one clipping with your by-line into your portfolio.
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