Dirty Little Writing Secrets


All freelancers have dirty little secrets they won’t share because they know there are too many people fumbling around “trying to be a writer” who will stampede towards the dirty secret in question, ruining it for everybody.

This is rarely discussed on writing blogs, forums, and elsewhere, but we all know it’s true. Here are a few of mine, just because I like being a maverick–not in the Sarah Palin sense where “maverick” means “business as usual” but in the Barack Obama sense where some kinds of new ideas irritate and upset the status quo.

  • I don’t bother using online writer’s markets. I ALWAYS go direct to the source and read the magazine or website. The best way to land a gig is to read it first. This shouldn’t be considered a dirty secret, but trust me, once you learn WHY it works you’ll know why it’s my dirty secret.
  • I like to pitch to bizarre markets. If you know of a magazine or website paying for articles about cockroach wrangling, I’d be happy to take a look and make a pitch. These markets don’t get flooded with bad queries.
  • The dentist office is often a great place to find new markets to pitch to. Don’t bother with the magazines you know well. Look for the oddball ones you never heard of.
  • People blow their query letters by discussing things that have nothing to do with the query itself. Like whether or not you are a “full time freelancer”.
  • Query letters tied to current events sell. I just sold an article by riffing on those commercials on TV lately about “the Oprah Effect”.
  • The writer who is not prepared to at least consider turning in a queried article in one week isn’t thinking like a busy editor.
  • If you can’t write what you know, write what other people know. I don’t have to try to pretend I’m an expert, I simply let my interviews state the facts. But here’s my dirty secret–I never let on that I DON’T know. I state the facts with authority because my quotes did the talking for me.
  • Sometimes rattling off a list of highly technical terms makes you sound like you DON’T know what you’re writing about. Simplify. Jargon is for trade mags.