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Where Do You Start

posted on Friday, November 17, 2006

I heard from Trish in Hawaii today. She had some questions on topics that I thought might be of interest to the rest of you. If you're a new writer, read on.

The Web

The web is a wonderful place these days. So much information is out there just waiting to be gleaned. Finding the right information can be rather intimidating. I've spent many an hour searching for good articles that pertain to beginning writers and what to do with my articles. I'm happy to share some of what I've found out with you.

I have a number of favorite websites that contain oodles of good writing information. The one I keep coming back to is Writing World (, which has articles grouped by subject. If you're just starting out, you may want to read through the articles provided in the category Basics: Starting Your Writing Career. There's good general information on being a writer as well as on how to find a market for your writing. The site includes a good article on how to format your work as well as a number of good articles on how to find publications and submit articles to them. If you want even more information, you can visit my Links page by clicking on "Links" in the left margin or at the bottom of this page. I've listed a number of sites that I've found to be helpful.

Finding a Home for your Work

It's a tough world out there. It's both fun and depressing. I've read that even accomplished writers spend much of their time finding somewhere to place their works. Unless a person is really lucky with the timing of a submittal or knows an editor already, the person can probably expect to contact a number of publications before finding one that is interested in a specific piece. (A piece is a general term used for an item of writing.) On the bright side, I've read a number of articles that tell me that most people can get published by persevering. After all, remember what I said about accomplished writers having to work hard at it too.

Most writers don't think you should give up your work for free. However, there are many people out there competing for space these days. If you're not looking to make a lot of money right away and aren't against giving your work away, you may want to start with some of the no pay online e-zines. You'll get a kick out of seeing your work published and will be motivated to continue writing. You can use these clips to move up the ladder to the next rung. (A clip refers to something that has been published somewhere.)

Perhaps the best place to find a home for a piece is the Writer's Market. It costs money to buy the book and to subscribe to their website, but most libraries have a copy you can use for free. You should be able to find one at your local library. You usually can't remove it from the library, but at least you can use it there. Writer's Market lists contact information for various publications that take articles, poems, etc. and has everything organized by the main focus of the publication. If you're serious about writing and submitting your work, I suggest you buy the book or subscribe to it online. I subscribe to it online and refer to it frequently. It has a useful tool that I use to track what I'm writing and where I've submitted my articles.

Writer's Guidelines

Most publications have what they call writer's guidelines that describe the type of works the publication is interested in. The writer's guidelines include the acceptable number of words for an article, how to submit an article to the publication and how long it takes them to respond.

When I find a publication I like, I check out the information provided in the Writer's Market. The information provided may include a link to the publication on the web or an e-mail address I can use to request the writer's guidelines or a sample copy. I also use Google to search for guidelines that may be more up to date by using the publication's name and the words "writer guidelines submittals". The Google search technique can also be used to search the web for writer guidelines of any publication based on the general topics covered. For example, I might search for "boating magazine writer guidelines submittals" if I was looking for a magazine that has boating articles.


Most publications insist that you send them a query first. A query is a letter used to describe an article you want to write in hopes that the editor will be interested in the subject being proposed. When you query, you don't send the article unless the editor responds showing an interest. Some publications would rather see your work than a query, especially if you're a new writer. The writer's guidelines will tell you what the editor prefers. Many editors only reply if they're interested in what you have. Not hearing back probably means that they're too busy to respond to everybody who sends something in. It doesn't reflect badly on the submitter, it just means that they don't want to take the time to respond when they're not interested.

If you submit something via the mail, always include a SASE (self addressed, stamped envelop) that the publication can use to reply to you. You'll never hear back from them unless you make it easy and free for them to respond. Additionally, you never know what to expect from them. Once, I received my article and cover letter back in my SASE with no indication that an editor had looked at it except that there was a tracking number hand written at the top corner of one of the pages. I had to assume that they had rejected the article, and moved on to submit it to another publication. It seemed extremely rude of them not to even write or stamp "rejected" on it, but I guess that's just the way they do their business. It's said that writers have to have tough skins to succeed. I've found that to be true.

Many publications accept e-mail correspondence these days. I really appreciate them since it doesn't cost me any money to contact them. Using e-mail, I have to be careful when I copy something into the message from my word processor. I like to use Word to write everything, including my letters to publications. It gives me a good way to save my correspondence and to copy it whenever I want. The down side is that Word uses codes for some characters like quotation marks and apostrophes that don't copy well into my e-mail editor. I always go through my text after I copy into the e-mail editor and delete and retype those special characters. Otherwise, they can come across as strange symbols in the receiver's e-mail. One thing I don't want to do is come across looking like I don't take care of business to an editor I'm trying to sell something to.

Changing Vocations

posted on Monday, November 13, 2006

Saturday was the monthly Gold Country Writers meeting. Our guest speaker was James Rollins, a local bestselling novelist. He gave a fascinating talk about how he started as a veterinarian and eventually gave it up to pursue his passion of writing. He told us that as a young man, he did not realize that writing could be a successful career. He followed his second love, that of animals, and went on to study hard and long in the field of veterinary medicine.

I've been amazed at how many people give up successful careers in fields that take years of study and self-sacrifice to become writers. I've come to believe that writing is truly one of those passions that some people are born with.

I feel a little left out. I've always liked to write and have always been one to step up and volunteer for writing tasks during my long career in the computer software field. But I've never felt that passion to write. I do it now because I like it and it fills up the free time I have now that I've given up my job. It keeps my mind active and alert, and it gives me something to look forward to every day. Although he's supportive of my effort, I'm sure my husband thinks I'm a bit crazy to be wasting my time this way.

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