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Where Do You Start - Sue Barthelow

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 are targeted at beginning writers.

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. 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, that 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 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 includes 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 look at the information provided in the Writer's Market. That information 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. (a sample copy in the case of a magazine is an issue of that magazine.) 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 that you write to sell your idea to an editor. It is used to describe an article you want to write and to introduce yourself to an editor in hopes that the editor will be interested in your subject. 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 are 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. On one occasion, I had queried and had received a response asking me to submit an article on speculation. After writing the article and submitting it, I received my article and cover letter back in my SASE. There was no indication that an editor had looked at the piece except that there was a tracking number hand written at the top corner of one of the pages. I was left to assume that they had rejected the article, and I moved on to submit it to another publication. It seemed extremely rude of them not to write or stamp "rejected" on it, but I guess that's just the way that publication goes about their business. It's said that writers have to have tough skins to succeed. I've found that to be true.

E-mail Correspondence

Many publications accept e-mail correspondence these days. I really appreciate them since it doesn't cost me any money to contact them.

When I e-mail something, I have to be careful if 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 save my Word document to a text file before I copy the text into an e-mail I'm composing. Then, I go through the text after I copy it into my e-mail editor and delete and retype any special characters it contains. Otherwise, the special characters 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.

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