Dana Cassell, the founder of Writers-Editors Network, has been a full-time freelancer for 35 years. In addition to writing and editing manuscripts for numerous business clients, she has traditionally published more than 2,000 articles and ghosted or authored nearly a dozen books for educational publishers and other secular markets.
Dana, what do you most want to say to writers in all genres who plan to make writing a career?
Recognize that it is a business, and treat it as such. Magazine editors need articles that will keep their readers renewing or buying newsstand issues, so the publisher can sell ads that keep the magazines in business. This means researching magazines’ targeted audiences and coming up with ideas the editors need to reach those audiences.
It also means seeking out editorial calendars to see what topics they repeat every year and will be covering during the upcoming year. Said another way, writing (and suggesting) what the readers and editors want, not what the writer wants to write. (When the writer has a favorite topic and can find a paying magazine receptive to that topic and the writer’s slant on it, that’s a bonus. It happens once in a while but is usually not enough to build a career.)
This is ditto for websites that will pay for articles. Instead of subscriptions, they may be looking at visitors and “hits,” but the premise is about the same. Also, the successful writer will learn how to reuse their research in multiple articles, books, and columns to make that research investment pay off.
Writers who want to write for the corporate market on a freelance basis would do well to become adept at and known for some editorial service that can directly affect a client’s bottom line — such as ad copy, direct mail packages, white papers, marketing e-letters.
Recognizing that writing is a business means regularly scheduling time for marketing, admin tasks, and study along with time for production.
What are some of the biggest changes you have seen in publishing over the last few years?
The obvious would be the Internet, which has changed the way writers can research and also adds the electronic publishing element. Magazines have always stopped publishing because of over-saturated markets or poor management, but now publishers have to figure out whether to be print or electronic or both — and how to make that work, so the publishing business is even riskier. People are still trying to figure it all out. For writers, there are tons more potential places to get published, and they are easier to research because of Web information, but drilling down to those that pay a decent rate is more of a challenge.
Novels have changed because of the shorter attention span of readers who have grown up watching TV and reading Internet screens. Compare a novel published today with one a generation ago — paragraphs are shorter; chapters are shorter. And that’s what mainstream editors/publishers want — because that’s what sells.
In what ways can conferences and workshops help writers?
They mainly help through inspiration and motivation. Being around and talking to other poets and writers can help us realize that what we’re up against (finding the time, dealing with writer’s block, getting published, finding better paying markets) is not our challenge alone. Everyone faces the same problems at one time or another. It can help us to keep rowing when we know others are in the same boat with us. And talking to other attendees who do not appear to be any smarter or more creative than we are, but who are more successful, can send us home thinking, “I can do that, too!”
The information we absorb from the speakers can certainly be helpful, but we can get that from the hundreds of books and articles on writing for publication. I think that touching elbows with other writers and with the speakers has a more motivational aspect.
Thanks, Dana, for giving Christian writers a clearer picture of writing for markets in general. Thank you, too, for the level of professionalism you encourage and show as you address the needs of writers and editors on Writers-Editors.com.
(c) 2011, Mary Harwell Sayler