Roaming About

A Life Less Ordinary

IWSG – Writing Articles

Every first Wednesday of the month, the IWSG (Insecure Writer’s Support Group) encourages writers to share their fears, thoughts, progress, struggles, excitement, encouragement or anything really about their writing.  Last month, I gave a summary of my book project. The question IWSG would like to see answered this month is “What was your very first piece of writing as an aspiring writer and where is it now?” Since my only success as a freelance writer is getting articles published in boating magazines, I would like to share some insights about article writing.

Caribbean boating magazines

Caribbean boating magazines

My unofficial writing career started in 2007, when Mark and I were stuck at a friend’s house in Austin, Texas, trying to sell our truck camper (in which we had explored Mexico and Central-America for a year) and figuring out what our next adventure would be, at that time a toss-up between moving to Belize or looking for a small sailing catamaran. We had a few months to kill and I decided to focus on my love of writing. The first article I ever wrote is called “Pursuit of the Sloth“. It is based in Costa Rica and can still be found online. I never received any money for it. “Getting Splashed by the Pacuare River” is the first story I was paid a pittance for ($25 if I remember correctly). Playground Earth published it online and later renamed it “River Rafting the Pacuare River”. It would take a few more years of writing inactivity and sailing experiences before I started working on articles more adamantly and successfully.

(Dated) American sailing magazines

(Dated) American sailing magazines

“How does it work to submit and publish your articles?” friends would often ask me. The short answer: it is a long process of determination and patience. My more detailed reply is something along these lines:

  1. You write a story you think might interest the editor and readers of a particular (sailing) magazine. You spend time reading the magazine’s guidelines beforehand and – in my case – end up writing too many words. You revise for hours. You search for photos in your archive to complement the story. You end up with too many. You edit and resize them, but keep full-sized versions in a separate folder. You rename the selected photos, create a photo captions list and write a short bio about yourself.
  2. You pitch your story with an enticing, well-constructed email, attached article, captions list, resized photos and writer’s bio. You mention you have high-resolution versions of the photos, if interested.
  3. You wait.
  4. You wait some more.
  5. You send a follow-up email after a month or more.
  6. You wait.
  7. You wait some more.
  8. You receive an acceptance email, in which case you are done – Yes! – or you work together with the editor to improve the article, which might mean rewriting a bunch or researching extra facts. You contribute many more hours to the project. Or, you receive a rejection letter, in which case you rewrite the story for a new market and try to pitch it elsewhere, or you say “whatever” and forget about it. Or, you still don’t hear anything back and act in the same fashion as having your story rejected. Say your article is accepted for publication and you have gone through great effort sending your full-size photos over unreliable internet connections. Barring some exceptions (I do have my favorite editors!), these are the next steps:
  9. You ask the editor when he or she thinks your article will get published. The answer can be anything from “as soon as we have room,” to “in a few months,” to “in about a year,” to “in the next issue” (undoubtedly my favorite answer). You might have to ask multiple times.
  10. You wait.
  11. You wait some more.
  12. You are asked to resend your full-size photos. Oh, and maybe the story as well.
  13. You wait.
  14. While in the middle of nowhere on your sailboat, you try to find clues whether your article is published yet, either by researching online editions, asking friends in the area of the publication or asking the editor (again), who is slowly getting sick of you.
  15. If it has been published, you are ready for the next steps. If not, you wait. And you wait some more. (If you are a writer needing this income to survive, you write and submit several articles a month and keep track of the messy process of each one, somehow. And hope all the stories are eventually bought. More than likely, you opt for another job.)
  16. You submit your invoice.
  17. You wait.
  18. You wait some more.
  19. You send a reminder about the invoice.
  20. You wait.
  21. You wait some more. Extra reminders might be in order.
  22. You get paid by check in the mail, having others deposit it, or by Paypal and losing a cut. The time between writing the article and receiving payment for it usually ranges between 6-12 months, since most magazines pay upon publication instead of upon acceptance.
  23. You start all over again.

I do love to write and I do have an infinite amount of topics and experiences to share, but the whole process remains taxing and tiring. While I realize the inboxes of editors must flood with article suggestions and submissions, I do wonder why it is so hard to send a one sentence email as a response to your hard work. The reply could be anything (“We received your submission and will have a look.” “Thanks for your submission, but we are not interested.”), I don’t really care. Well, I do care a little bit, of course. But, just getting some kind of acknowledgement instead of getting ignored would make me feel respected and ready to move on and submit elsewhere. Or is it just me?

IWSG First Wednesday Feature

How did you get started with your profession, career or hobby?

20 Comments

  1. So the impatient need not apply? Yikes, what a process. That sort of patience and persistence takes some grit.

    • Yep. Ideally, you have many articles floating about, but I seem to lack some energy for it these days… Better to work on something more lasting, like a memoir, or a poem chapbook, for example. 🙂

  2. You’ve done well. It’s a slow process and if you judge your progress the size of your wallet you might be discouraged. I was. In 1985 I wrote a piece for Ag-Pilot International. It was one-of-a-kind, no place else to mail it, so I waited a year. Then became a contributing editor for another year.

    My writing is a hobby. I’ve enjoyed a few flashes in the pan, but most of my effort goes toward writing for myself. If I like it it’s a base hit. If an editor likes it too it’s a home run.

    Press on.

    • That is a great way of looking at it, Scott. If you write mostly for yourself, how can you go wrong, right? So great you became a contributing editor. I have long hoped to get my own column somewhere, but then my laziness, loss of freedom about when to write and the undesired need to stick to a routine got in the way. 🙂 I love seeing my stories in print, though, so I hope to still write and publish an article once in a while.

  3. … and wait
    I love your post. So relatable:)
    Cheers,
    Jo-Ann Carson

  4. Ah yes, the old “I’d even rather hear bad news than no news” quandary! I’m with you: My momma taught me that to respond promptly in some way was simply good manners, even if only to say “I don’t have time to look at this, go away.” And in the age of email, there’s really no excuse. I guess editors are above the rule when it comes to basic decency!

    • All I can think of is that they are too busy to hit the reply button, or… that they didn’t get my email. Which is why I re-submit and follow-up. But, how many times can you assume they didn’t get your email again, right? I just think that there are not that many responsible, caring, respecting employees out there anymore, unfortunately. There are more instances than not, that when I send emails with questions, I never receive an answer. Pretty frustrating, especially if you yourself are not that way (and as business owners we go through hoops to make our customers happy and answer them in a very timely manner). Oh well… The bad thing? It might change you as well…

  5. That is a hysterical recap of the process! I’ve thought occasionally about trying to write magazine articles, but haven’t seemed to do more than just think about it. Maybe one day I’ll give it a go and experience the 23 step process myself 🙂

    • Go for it, Ellen! Most of these steps are VERY easy… 🙂 The end result, your story and name in print (and some well-earned and needed pocket money), is usually worth it!

  6. Oh my goodness that is hilarious! Well probably not living through it but your description had me chuckling. I cam to writing the blog very accidentally. It just started by sending emails home to my Mom and an ever growing group list. After three years and three trips with a list of 90 people on the email they convinced me to start a blog. I’m just meandering along three years later. 🙂

    • Those are some great blog beginnings, Sue. Before the blog era, I sent reports out to friends and family as well. First in Dutch, and as my group of international friends grow, in Dutch and English. For that reason and to document our sailing trip, I started my first blog in 2007. I just wished that the people who read that one would change over to Roaming About now. But, apparently, our live is not as exciting now. 🙂 I think I need to find better topics to attract a “crowd”, like you do.

  7. Yep, it’s pretty much the same with online publications. I send a batch of pitches out every Monday and wait. Eventually one or two reply and say they want to publish my idea…they give me guidance, tell me the pay, I write it, and they pay me. Then I pitch them another idea and soon they’re a regular publication I write for. It’s tough because most of the time, I’m rejected, but all it takes is one!

    Stephanie
    http://stephie5741.blogspot.com

    • I should get on it more than I am. I like the idea of pitches better than whole stories, but you need to have a good track record for anyone to consider your work, without seeing the whole article. It sounds like your publications pay upon acceptance, which is nice as well. It’s all hard work, for sure. I’m glad to read you are pretty successful. 🙂 I love the concepts of your books; makes me want to be young again…

  8. Funny! But I know born out of frustration. I hate it when people never do you the courtesy of a reply. Or if they reply they only answer one question and you asked two, so have to chase them up again. Grrr!

    • Exactly! And on so many levels… The question that comes to mind: Why are we so darn responsible, while others get away without the extra worry? (You don’t have to answer this one. :-))

  9. authorcrystalcollier

    August 5, 2016 at 12:45

    Sounds about right to me. =) I don’t submit to magazines, but the process is very similar to participating in an anthology.

    • I would like to contribute to anthologies one day, but I feel none of my stories are good enough. Good to know about the time-consuming process, though. Thanks for stopping by, Crystal.

  10. Daunting! 🙁 Oh, well- who needs fame and fortune 🙂 🙂

    • That’s right! We just need a little bit of accomplishment and a sprinkle of respect. And, ideally, some income as well… 🙂

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