Archive for October 23rd, 2007

October 2007 Roar Board!

Go, team Writers on the Rise!

Post your writing success stories here!

Please inspire your fellow WOTR readers by sharing your most recent growth, not to promote projects previously completed.


Christina Katz, Publisher & Editor

Writers on the Rise

The Secret Language of Editors: “On Spec”

Abigail GreenBy Abigail Green

Back in my March column, I discussed submitting queries versus complete articles. If you recall, I gave a few examples of when a freelancer might submit a piece to a publication “on speculation” or “on spec” for short. Basically, that means the writer has no contract and no guarantee of payment or publication. Essays will usually only be considered on spec; and for timely travel stories and short pieces, it’s often in a writer’s best interest to write them first and then submit them.

Even though it’s always preferable to have a contract in hand before writing an article, there are perfectly legitimate reasons to write on spec. Let’s say you’ve nabbed an interview with an elusive subject—the Dalai Lama, maybe, or Brad Pitt. Chances are good that you’re going to be able to sell your piece somewhere, so it’s not a huge gamble to go ahead and write up the interview. This scenario brings up another point: always have backup markets in mind when writing on spec.

I currently have an essay under consideration at a national parenting magazine I’ve been dying to break into. I floated my idea past the editor before I wrote it, which is always a good idea if you can do it. She liked the concept, but said I’d need to submit the piece on spec. My essay is now making its way up the chain of editors. Of course I’m hoping it’s accepted, but if not I have at least three alternate markets in mind that might buy my essay.

When is it not a good idea to write on spec? If your piece is so specific to your intended market that you can’t think of another angle or publication that may buy it, it’s probably not worth it. If your op-ed is on a topic that’s going to be old news by the weekend, it may not be worth your time.

Sometimes, though, submitting a piece on spec can actually help you get your foot in the door. I pitched Self magazine a half dozen ideas that were shot down for various reasons. Then I submitted a first-person essay on female friendships. They bought it. Alas, it never ran. But I did get a big fat check for more than $1/word—and at the time, that was worth more to me than the clip. I firmly believe that Self purchased my essay because I submitted it on spec. After all, the piece was already written, so even as a new-to-them writer, I wasn’t much of a risk. Next time, maybe they’ll even publish my work!

Abigail Green ( is a freelance writer in Baltimore. Over the past 10 years, she has written about health, travel, weddings, business, education and more for national, regional and online publications including AOL, AAA World, Bride’s, Baltimore Magazine, Cooking Light and Health. Her latest project is raising her first child, which she chronicles in her blog:

Harvest Great Writing Ideas During Hectic Holiday Seasons

sharonwotrhead.gifThe Parent-Writer: Strategies for Success

By Sharon Miller Cindrich

Boo! No sooner have you nestled into a fall routine when the pressure of the holidays begin to creep closer––and the thought of juggling the responsibilities of seasonal family activities with your own writing deadlines can really give you the willies.

The real treat as this crescendo of activity begins to build is the season’s rich writing material that can be turned into lucrative story ideas and land you lots of juicy assignments. The trick? Be ready to harvest the ideas, experiences and tips you discover in the midst of the holiday chaos by following these simple steps.

Be ready. Carry extra pens and notebooks to the apple dunking, costume parade and pilgrim feast. Jot down your ideas or impressions before you forget them and store them in an easy-to-reference spot.

Take photos. Despite your incredible writing style, a picture is worth a thousand words and might get you some extra attention with an editor when coupled with a query. Use the snapshots of your family’s apple picking adventure or pumpkin patch visit as credentials for your pitch.

Have fun in the name of research. Use the season as an excuse to do something you’ve always wanted to in the name of researching a story, such as: “How to throw a not-so-scary Halloween party” or “Leaf–pile jumping and other free outdoor fun for kids” or “Planning a family feast for fifty dollars or less.” Save receipts to write off expenses if you land an assignment based on your activities.

Take time to reflect. If you’re a die-hard journal-keeper, you already know the cathartic benefits of scribbling down the day’s events. But as a writer, the exercise will serve not only as release of the day’s stress, but also as a reference tool for essays, ideas and anecdotes for future assignments.

E-Parenting, Keeping Up with Your Tech-Savvy Kids by Sharon CindrichSharon Miller Cindrich is a freelance writer whose work has been published nationally in magazines and newspapers around the country including The Chicago Tribune, Parents Magazine, and The Writer. She is a Contributing Editor at FamilyFun Magazine and writes a bimonthly humor column for West Suburban Living Magazine in the Chicago Suburbs. She is a regular contributor to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Lifestyle section and Metroparent Magazine. Her book E-Parenting: Keeping Up with Your Tech-Savvy Kids is now out from Random House. Read more about Sharon at

An Interview with Adrienne Stolarz, Senior Associate Editor of Family Fun

October 2007 Family FunIn the Spotlight: Agent & Editor Insights for Getting Published
By Cindy Hudson

Since starting at Family Fun magazine eight years ago, Adrienne Stolarz has had what she calls the “classic, romantic story” of rising from intern to freelancer to full-time staff member. But a lot of hard work certainly helped her progress to the position of senior associate editor that she holds now. Here Stolarz talks about Family Fun and how freelance writers can make themselves valuable to editors who are looking for content to publish.

What department do you work on at Family Fun?
It’s a very popular department called Everyday Fun. It’s kind of a mini-magazine in and of itself, and so the experience of putting it together is kind of like the experience of putting together an entire magazine. I love working on it.

Do you work with new writers?
Yes. And we work with all kinds of freelancers who are not necessarily in the mainstream freelance world. We’re very idea-driven, so a lot of our contributors are niche contributors, people who have their own craft blogs or who may be food writers, or who have some other specialty.

What catches your attention in a query letter?
The art of the pitch is really in the first paragraph. Think of what interests you as a reader, because every writer is a reader. It doesn’t have to be a shocking idea, but it should be something that hooks you in and makes you want to read. It could also be an unusual angle on a very familiar story. I’ll usually know whether it will work for us after reading the first two lines.

Do you make assignments to freelance writers with whom you have no prior experience?
I do. We like to look for reliable pens who know our voice, and who can take an in-house generated concept and grow it into an actual piece that we want to print. We especially look to our contributing writers for longer pieces.

Do you prefer to receive mailed letters or e-mail queries?
I personally prefer e-mail queries, but I request that writers give me four to six weeks to respond. We are inundated with queries. A lot of them are very pertinent, but we only do ten issues a year.

What happens if you read an idea you like, but you can’t use it at the moment?
If it’s an idea that we know is going to fit we’ll often buy it immediately. If it’s an idea we think may fit for a feature or for a department in the future, we’ll sometimes tell the freelancer, “Listen, we love this idea and we’re going to hold it for consideration. We only ask that if you pitch it elsewhere and it’s accepted that you let us know so we can pull it from our consideration pile.”

If you get a query that you believe is more appropriate for someone else in house, do you pass it along?
Always. It happens a lot because our content is not homogenous. We do crafts in departments, we do crafts in features…so there can be a lot of overlap.

Is there one main thing you think is important for freelance writers to know?

My biggest piece of advice is to make sure you know the magazine. And I don’t mean be a subscriber for 10 years before you pitch. Look at the last six months’ worth of issues if you can. Get an idea of what we cover, specifically what we’ve already covered, because we do get a lot of duplicate queries. Also know who our audience is. Always refer to the writer’s guidelines, because they usually give pretty detailed descriptions of what each department looks for.

We’re short staffed, which means we have to use every moment. We can’t really waste time with someone who doesn’t know our content or who is not pitching us the right kind of content. It’s really like “know your audience,” where your audience is your editor. You can also find a lot of useful information in the media guide.

What is the media guide?

The media guide is a great resource for freelancers. Basically, it’s a profile of our demographic that we give to advertisers. But it also is a really good resource for freelancers, because it lets them know who the magazine’s readership is. It can help a freelancer decide how to hone the idea and the pitch to the audience we’re targeting. You can call the main reception line of most magazines and ask how to get a media kit, or you may be able to find it online. It’s a great resource on top of the writer’s guidelines.

Cindy HudsonCindy Hudson writes for national trade magazines, regional magazines, online publications and daily newspapers. Her Web site,, and its companion blog,, publishes reading lists, book reviews, author interviews and other book club resources. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Portland, Oregon, where she writes weekly for The Oregonian. Visit her online at

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