Establish Yourself as a Newspaper or Magazine Columnist
Remember back in the beginning when we talked about contributing editors? Establishing yourself as a columnist is critical because it means a steady stream of income either every week, or at least, every month. Conversely, having to dream up individual articles and sell them to a myriad of magazines is extremely time consuming and inefficient. Too much of it and you’ll be chasing your tail. It is the wise freelancer who focuses on a few markets, albeit with a modicum of diversity.
In plain language that means one ought to find a special interest magazine (boating, sewing, fashion, cooking, fitness, you name it) that you feel an affinity for. Dream up a column and pitch it. The worst they can do is say, no. But if they say, yes, then every month you have an assignment you can go to the bank on, literally. That pays big dividends when it comes time to budget and pay household bills. And it frees up time to market to other sources.
The column doesn’t have to be for a magazine, it could appear in a newspaper. Though the sad news is that newspaper rates are dreadfully low. Sometimes columns pay as little as $10 to $100. Sometimes an editor will tell you he will run the story for free and say it with a straight face. No joke. He is dead serious. He has no budget for freelancers. Take heart. Sometimes it pays to give a story away. More on that in a little while.
Know that it is the wise freelance writer who plans his columns months in advance. Two years later, each column can be assembled as an individual chapter in a book, which once published brings in royalties. But to do this when you license the work to magazines, you must retain book rights.
Book publishers pay an advance against royalties. That means the advance is a loan which must be paid back before royalties begin to accrue. A typical advance might be $5,000. For easy math consider the following scenario. If an under contract writer gets 10 percent of a $10.00 cover price ($1.00) then the $5000 advance is paid back after 5000 copies are sold and royalties start to come every six months after that.
You don’t need a literary agent to sell a book, but they are worth their weight in gold, not just for the higher advances they command but for the better contract terms they can negotiate. Also, if you’re trying to peddle a book you are not producing magazine articles and books. Literary agents know book acquisition editors and what they’re looking for. A really good one is invaluable as a career builder.