Avoid Seven Common Mistakes in Marketing Your Articles

by Tatiana Claudy


Do you like marketing? Most writers answer, “Not really,” and some even exclaim, “I hate it!” The truth is that we, writers, prefer to craft our stories, describe our unique experiences, and paint new pictures with our words. Yet, after the manuscript is finished, we face reality: to be paid, we must sell our writing.

Recently I read the poem “Conversation of a Bookseller with a Poet” by Alexander Pushkin (the greatest Russian poet) where Poet praised his freedom (found through inspiration) and refused to betray it by selling his poems. Yet Bookseller presented his argument, “You cannot sell your inspiration, but you can sell your manuscript,” which convinced Poet to close the deal. This poem made me think: Maybe my own negative attitude to marketing also resulted from mixing the creative part of my writing vocation with the business one? If I separate them and give the business part the attention it deserves, it could alleviate my financial worries and bring me more creative freedom!

Naturally, I began improving my marketing skills and identified my seven most serious mistakes. After asking my fellow writers about their marketing techniques, I realized that many of them also stepped on the same rake. So let’s look at the list of common marketing mistakes that hinder many writing careers:

1. Looking for Markets Only in Reference Books.  Sure, it’s convenient to open Writer’s Market and find thousands of markets at your disposal. But there are several issues with looking for markets only in reference books: not all markets are listed – in particular, blogs and electronic publications are underrepresented; market information is often outdated; and newest markets are not included.

That’s why I look for markets at portals, such as Newspaper-World.com, which gives links to numerous domestic and international magazines and newspapers. I find listings of markets in free electronic publications (for example, WritersWeekly.com, FundsforWriters.com, and Freedom with Writing). I also visit Mr. Magazine’s website to find out what magazines were launched recently.

2. Targeting Only National Publications. Moira Allen calls it “The Redbook Syndrome” since many freelancers, when marketing their articles, often think only about glossy national magazines. Well, there is nothing wrong with ambitions to earn $1 and more per word. Yet these popular publications are extremely hard to break into. According to Moira Allen, “There is only one sure way of breaking into the big leagues: By working your way up.”

Following this piece of advice, I stopped submitting my mini-mysteries only to Woman’s World and sent some rejected stories to Mystery Weekly Magazine – and they got published!

3. Not Familiarizing Themselves with the Publication. Before submitting to your target market, study it “inside and out.” Start with its writers’ guidelines to learn the editor’s name, requirements for formatting queries and articles, which departments are open to freelancers, and what rights the editor buys. I usually read three issues of my target magazines to learn about the audience, style, expected coverage, and types of titles. That’s how I became a regular contributor to Creation Illustrated, a Christian magazine that won two international awards in Hollywood for excellence in print media and photography.

4. Neglecting the Story Slant. “Editors will toss out vague, non-specific story ideas immediately,” warns Roy Stevenson, a travel writer. Read your target publication as a contributor to understand its topics and angles (for example, “Paris” is a topic; “finding free museums in Paris” is an angle). Think how your piece would fit between two published articles. Try to figure out why they were chosen for publication. According to Marion Bradley, “A story may be bad in all kinds of ways, and still be salable, if it has some things the editor finds important.”  

5. Sending One Query at a Time. To have a higher rate of editors’ responses, you need to send out numerous queries. One query at a time is not enough if you want to make a living writing. If writers’ guidelines do not prohibit simultaneous submissions, pitch the same article to several publications.

However, you have to keep track of magazines and websites where you sent your submissions. Think about the best way to organize this information: Index cards or spreadsheets? For example, my every query (or article) has a “circulation list” that contains titles of all possible markets.

6. Not Considering Selling Reprints. Reprints are a great source of additional income, and many publications buy them (for example, The Lutheran Digest). Yet to be able to sell reprints, you need to submit your articles strategically: first to print publications, then to digital ones (since many digital publications archive articles). This method helped me sell some of my reprints eight times.

7. Not Pitching on a Regular Basis. “Nothing comes from nothing” – this famous line from Fraulein Maria’s song in the movie Sound of Music formulates a universal law of the relationship between our actions and results. Therefore, if writers hardly ever pitch to publications (and do not perform any other writing-related tasks), Uncle Sam will not worry about taxing their miniscule writing income. To bring your dream of a writing life closer, you need to pitch on a regular basis. Award-winning author Mridu Khullar Relph advises sending 30 queries a month – every month! Without a doubt, if you come up with 30 ideas for your queries in one month, you will improve your idea-generating skills, which will result in more editors’ responses.

Try to have at least two or three ideas to pitch to your target publication. That way, if the editor rejects your first idea, you can propose the next one to keep the ball rolling. For instance, I wrote an article on Saint Petersburg, Russia, for My Itchy Travel Feet blog. When I pitched another piece on the same destination, the editor declined it. Immediately I pitched her an article on Strasbourg, France – and got the assignment.

I hope that you will put to practice these marketing tips I shared here. Since we must do marketing, why not make it less dreadful? The more you hone your marketing skills, the more you will enjoy the process because, as Tom Fishburne noted: “The best marketing doesn’t feel like marketing.”

William KenowerComment