The dream of every freelance writer is the “big get.” That is, writing for the largest, best-known markets we can land. Bigger markets, after all, mean more prestige and better money. But there also can be tremendous value in writing for smaller markets—something a lot of writers tend to forget as they chase bigger fish.
This guest post is by Don Vaughan. Vaughan is a North Carolina–based freelancewriter and founder of Triangle Area Freelancers. You can connect with him at donaldvaughan.net. This post is from Writer’s Digest magazine.
Not me. Like many of my colleagues, I write regularly for larger markets such as Boys’ Life, Military Officer and CURE, all of which pay quite well. But I still accept assignments from smaller publications when I can fit them into my schedule because they provide perks that the larger magazines may not.
Writers who have built up a clientele of larger, better-paying markets may consider smaller publications beneath them, or simply not worth their time. In my view, that’s rather shortsighted. Here are five reasons why.
- Pitching is less competitive. “I find that smaller magazines can be a bit more flexible with their content,” says Jenni Hart, a Raleigh, N.C.–based freelancer who writes regularly for regional publications such as Midtown Magazine and Cary Living Magazine. “When you are among a small group of contributing writers, you stand a better chance of having a pitch accepted.”
Niche publications also can be receptive outlets for freelancers who are experts in a particular area but who aren’t yet experienced writers. Film critic Joe Kane, who now serves as publisher of the small quarterly VideoScope, says that contributing to smaller publications early in his career benefitted him in terms of experience, exposure and learning how to work with editors.
- You can write about what you love. For me, that means comic books, cheesy movies and long-forgotten film and television stars for genre magazines such as Filmfax, VideoScope and Famous Monsters of Filmland. These magazines offer modest paychecks, but have given me the opportunity to interview and write about individuals I’ve long admired, such as actor Tim Matheson, painter Mort Künstler and comic book legend Joe Kubert, just to name a few. The fun is in the interview; to be compensated at all for the resulting byline is just a bonus.
Along similar lines, I have sold a number of essays to VideoScope, ranging in topic from my first job working as an usher at a theater in my hometown of Lake Worth, Fla. (“The Fall of the House Where I Ushered”) to working as a movie extra (“A Star Is Bored”) to a tribute to special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen. I doubt any of these pieces would have found a home with a more general-interest publication, but they were all great fun to write.
- You may be impressed by the writing of your fellow contributors. Just because a market is small doesn’t mean the writing will be lacking. In fact, the prose and criticism found in publications such as Filmfax and Famous Monsters of Filmland is as sharp, informed and cogent as anything you’ll find in more mainstream magazines.
- Small publications can make great secondary markets for work you’ve already done. A good example is an interview I conducted with actor R. Lee Ermey for the well-read magazine Military Officer. We talked at length, but I’d been assigned just 400 words to tell his story, which left a lot of material on the table. With Ermey’s permission, I approached VideoScope about running a larger portion of our Q&A. My editor said yes because he saw the interview as a fun complement to an upcoming review of the Blu-ray release of Full Metal Jacket, the film that made Ermey a star.
- Smaller markets can lead to other opportunities. Several contributors to VideoScope have received book deals as a result of their association with the magazine, and Hart landed some new business clients after they saw her byline in Midtown Magazine and elsewhere.
“My freelance work for these clients includes writing Web copy, newsletters, blog posts and social media content. This now accounts for about 20 percent of my income,”she says.
Erika Hoffman, a freelance writer in Chapel Hill, N.C., agrees. “You never know who will advance your career,” says Hoffman, who regularly contributes to such niche publications as Pentecostal Evangel, Sasee and ScreaminMama. “[Smaller markets] can help you reach a readership among folks who would not know you otherwise.”
When pitching smaller publications, keep in mind that most have limited editorial resources compared to larger magazines. “Writers should send email inquiries that are clear, succinct and direct,” advises Kane, who is one of VideoScope’s full-time staff of three. “Avoid long-winded preambles or lengthy résumés. Editorial time is tight on limited-staff publications, so the sooner writers get to the point of the pitch, the better.”
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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.