Make Money Writing Short

From MAGAZINES

Service Pieces
Humor pieces are at one end of the spectrum. On the opposite end are service pieces, the term used for articles whose chief purpose is to provide information or to educate readers about a particular subject. For a parenting magazine, a service piece might be one about the safest new strollers on the market. For a golf magazine, it might be one covering the top pitching wedges for the upcoming season.

A number of magazines these days are largely service-oriented because that’s the most reliable way to draw advertisers, and, consequently, advertising revenue, the primary source of funding for most magazines. Service pieces can involve just about any topic as long as it’s current, relevant to the magazine’s readership, and accurate. When pitching a service piece, give the editor a reason why you’re qualified to write it. Do you work in a store that sells a range of baby equipment, making you a confirmed stroller expert? Are you the manager of a golf course pro shop, giving you exposure to all the different brands of new clubs that come in? Great—let her know!

Get This Gig: Service Pieces

Where Do I Start?
Nothing drives an editor batty like receiving a query on a topic that (a) the magazine has just run recently, or (b) doesn’t fit with the magazine in the first place. In other words, do your homework; don’t guess. Get your hands on a few issues of the magazine you want to query so you can get a feel for the type of service articles they like to run, the kind of format they favor, and the amount of slant or opinion they seem to allow. Then get to work crafting some first-class pitches.   

Who Do I Contact?
There’s no such thing as a service piece editor, so check first to see if the topic you’re writing about belongs to a specific section of the magazine for which there’s a dedicated editor. If not, query or submit to the managing editor, executive editor, or deputy editor.

From NEWSPAPERS

Event Reporting
Interesting things are happening all the time—in your neighborhood, in your town, in your state, in your country, in the world. In outer space. Within atoms. Everywhere. And there isn’t a newspaper editor who wants to be the one to have missed an important scoop that another paper has snagged. It makes editors’ jobs immensely easier when a writer comes to them having found out about, say, the two hundredth anniversary of the first fire hall in town instead of them having to go through the dual step of (a) unearthing the story in the first place, and (b) finding someone to write it.

Get This Gig: Event Reporting

Where Do I Start?
A good first step is to head to your local library or chamber of commerce and read about the history of your town. From this you’ll no doubt find a number of upcoming milestones or anniversaries to write about. An editor will be impressed by your research, and by writing about potentially obscure events you’ll start to establish a reputation as a good newshound.

You can never begin this process too early. In 2006 I found about one of the most remarkable things that had ever occurred on the PGA Tour: four different players scoring holes-in-one on the same hole, on the same day, within two hours of one another, at the 1989 U.S. Open. The odds of it happening had been estimated at 1.87 quadrillion to one. I made a note in my calendar that year to start querying editors in 2008 about writing the story for its twentieth anniversary in 2009. I carried the note over every month for two years, finally queried in late 2008, and got the assignment.

Who Do I Contact?
A single event can be approached from several angles and therefore can be slotted into a variety of sections of the paper. Say there’s an international kite-flying competition being held in your city. You could interview one of the champion kite flyers, or write about the process of designing and building kites, or about the history of kites, or you could recommend it as a weekend family outing, or you could bake it into a personal essay about your own memories of flying kites with your dad. Decide what perspective you think best serves the piece, write a great query making clear that perspective, then check out the newspaper you’re querying and it will probably be obvious to you which section editor to get in touch with.

From LITERARY OUTLETS

Personal Essays
The personal essay, that self-contained piece of reflection, meditation, or inspiration, has always had an important place in literature. Essays are like a bridge between stories and poetry, combining the two forms into one. A well-spun essay has the power to transport us briefly, like a poem, but can also deliver the satisfaction of narrative, like a story. Essays appear in literary publications large and small, new and established, local and national.

Get This Gig: Personal Essays

Where Do I Start?
First, write about what moves you, then figure out where to send it. While essay subject matter can of course be timely, there’s no such thing as an “essay trend” or a particular type of essay being sought by editors at a given time. Boundaries for personal essays hardly exist, so just make it real and make it good.

Place yourself in the shoes of an editor or a reader and work that story over as pitilessly as you would a piece of fiction. Remember that just because a given event was meaningful to you doesn’t automatically make it meaningful to a reader. People tend not to want to edit their essays because they have a problem removing material about things that actually happened. Even if you delete the prose, the experience still occurred. You’re telling a story here, real or not, so focus on strong storytelling technique.

Who Do I Contact?
Refer to your copy of Writer’s Market and make a note of all the essay markets. (There are tons!) Most of the time you won’t see anything like an essay editor for a given publication, so use the contact individual they give you. If you want, you can always call them and ask then for the name of the editor who accepts essays.

From CORPORATE WRITING

Presentations
Visit just about any corporate office today and it’s a good bet you’ll find at least one person cobbling together slides for a PowerPoint presentation. Presentations make the corporate world go around, and virtually every organization welcomes the person who can make them sound good and flow smoothly.

People in business make a lot of common mistakes in their presentations that will prove easy fixes for you—like jamming too much text onto every slide, using punctuation inappropriately at the end of bullet points, and employing different parts of speech to lead off points within the same list (for example, starting the first four bullets with verbs and the last with a noun. Or, as I saw on a bus stop bench ad taken out by a real estate broker last week: “Passionate. Innovative. Experience.”).
Executives often find it easy enough to put together impressive individual slides or pages but struggle to find the thread that pulls them all together. I admit to getting a little thrill whenever a client contacts me mired in frustration because she can’t figure out (a) what she wants to say in her presentation, (b) how she wants to say it, or (c) both. In general, I take her out of the presenter’s shoes and place her in those of the audience. (How much or how little do they know going in? What’s the most important message you want them to take away—the bottom line? What part of the content do you think they’ll find most powerful, unusual or surprising?)

Then I ask her to send me all the material she has. Clients, I find, are often reluctant to send along the whole ball of wax because they don’t want to bury you with irrelevant information. I prefer the opposite. I want it all, because I never know where the true story, the theme, the anchor, is going to come from, and I’ve found that, just as often as not, it comes from somewhere the clients didn’t expect it to, since they were already too close to it to see the forest for the trees.

Once I’ve identified what I believe is the thread, I build a proposed storyboard that has as its goal the bottom-line message I asked the client about previously. I also ask the presenter at the outset whether he likes to be highly scripted, hardly scripted, or somewhere in the middle. Then I prepare notes accordingly—in the client’s voice, not mine—and try them out on the client. Usually he’s relieved and grateful, and also a little mystified.

Get This Gig: Presentations

Where Do I Start?

Ask friends of yours employed by companies if they’d mind giving you copies of  presentations that cross their desks. Then practice with those presentations, figuring out where you could improve language, story, structure, and flow. Companies also frequently publish presentations online these days. Do a random Google search of companies in your region, then go to their websites and see what you can find.

In your introductory letter, make specific reference to your presentation expertise. If you can provide a few concrete examples based on one of the company’s own presentations, all the better. (“As a professional communicator, I help add a measure of focus and impact to both internal and client-facing presentations. In the attached, for example, I’ve made half a dozen suggestions that I thought might enhance the presentation’s overall effectiveness.”)

Who Do I Contact?
Often, presentations published by a company will include the author’s name, usually on the title page or at the end. There’s nothing wrong with contacting these people directly. If you can’t get a specific name, determine who to send your letter to based on the size of the company. If it’s a Small Fish or Lone Wolf, send it straight to the president or CEO. If it’s a Big Dog, send it to the manager of the local office. Always call and get an individual name.

What Do I Charge?

For slides that aren’t too text-heavy, fifteen minutes per slide is a fair rate; for denser ones, thirty minutes per slide. So, for example, if you’re decided your corporate rate is $60 per hour, for a twenty-slide presentation your quote will be $300 for a text-light presentation (20 slides x 15 minutes/slide), $600 for a text-heavy one (20 slides x 30 minutes/slide).

From EVERYTHING ELSE UNDER THE SUN

Menus
I’m serious. Think for a moment about how many restaurants there are—in your town, or the next town, or the closest metropolitan center. Now think about how persuasive good menus sound and how boring poor ones sound. Not to mention those stories that sometimes appear as part of the menu, usually involving the history of the place or the family that owns and/or started it. I can tell you most restaurateurs don’t write those stories all by themselves. Menus change all the time, new restaurants open constantly, and their owners are looking for any tiny advantage that will help them avoid the typical fate of new restaurant ventures. Menus that sing can be one of those advantages. 

Get This Gig: Menus

Where Do I Start?
Do a little reconnaissance work. Visit a bunch of restaurants and make notes about their menus, including possible suggestions you’d make for improvement.

Who Do I Contact?
Once you’re done, dressed in your professional duds, personally visit each of the restaurants whose menus you feel could stand improvement, and ask to speak to the owner. In one minute or less, introduce yourself, provide your business card, and mention with a smile and a friendly tone that you happened to be dining there earlier in the week, noticed an area of two in which the menu might be worked on, and, as a professional wordsmith, would be happy to take a look at it if they’d like.

What Do I Charge?
Don’t talk cost during that initial conversation. If and when you receive a phone call or e-mail, say something like, “Thanks for getting in touch, Mr. Joseph. I’d be happy to take a look at your menu. Would you like me to send you an estimate for this work?” If you get a positive response, have a look at the menu and determine a quote you think is worthwhile to you and within the appetite (so to speak) of your potential client.
uch as you feel is appropriate.
 
About the Book

For more ways to make money freelancing, check out 102 Ways to Make Money Writing 1,500 Words or Less by. I. J. Schecter.
 
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