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Write It Short
by Gloria T. Delamar

Writing short nonfiction is probably the easiest way for new writers to break into print. It covers a broad range of possibilities: essays, opeds, memoirs, how-to pieces, interviews, local places of interest, travel articles - almost anything that some city newspaper or national magazine might use. Don't overlook the weekly newspaper devoted to news of interest to the local community - many writers get their start in those pages.

Newspapers work on a close deadline and don't need as much lead time as magazines do. For opeds, many will consider e-mail submissions that are targeted to current events or local happenings or insights. (You can also learn to hone your skills with carefully crafted Letters to the Editor - but you won't be paid.)  An article that has a time focus should be submitted several weeks in advance.

Most magazines work four to six months ahead, so a piece that's focused on July Fourth, for instance, should be submitted six months ahead - and for most, an advance query asking if they'd like to see the finished piece would go out even before that.

Read the publications you want to write for so you understand their slants, tones, and needs.  Pay attention to word length - busy editors don't appreciate submissions that are far off the mark. And do check your spelling, punctuation, and syntax.

You may not hit The Washington Post on your first few tries, and maybe never, but those little checks coming in from little newspapers can add up. Learn how to make effective use of multiple-submissions. That's when you send the same piece to more than one "non-competing" publication. Just be sure they are non-competing. A small newspaper in Southern Pines, NC isn't in competition with a small weekly in Frederick, MD.: in the upper right hand corner put "exclusive to your circulation area."  Keep in mind, however, that certain newspapers, such as The New York Times or Christian Science Monitor are national and therefore competing with all other newspapers. 

Religious publications can often be sent identical pieces: one denomination's readers aren't reading some other denomination's publications. They all want good spiritual or inspirational pieces. Just be sure you're writing with due regard to the tenets of a religion's theology and philosophy.

If you're a good researcher and learner in a subject (or already an expert in it) and clever in rewriting it different ways, you can double, triple, quadruple your sales by approaching various magazines with pieces targeted to their interests. You can either think of it as recycling or as tailoring the writing to the reader.

Psychologically, it's a boost to your identification of yourself as a writer to sell some short pieces and get paid for them.
 

-  © Gloria T. Delamar

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