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by Patricia Fry

Eight Things That Can Go Wrong For a Freelance Writer

You're doing everything right; you've studied under the experts, you've been reading about writing, you network with the right people and you've put time in the trenches. You are a writer. What can possibly go wrong? In a word: plenty.

I've been writing for publication for over 30 years and have encountered each of the following problems during my career. While some of them are avoidable and some of them can be remedied, others fall under the tough luck category. When you encounter a tough luck occurrence, the best thing to do is to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move on. Imagine this:

  1. A twenty-year-old magazine that you write for regularly, folds without warning and without having published your latest article. You sent photographs with your article and now you can't make contact with anyone who knows anything about your submission.

    In the future, maintain close contact with editors. Don't allow more than a month to go by without receiving an update on your project. An impromptu phone chat might reveal the information you need in order to protect your interests. I generally don't send photos until I know that the article has been received and is scheduled for publication. Always send duplicate photos.
  2. You spend hours interviewing a fascinating woman tattoo artist. A local magazine issues you a contract and you write the article. But before the magazine gets around to publishing the piece, the woman closes up shop and moves out of the country.

    What to do? The regional magazine editor will no longer want to run the story, but you might be able to sell it to a national general interest, alternative lifestyles, art or trade magazine.
  3. You meet someone with an interesting story. You query an appropriate magazine and are invited to submit an article. You do the interview, write the article and promptly receive a rejection letter. You send the piece to other magazines and get nothing in return. The subject of the story keeps asking you when the piece will be published. You are embarrassed each time you encounter him.

    Should you vow never to write another profiles piece? You can if you want to. But, for the sake of your career, I suggest that you move on to something that will sell. When you have pockets of time, reexamine the rejected article. Consider tweaking it to fit other magazines.
  4. You are hired by a graphic designer to create copy for a company brochure which he is designing for a client. You complete the job, and weeks later, he comes back with a request for some changes. You do the rewrite. The designer is so close to deadline that he hastily makes the changes and sends the project to the printer. After 5,000 copies of the brochure are printed, the client finds several mistakes in the areas where the last minute changes were made. They refuse to pay for the job.

    The next time:
    • Insist upon seeing the project each and every time there is a change made to the text.
    • Draw up a simple contract indicating that your payment is not contingent upon the graphic designer getting paid.
  5. You are so excited about having one of your stories published that you sign a contract without paying much attention to it. Later, you decide that you want to include that story in an anthology, but realize that you have signed away all rights.

    This happens more than you might imagine. Never, NEVER sell all rights to your work. All might not be lost, however. Contact the magazine publisher and ask if they will return the rights to you. Or completely rewrite the story.
  6. You learn that a particular magazine has a new editor. You neglect to contact him, however, because the former editor never published any of your work.

    Always give a new editor a chance because he or she may just adore your style
  7. A magazine editor contacts you with a request to publish a clip you sent with your article submission. You freak out because this article has already been published.

    Calm down. Check to see what rights you sold to magazine number one. If you sold them first rights or one-time rights you can still sell reprint rights. Be sure to tell magazine editor number two that this is a reprint.
  8. You are hired by a client who wants you to "take a look" at her article. You recommend several changes and offer suggestions for making it read better. You return the work to your client with your editing suggestions. Weeks go by without a word from her.

    Yes, she is probably displeased. She thought her work was better than it was and she resents receiving it back with all of those awful red marks.

    Is there a light at the end of this tunnel? Probably. Wait a couple of weeks and then contact your client to ask if there is anything else you can help her with. Chances are, she will compliment you for helping her create a more polished article. A client's silence is difficult to endure. But sometimes they just need time to get over the sting of critique and recognize the value in your suggestions. I've had clients come back months later to thank me for pointing them in the right direction.

Patricia Fry is a full-time freelance writer. She writes magazine articles and works with clients on a variety of projects. She is also the author of 35 books See her most recent books in the left column of this page.

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