Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Value in Lies AND Truth

Writers know that all good fiction is a pack of lies that tells the truth.

However, the truth about fiction is not an easy way to pay bills - for many, it's damn near impossible!

But you want to be a professional writer! An Author!

Try your hand at some non-fiction.

Non-fiction writing not only makes money, but it helps you write better and better sell your fiction.


Writing non-fiction articles is what has afforded me to write speculative fiction. There are far more markets for non-fiction, and the pay is better.

Most magazines average a dollar a word - a DOLLAR! - some as much as $2 per word… though some as low as 20 cents per word. But 20 cents is four times the average fiction professional rate! Trade magazines can average between 20 cents to $2 per word, depending on how much experience you have in the trade.

But what about novels, you ask? From every convention I've gone to and the many agent & editor blogs I peruse, Firsttime Novelist, gets less than $5,000 for an advance (often much less) If you’re a first time, it's also probably taken years of work to write, polish, sell, and get this published.

Now, time for word problems. (Didn't you just love those in school?) If magazine writer writes mostly 1200 to 2000-word articles at the average magazine rate, how soon can s/he make that? If they also pepper their main income magazines with smaller pieces from smaller publications (see my guest blog tomorrow at for more on this), how quickly will s/he make that $5k? And if some months, they sell articles to the really high end magazines?

'Nuff said.

Better Writer

Writing non-fiction articles teaches you research and interview. Every writer should know how to do this. Every book should have some level of research, and in almost every book you'll have a character looking to get information from another character. I've got more articles planned that go into both these things in more detail… but know that you need these skills.

Non-fiction writing also imposes word counts and deadlines. Copy space is vanishing real estate due to advertising and short attention spans, so writers need to make their point clearly and quickly… and ON TIME! Professional authors need to meet editorial deadlines, so get used to it.

Working with an editor and getting used to changing things - or having things changed for publication - is also an important skill. It's a business. Like with children, other people will change and mold and criticize your "baby." It is never entirely yours, nor will it be - unless you only plan to write for yourself and share with no one.

Selling Better

If you can attach your name to several established magazines or newspapers, people know you can write, meet deadlines, and work with an editor - and that's a good thing.

I'm not saying this necessarily belongs on a query letter - or even a cover letter… there are much better blogs and resources that give you query/cover letter tips. However, if you get a chance to speak with other professionals in publishing and they ask you what you do - mentioning the best places you've been published gives you credentials above someone who's never been published anywhere. If you get a request to send your work, you can re-identify yourself as the person who writes for "____"

More globally, writing freelance non-fiction helps you hone your overall query and selling ability. You need to pitch articles to your non-fic editors, first of all. You should also be able to make your point in few words, which helps you write a better synopsis or blurb (in theory, at least - I'll let you know when I sell a novel). And the research and interviewing experience helps you find and screen which agents and editors would be the best matches.

Non-Fiction Markets

Have I convinced you to look more into selling non-fiction? Cool! Where do you start?

What magazines & newspapers do you enjoy reading? What do you pay to receive? Start with their submission guidelines.

Next: What interests you? Do an Internet search for your favorite things to see if there is a magazine dedicated to any of them. Writing is your life, you say? There are plenty of writing magazines that pay - but keep in mind competition is stiff.

Exhausted all those options? One of my favorite one-stop-shop places is C. Hope Clark is a fabulous resource for markets and advice. I also highly recommend her regular newsletters. The paid subscription always makes its money back for me, but the free ones are still great. You can also peruse, but there are a lot of people there who expect free writing there. You may need to do a few free non-fiction pieces (blog entries do NOT count) to get "clips," but once you've got some pay pieces, don't work for free (that's what blogs are for). There are even more tips and hyperlinks at my website,

Now, get out there and start earning money for your writing!


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