Freelancer Stories: When I Broke Into Print

Like a lot of writers, when I first started thinking about publishing, I found a copy of Writer’s Market and began thumbing through the entries. I liked cats, but did I know enough about them to write for Cat Fancy? I enjoyed making up little stories for my younger sister, but was I Highlights for Children material?

I read guidelines, compared rates, even sent out some query letters—most of which were ignored, a few of which were rejected.

But I got my first big break.

A creative writer primarily, I had an amazing experience at the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, where I took a transformative poetry workshop with the poet Allison Joseph and had a dozen important conversations with fiction writer Nancy Zafris. This ten-day workshop marked a shift in how I thought of myself. Afterwards, I was no longer a small-town newspaper reporter who wrote some poems; I was a poet who happened to cover the county commissioners on the side.

On a whim, I wrote to Poets & Writers magazine and proposed an article about what my attendance at the workshop meant for my art. To my astonishment and pleasure, P&W said they’d like to take a look. I did my research and wrote the thing, and before I knew it, I had a byline.

'To break into publishing for a national audience, consider your passions first.' Click To Tweet

Why did P&W work where Cat Fancy had not? It’s because I was a creative writer, and I was passionate and knowledgeable about the topic. My query letter played up my qualifications, while also giving a taste of the kind of writing they could expect from me.

That early debut was years ago, but the same strategy that scored me a feature story in Poets & Writers still works for me today. In fact, the main magazines and websites that print my work are affiliated with my religious denomination, and for these I write about spiritual issues that I find compelling.

To break into publishing for a national audience, consider your passions first. Do you like skydiving, anime, gardening, quilting, stamp collecting? There are journals for that. The key to getting a byline is to think of an intriguing story or a unique point of view, and then to write a query that expresses your own knowledge and passion.

Our passion shows. And editors want to tap into it, because it enlivens their magazines and excites their readers.

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