The Write-way Code: Reading the Signs
Published in Freelance Market News 2008


Naturally we want our writing to be recognised for the work of genius it is and for it to be
accepted for publication. Unfortunately, in the early days of our writing careers, rejection
letters are all too often the only reward for our efforts.

But the answer - as someone once said - is out there. Whether your work passes or fails
the all-important submission test will depend on how familiar you are with the Write-way
Code. Get to know the signs, so that your writing highway will lead to more successes
and fewer road blocks.

Falling Rocks
Show your story to family, friends, or writers' group and you invite comment. There will be
praise, but you'll also be subjecting your work to criticism. A lukewarm reception can be
disheartening and suggestions for 'improving' your story may leave you asking yourself if
you should be writing at all. Don't slavishly follow others' ideas - act on them only if you
feel they make your story stronger.

But, if you want to be published, you should always take note of any comments the editor
makes in a rejection letter. A fiction editor is very clear about what she wants to buy and if
she takes the trouble to point out why your story failed to make the grade, you should
don your hard hat and take notice.

Caution heavy load
Watch out for that over-written, or adjective-laden submission. Sending in work that is
miles too long is one of the most common reasons for rejection. Short story writers should
ensure every scene, paragraph and sentence moves the story forward through conflict
and crisis towards a satisfactory conclusion. Tighten sluggish dialogue and over-long
scene-setting and abandon unnecessary adverbs.

Wordiness isn't confined to fiction. We all have words and expressions we're particulary
fond of and which crop up in our writing far too often. Expanded phrases such as 'it goes
without saying' and 'at the end of the day' increase word count but add nothing to an
article's clarity. Ditch the excess. Lighten the load by using concise, snappy writing.

Loose chippings
You've pitched your idea, written the article and are eager to send it on its way. Hold on -
have you double-checked all facts? Every piece of work, whatever its length, must be
checked for complete accuracy. Don't automactically assume the information you find will
be correct. Website content may not have been updated, email addresses and phone
numbers can change, and prices and opening times could be different from those stated
in guidebooks and tourist leaflets.

Never leave the details for the editor to fill in on your behalf. Verify the names of anyone
you've interviewed or quoted - many names can be spelled in a variety of ways. Carefully
does it - like those pesky loose chippings, error-ridden work is apt to bounce right back at
you.

Risk of grounding
Why are some writers more successful than others - attracting acceptances rather than
countless rejection slips? The fact is that anyone has a reasonable chance of being
published if they work at improving their skills. Writing, like any other craft, must be
learned and one of the key factors is to write with a specific market in mind.

Editors know their readers and are not all looking for the same thing. Producing a short
story or non-fiction article, no matter how good it may be, and the asking 'Where can I
send this?' is almost certainly inviting rejection. Don't be left high and dry - study your
target market and offer editors what they want.

No through road
We've all read clever short stories or non-fiction articles and felt annoyed that the idea
hadn't occurred to us first. There is a huge temptation to reel off a similar piece - after all,
if the editor liked the original idea he's bound to be interested in more of the same, isn't
he? Think again.

The first story may have been clever, but the editor is not looking for a carbon copy.
Writing copycat articles and short fiction won't get you very far along the road to success.
Find another route, offer something different - be unique.

Restricted area
Some of the big national magazines do buy work from freelancers and, being the market
leaders, they pay the highest rates. But because they are inundated with material, and
have in-house writers, or regular contributors who produce much of the content, they're
not always the best option if you want to see your work in print.

Avoid the restricted areas, and gain more success, by submitting to the numerous
smaller, or specialist, publications. There are titles covering every hobby and special
interest, and newsagents' shelves are sagging under the weight of these magazines. If
you can write about vehicles or pets, sport or gardening, walking, family history, or a
myriad of other subjects, there's an editor somewhere waiting to hear from you.

No U-turns
You've queried an editor with a fantastic article idea and she has agreed to look at the
finished piece. That's taken you past the first milestone, but you're not home yet. Your
query letter will have indicated your chosen subject matter, the style in which the feature
will be written, its title, word count and whether you will be supplying photos.

Are you certain you can complete this not-to-be-missed article? Settle on what you will
write before you query, undertake the preliminary research and have futher sources lined
up. Once you have the editor's interest there should be no turning back - always deliver
what you have promised.

Holiday route
Seasonal articles, and those which cover important anniversaries, are always popular.
Timing is all-important - the first to get a good idea on the editor's desk is often the one
she will publish. This means sending a query at least three months prior to an anniversay
date for a weekly magazine and six months for one that is published monthly. Christmas
magazine content, and that for other major dates, will need a longer lead time with issues
being prepared anything up yo a year ahead.

Seasonal fillers can be submitted without the need to query first and might include mini-
articles, puzzles, did-you-knows, or useful tips. Short stories for seasonal issues also
need to be submitted at least six months ahead and are selected well in advance of
publication. Whatever route you take, be sure seasonal work arrives in plenty of time to
beat the holiday rush.

Slippery road
With article-writing, it's important to stay focused and not wander off topic. Articles lose
their impact and fail to impress when they depart from the main theme, so cut out any
unnecessary bits of information which have no real bearing on your subject.

Construct an outline of your article before you begin to help you keep on track. List the
key points you intend to cover and arrange them in the order they will appear in your
feature. Head each paragraph with one of your key points to ensure you don't slip up but
remain disciplined and on topic.

Traffic queues likely ahead
When you've sent off your non-fiction article or short story, the worst thing you can do is
just sit back to await its fate. Whether you were asked to submit the piece as the result of
a successful query or sent it 'on spec', it may be a while before you hear anything.

Instead, write your next piece and the next - the more work in progress you have, and the
more queries you send out, the less discouraged you'll be by any delays.

And before pulling on the brakes ...

Ahead only
Every successful writer has had their share of rejections. No one would deny it's
disappointing when something you've worked hard on is turned down, but it should never
be taken personally. It is that particular piece of work which has been rejected, not you. It
wasn't right for that editor, but it might be exactly what another is looking for. Don't lose
heart and give up at the first hurdle. And don't bin rejected work - instead, make it even
better. With a couple of acceptances under your belt the occasional rejection will cease
to be so important.



Back
Back to top
Copyright Maureen Vincent-Northam 2008