as a career, offers a range of personal rewards. It enables people to express themselves,
as well as to entertain, inform, and influence others. With only a few tools--paper, a
typewriter, a pencil, and often a personal computer--a writer can have an impact on the
surrounding world. But most authors spend hundreds of hours perfecting their skills before
they can sell any of their works.
There are two main kinds of writers, staff writers and free-lance writers. Staff writers
are professional writers who work for a salary. Many earn a living as newspaper reporters
or columnists. Others work as technical writers, who express the complex ideas of
engineers and scientists in words that a nonexpert can understand. Many staff writers
prepare documents for public agencies. Others work as editors for book publishers,
magazines, or newspapers.
Free-lance writers get paid only if a publisher buys their work. Free-lancers write most
books--both fiction and nonfiction--dramas, poems, screenplays, and short stories, as well
as many magazine and newspaper articles. Many staff writers create free-lance material in
addition to their regular work.
This article discusses the chief types of free-lance writing and tells how to submit works
for publication. For some information on how to write, see A Guide to Writing Skills in
the Research Guide/Index, Volume 22.
Preparing for a writing career. A person who wants to be a writer should set aside some
time to write every day. Learning to express ideas clearly and effectively in writing
takes a great deal of practice. Many experienced writers keep a journal. A journal can
serve as a storehouse for information, observations, and ideas. It can also be a place to
develop new material.
Beginning writers should read the many kinds of writing encountered every day and pay
special attention to what they find most interesting. News items, feature stories,
textbooks, cookbooks, repair manuals, poems, essays, short stories, novels, and plays
differ in their methods of organizing and presenting material. A beginning writer who
reads widely and carefully will develop an appreciation of different writing approaches
and styles. In time, the writer can acquire a more flexible approach to his or her own
Successful authors write about subjects they know and understand. They sometimes take
weeks or months revising or refining an article, poem, or story. Beginning writers usually
benefit from finding one or more friendly critics who will read their work and discuss its
strengths and weaknesses with them.
High schools and colleges offer many learning opportunities for young writers. Composition
and literature courses can be helpful. Creative writing and journalism courses may further
assist a beginning writer in developing his or her skills. Many students work on literary
magazines, newspapers, or yearbooks published by their schools. They may write stories,
edit articles, or gain other valuable experience.
Free-lance markets include book publishers, magazines, and newspapers. A reference book
called Writer's Market lists the name, address, editorial needs, and policies of more than
5,000 magazines, publishers, and other literary markets. It also provides general
information about methods of preparing a manuscript and the legal rights of authors and
publishers. Writer's Market is revised annually and can be found in most public libraries.
Articles in such monthly magazines as The Writer and Writer's Digest also offer helpful
tips on how to write and sell manuscripts.
Some magazines welcome free-lance material. Many editors send a free copy of their
magazine and a list of editorial guidelines to anyone who requests them. These materials
can help free-lancers decide whether the content and style of their work would appeal to
readers of a publication.
Some writers hire a literary agent to find markets for their works. An agent reads a
client's manuscript and suggests ways to improve it. The agent then tries to sell the
manuscript to a publisher. If the manuscript is sold, the agent receives a commission of
10 to 15 per cent of the author's income for that piece of writing. Beginning writers
should try to sell their own works. Many agents work only with writers who have been
recommended by editors or professional authors.
Nonfiction ranks as the largest market for free-lance writers. Book publishers buy about
10 times as many nonfiction manuscripts as novels. In most magazines, nonfiction articles
greatly outnumber poems and short stories. Nonfiction articles range in length from a few
hundred words to book length. Long articles may be serialized (published in installments)
in a magazine.
Several kinds of publications accept nonfiction from free-lancers. General-interest
magazines contain articles on current, popular subjects that appeal to a wide audience.
Such magazines attract many professional writers. Readers of specialized publications
share a common interest, such as a hobby, a political viewpoint, a specialized technical
subject, or membership in a professional organization. Many beginners succeed in selling
articles to these magazines, which attract relatively few well-known writers.
Writers should choose a topic that readers want to know more about. They may also select a
topic that they care so much about they can make their readers care also. The writer
should then choose a format (form of presentation) suited both to the subject and the kind
of magazine that might publish the article. A beginning writer usually works up a topic
and a way of presenting it alone. Later, the writer and an editor may cooperate on its
revision. A free-lancer who writes about money might offer an article called "How to
Find a Part-Time Job" to Seventeen. Another article, called "Stretching Your
Food Dollars," might be sent to Family Circle. A writer should always use reliable
sources so that the article presents accurate information.
Payment for nonfiction material varies widely. Specialized publications with a small
readership usually offer lower payments than general-interest magazines with large
readerships. Payment for a magazine article ranges from less than $100 to thousands of
dollars. Book publishers usually pay authors a royalty (commission) of 10 to 15 per cent
of the book's price for each copy sold.
Fiction sold by free-lance writers includes short stories of various kinds--adventure and
confession tales, mysteries, romances, science fiction, and Westerns. Markets include many
general-interest publications and fiction and literary magazines.
A writer who wants to write a novel should first concentrate on writing the novel and then
be concerned with selling it. But the writer may find it helpful to read other novels
being written today and be familiar with books being issued by various publishers. In this
way, a writer can learn which publishers are most likely to buy a particular kind of work.
Some writers submit an entire manuscript to a publisher. Others prefer to submit only the
first few chapters of a novel, plus a one- or two-page summary of the plot. The length of
time it takes editors to respond varies. A writer may inquire about the manuscript if
there is no response after two or three months.
Poetry is one of the most challenging types of writing. It is also one of the
lowest-paying. Some magazines only pay poets by giving them copies of the issues in which
their work appears. Others pay a dollar or, more rarely, several dollars a line. Reading
widely in modern poetry will stimulate many ideas. However, poems are not written by
formula. Poems must come from the poet's own language, imagination, and experience.
Scriptwriting. Writing scripts for plays, movies, or television can bring great financial
rewards. However, scriptwriting is an extremely competitive field in which relatively few
people succeed. Scriptwriting can be less personal than other forms of writing. It may
turn into a group project, with the actors and directors contributing to the completion of
a script. Most plays produced on Broadway in New York City are written by established
authors. Some off-Broadway and regional theaters have special programs to encourage the
work of talented young playwrights. But most beginners have their works performed in
school or community theaters. Many play producers and theaters list their interests and
needs in Writer's Digest and such specialized publications as The Dramatists Guild
Quarterly, Information for Playwrights, and Scriptwriter News.
Most professional and amateur productions pay the scriptwriter a percentage of the total
box-office receipts as royalties. Royalties of 5 to 10 per cent are common. Other forms of
payment include buying the rights to the material and payment per performance.
Many motion-picture screenplays and television scripts are written by free-lance writers.
Free-lancers should hire an agent to sell such material because movie and television
producers rarely deal directly with an author. The size of the royalty depends on the
writer's professional reputation and the quality of the script. Such publications as Daily
Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and Scriptwriter News help writers by reporting trends in
the film and television industries.
Literature for children includes adventure stories, mysteries, and articles about
folklore, nature, science, and famous people. Many children's magazines also buy quizzes,
puzzles, and riddles. Articles and stories published in children's magazines are usually
no more than 1,500 words long. Authors usually receive payment of about 4 cents per word
or a single payment that is generally less than $100. Free-lance authors write nearly all
of the juvenile books published yearly in the United States. Most publishing firms that
specialize in children's books prefer to receive complete manuscripts.
Preparing and submitting a manuscript. All manuscripts should be neatly typed or printed
from a computer. They should be on good-quality white paper, usually 81/2 by 11 inches (22
by 28 centimeters). The typist should doublespace and leave margins on the top, bottom,
and sides of every page. Each page should be numbered, usually centered at the top of the
page or toward the right margin. Often the first page is not numbered. The title and
author's by-line should be centered halfway down the first page. A by-line shows the
author's name as he or she wants it to appear in the published article or book. The writer
should put his or her complete name, address, and phone number in the top corner of the
first page. Many writers also put their last name by the page number on succeeding pages
in case the manuscript gets divided up in an editor's office.
A writer may enclose a cover letter that briefly describes his or her qualifications for
writing about the subject. A writer offering a literary work may wish to include just an
introductory letter. Some editors prefer that free-lancers send a query letter that
summarizes the manuscript before submitting the entire work. A writer should always
enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope for the editors to use to return the