Sunday, January 27, 2013

Growing from a wannabe writer to a professional

When I was more a "wannabe" than a "writer" I liked to write short articles for magazines.  I still had children at home and I could find enough time to write them.  I'd taken a Creative Writing class and had learned a lot about selling.  I think my problem was targeting my audiences and writing, not for myself, but for other people.  If they didn't like what I wrote, I didn't sell.

One of my targets for these articles was a magazine for Lutheran women called Scope.  I read the magazine regularly and had a thorough grounding in being a Lutheran so I thought it would be a cinch.  It wasn't.

My pile of rejections was growing.  I had learned that it was important to keep trying.  I could quote (at the time) how many rejections the author of "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" had endured before finally finding a publisher for his hit book.  Rejections are learning tools and I carefully scoured each one:  at first for signs that someone had truly read it, and later for the tiny comments a sympathetic editor had given me.

Imagine my delight when I received a LETTER from the editor for Scope. Well, that was the first reaction.  The second was puzzlement.  She wrote that she liked the first part of my article but not the second.  She wanted my permission to edit out the material she didn't want.  Writing class had never covered that.  What was I to do?  How could I meet her request not as a hopeful writer, but as a professional.

I gave it some thought.  It was clear that she wanted to buy the first half.  I looked at my text.  Yes, it seemed to be in two parts, but I strongly felt that they worked together.  But. . . . the editor only wanted the first half.

I could just say "Yes, Do it." or I could pretend (that's how I felt) to be a professional and give her what she wanted - only better.  Carefully preserving the original (apparently two piece article) I retyped just the first part, giving it what I hoped was a smooth beginning and ending that fit the part I KNEW the editor wanted.

I sent the new version to her the next day.  That was followed by a nice letter with a check attached to it.  I was jubilant.

I'd learned a lesson - to trust the editor when she critiques your work.  She knows what she wants for her magazine.  I learned that a professional acts like one.  Sure, you want blue instead of green?  I can do that.

Perhaps the most amusing part of this story is that in the following days I also re-wrote the second half of that article.  I sent it to a different magazine and was delighted to receive a check in return.  I got twice as much for taking an editor's advice and splitting the article.


  1. Hooray! The hardest part of writing (and selling) is determining exactly what they want and fitting your work to that. It's good that you fixed it and sent it back--I'd hate to think what they would have done to your work otherwise!

  2. It really was Lin. I had a good teacher. She went on to write many books and her books were translated many times.

  3. A good lesson for all of us. I will remember that as I work on my stories.

    1. It's been a while since I posted Rhonda. I hope you've used that time to forge ahead and work on focusing on what the editor wants, not what you wanted to write. If you've been successful, please let me know.

  4. I love this, Marilynne. It's a quiet dream of mine to be published in a magazine. I do adore magazines and their happy short stories. I am doing nothing to pursue that dream, by the way. But, that's another issue.

  5. If the stories never leave your house Relyn, they'll never be published. Write that short happy story and see what happens. It helps at first to try for a magazine that you're familiar with. If that's not the direction you want to go, look at the magazine publisher's web site and buy a magazine or two. (Barnes & Noble has a good selection of magazines.)


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