Hi, folks! Elliott asked me to write a short bit on my experiences as a freelance writer in hopes that I may impart some helpful tips for those out there who may be writing and not getting published, or not getting paid, or otherwise not getting where they might want to be. So, here goes.
I’ve been writing freelance, nonfiction animal/veterinary pieces for (sometimes sporadic) pay for just over ten years. My first paying gig was for a small regional magazine called Rocky Mountain Rider. Although my list of published pieces steadily grows, freelancing is still a hobby for me and I am still a veterinarian first. The freelance business is so capricious; nothing is guaranteed, as publishing houses can and do file for bankruptcy. Such an unpredictable nature makes me inherently nervous and I can’t see myself ever trying to make freelancing my sole source of income. Nevertheless, I enjoy writing. I also enjoy the veterinary profession, so combining the two is extremely fun and rewarding for me.
I’ve always been writing; it is an ingrained habit I’ve had all my life, so the concept of pitching ideas to magazines was sort of the next natural progression. For the first six or seven years of freelancing, my modus operandi was as follows: get an idea, write an article, query some magazines where the article might fit. Sometimes this worked, many other times it didn’t.
Growing up, I read, no, devoured magazines like Horse Illustrated, Dog Fancy, and Cat Fancy. These glossies, with national readership, were the cream of the crop. In order to grow my list of writing credentials, I queried smaller magazines, thinking I had a better chance at getting published in those. I searched through the most current edition of the Writer’s Market to find editor contact information and publications that might like what I had to offer.
What, then, did I have to offer? My first published piece was about the differences in the horse industry between the UK and the US. A general interest piece, it was lighthearted and I imagined an easy fit for a small-time print. So, I wrote the piece, then queried Rocky Mountain Rider. To my surprise, a few weeks later, the editor replied with interest. So, in went the article and I was paid my first writing check: $28.50. I was over the moon. This was in 2002.
And so it went. I’d think of an idea like: “Ten Tips for Dog Safety in the Water” or “Horse Sense” or “Desensitization: a training approach for puppies,” then I’d write it, then I’d query. If I received a rejection, and I received lots, I’d pick another publication. Slowly, slowly, my list of published works grew, which in turn opened more doors.
In terms of pay, it has been all over the place. I have written stuff for free and sometimes still do; whether you do this or not is a personal call and I find greatly depends on the venue. As far as real paychecks, it depends mostly on the size of the readership. For published magazines, a small time print may only offer in the range of $50-200 for say, a 1000 word article. But take a larger, nationally known magazine like Dog Fancy, and you’re looking at $400-$600, depending on the length of the piece. Web-based stuff is much more variable and it can be very hard to gauge what you might get paid, or what is ok to ask for. A general 1000 word piece might catch $100-200 for a small to medium-sized site, but something like wired.com or salon.com I would hope would fetch far more (maybe someday I’ll find out!).
As the internet has grown, the publishing world has changed. This has been both a curse and a blessing for the freelance writer. An almost untold number of websites have sprung up, and a lot of these sites need content writers. The Internet can be a great place for new writers to build credentials, but I also feel the instant gratification of the web can make people sloppy. Evaluate each site critically before submitting stuff. Is this a site you’d want your name tied to? Does the rest of the content seem high quality and reputable?
My writing routine has changed a bit since I first started. Now I pitch an idea to an editor before I actually write it. This is mostly due to the fact that I now write many pieces that include multiple interviews. I don’t want to interview folks if I haven’t already received the green light from an editor. Where do I get my ideas for pitches? Any crazy thing that pops into my brain is fair game. I enjoy the more unique aspects of veterinary medicine and agriculture/animal science and I like to give things a little twist. This then sometimes results in situations where I find myself frying Rocky Mountain Oysters. But, anything for a byline, right?
These days, where “Dr. Google” is the bane of every veterinarian’s (and physician’s) existence, I feel it is more important than ever for veterinarians to write articles for online and print. Too many “pet experts” and “pet lifestyle consultants” are writing pieces on flea control, dental health, and other health topics. Veterinarians who write, I believe, should be a commodity in demand as true experts in the field.
I still get rejection letters. I think this is just the nature of the freelance writing business, no matter if you’re just getting your toes wet, or if you’ve been playing the game a long time. As always, don’t ever give up. Ever. If your writing is solid and the topic is marketable, there is a place for it; it’s just a matter of finding that place. A cool thing to remember is that what is one editor’s trash may be another’s treasure. Plenty of my queries that were rejected by one magazine were picked up by another. Create, write, pitch, repeat. I think the last step is the most important.
Elliott here again: Thank you Anna for sharing your story as a freelance writer!
If you’re interested in connecting further or would like to find more examples of some of Anna’s work, be sure to check out her blog, VetWrite, and follow her on Twitter. I love her regular Vet Word of the Day feature on Twitter especially.
This topic is of special interest to me, because I’ve only ever been paid for two things that I’ve written. I’m hoping to up that count in the near future, and I have a lot to learn from other vets like Anna who are already doing it.
Have you been paid for writing something that utilizes your veterinary expertise? What hints can you share with the rest of us?
Do you have any questions for Anna?