Knocking on the right door

If the main entrance is locked, try the side door.

Certain magazines have an emotional allure for us–we’ve dreamed of seeing our bylines in them. High-profile, large-circulation publications pay the highest rates and often have the most prestige. Part of the allure, admittedly, is the challenge, but unless we know someone inside, it can start to seem useless to keep repeatedly knocking. It’s time to look for another way in.

“It is rare that we will assign a feature article to a writer with whom we have not worked,” read the editorial guidelines for freelancers on the Travel + Leisure website. “The best sections to start with are those in the front of the magazine.” Most major magazine editors would echo that advice.

The front of the magazine, commonly called “the front of the book,” refers to the pages of shorter articles that appear before the feature articles begin. Often they are grouped into “departments,” each covering a subject such as travel, people, style or entertainment. But sometimes they are not organized at all–a string of pearls. (Hint: WD’s FOB is the Inkwell department you’re reading right now. And, yes, it’s the easiest place to break in.)

FOB articles have a little less gravitas, are often more of-the-moment, and typically pay less than features. If a writer’s byline and existing credits are not on a par with the magazine’s reputation, an FOB piece is usually his starter assignment to see if he is worthy of being considered as a features writer. It gets you invited into the house when you could still be banging at the front door.

In my own case, some sympathetic editors who have turned down my features pitches have instead asked me to write a short article–an unspoken but welcome consolation prize.

PREPARING THE PITCH

FOB articles are not to be taken any less seriously than features. Flub one and you probably won’t be asked back.

Prepare for the article

Study the departments carefully, as these are very targeted pieces. Many magazines have editorial calendars with theme issues announced in advance, which you can usually access in the “advertising” section of their sites. These calendars can both guide you to new ideas and better target those you already have.

Before making the pitch, answer these questions: Why would the reader care? What’s the best angle? Why now? Why me? Your query for a short piece might sound very much like the final article–consider it your writing test.

MAKING THE PITCH

Finding the right editor to pitch–or even any editor to contact–may not be easy. As with any business, a magazine may be run top-down with the executive editor calling the shots on all assignments. At other publications, department editors are kings and queens of their own fiefdoms. But regardless of who sees your query first, most pitches that pass the first hurdle will likely be further vetted by others on staff.

The first part maybe the heardest, you have to wait for the pitch

For editorial guidance and contact info, I first check the current Writer’s Market or writersmarket.com (both from WD Books), and then look at the magazine’s website. Some have staff directories with email contacts, but many give only one entry: info@ publication.com. In those cases, I select an editor from the magazine’s masthead, title my message “Writer’s Query” and give the salutation to the chosen editor.

Then I wait.

LEVERAGING YOUR FIRST FOB

To paraphrase an old business dictum, “The purpose of the first article is to sell a second article, hopefully a bigger one.” At least six magazines for which I now write features started me out with FOB assignments. And truth be told, I still pitch them ideas of lesser importance as FOBs. It’s extra money.

Then with your second job, you can start have a better wage

Moving up isn’t easy or guaranteed. I’ve sold seven front-of-the-book pieces to one national mag without achieving a features byline–I have yet to pitch the right idea at the right time. But I’m getting paid, colleagues and other editors comment on my pieces in this flashy publication, and every pitch I send them–FOB or feature–gets real consideration because they now recognize my name.

Finally, department editors generally become your advocates in moving up to features. They are often young, ambitious and loyal to those they consider “their writers.” They will remember you in their next editing incarnation.

FINDING THE THIRD DOOR

Increasingly, there is a third door to publications, one I think of as the “stage door.” That is website features, very similar to FOB pieces, but generally lighter and more topical or timely. There is perhaps less pay and prestige in these Web articles, but they get you in the door, and give you an opening to become part of the site editor’s entourage.

Of course, always be bold enough to pitch a great feature idea to a great mag–it can and has worked for many writers. But don’t give up easily if you fail. There’s more than one way to get that coveted byline.

Roger Morris writes from Pennsylvania, primarily about wine, food and travel for publications including Town & Country, USA Today’s Co/Escape, Wine Enthusiast, Beverage Media and The Drinks Business. His most recent book, The Brandywine Book of the Seasons, was co-authored with his wife, Ella.

freelance-writer-job-hire-exchange

Know-how to spot and avoid freelance writing scams

Most freelancers turn to the Internet to find work. And while there are plenty of legitimate job opportunities to be found online, many others are too good to be true. Navigating this virtual minefield and avoiding scams can become a key element of your job, as today’s scams are particularly sophisticated. Fortunately, a bit of knowledge and constant vigilance can protect your work–and your paycheck–from con artists.

How can they scam you ?

I always considered myself to be pretty careful. In my years of writing Web content, I’ve come across plenty of scam artists:

  • Clients who ask for multiple revisions as a way to get several articles.
  • Clients who ask for bank account information under the guise of direct-depositing payments.
  • Prospective clients who ask for unpaid samples as a way to score free content with no intention of actually paying for the job.

One scam I was not prepared for, however, was the so-called “check” scam. The mechanics of the scam are fairly straightforward: First, an individual approaches you with an assignment, such as a document to be edited. He offers payment in advance using a stolen, forged or otherwise fraudulent check. He then cancels the assignment, demands a refund and requests that you wire him the money.

Freelancer writing is a job that can be done anywhere and anytime but beware of the scammers.
Freelancer writing is a job that can be done anywhere and anytime but beware of the scammers.
I was lucky in that things didn’t get that far when I was taken in by this scam. The company whose checks he had stolen found out about the fraudulent activity and shut down the account within two days. All in all, 15 writers around the country were affected, and I watched bitterly as the payment for what had seemed to be a valid and lucrative editing job disappeared from my grasp. But it could have been a lot worse.

Here’s what you need to know if you’re ever taken in by a scam artist

A bank often has no way of knowing whether a check is legitimate until days, weeks or even months after it’s been deposited. As a courtesy, the bank will provide funds to your account the day after the deposit is made, but that doesn’t mean that the check has cleared.
You are responsible for any money you deposit into your bank account, even if you’re the victim of a scam. This means that if you spend the money, believing that the check is good, you’re responsible for covering those purchases if the check later bounces. You might be refunded some of the associated banking fees, but don’t count on it.

It’s in your best interest to file a police report. Even though the odds of the authorities actually finding the scam artist are slim, doing so will help protect you from fraud charges of your own if you accidentally write any hot checks, and it improves your odds of having bank fees waived.

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You can ask for police helps but there are not much chane to find the scammer

Prevention is always the best medicine

There are ways you can spot a possible scam before it gets out of hand. In hindsight, these are things I could have done to save myself the hassle and disappointment of being taken in by check fraud:

  • Get as many details about the project as you can. My first red flag should have been that the client was always eager to discuss payment but had little to say about the project itself. Before you begin, you should know where the project will be published and who exactly is ordering it. Check the website of the client–both the end-client and any intermediary broker–and refuse to deal with anyone whose identity you can’t verify.
  • Use a written contract. In it, specify your payment preference, number of revisions you’ll complete, deadlines and any other details that seem relevant. Forward the contract to the client and don’t start work until the terms have been agreed upon and signed.
  • Use a safe and secure payment method. Paypal is easy to use and one of the safest options, but be aware that clients can still cancel a payment after making it. Another option is a money order or secure wire transfer such as Western Union. Don’t accept personal checks; take checks only from a well-established company that you know for a fact hired you to do the work. Even cashier’s checks can be faked.
  • Verify that funds are available before cashing a check. If you do accept a check, you can call the issuing bank to ensure that funds are in the account before cashing it. Don’t count on your bank to do this for you.
  • Request a portion of the payment in advance. Or, for larger projects, after completing an agreed-upon portion of the project. Ensure that the payment method worked before proceeding with additional work. Be wary of any client who offers to pay entirely up front. Even if they’re not scammers, these clients can still cause headaches if they decide to cancel the project and demand reimbursement.
  • Consider working through a brokering service. Textbroker, eLance, oDesk and Guru collect payments from the client on your behalf and hold them in a secure account. When the work is complete, you are paid by the brokering site. These sites do take a commission of your earnings, but the price can be a fair compromise for the security they offer.

    freelance-writer-hire-exchange-2
    These freelancers site may charge you some fees but you have better protection and better chance to avoid scammers
  • Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that you’ll never run into a scammer. Anytime you use the Internet to find potential clients, you run the risk of meeting a thief or con artist. By practicing some vigilance and taking steps to protect yourself, you can weed out these unsavory characters and focus on the real, valuable paying clients who make up the backbone of any freelancer’s career. Tips: Freelance writing is an interesting way to work and earn money, it maybe easy if you have a good foreign language skills and ability to work under high pressure. You can find many good clients and have them rated you a better rank for getting jobs easier.