Attract the Best Writers
This could be a short article. The secret to attracting the best writers? Pay the best bucks.
But wait! What’s that you say? You can’t afford to pay $5 per word? Well,okay,then you might need a few other attractive qualities to get writers on your side.
There’s a hierarchy of factors that experienced writers will consider before pitching their services to a new magazine. Here are my top picks.
Go Easy on Rights
It probably won’t shock you to hear that it’s tough to make a living as a freelance writer. The ones who are successful and write full-time are generally very conscious of the rights they sell. If they sell limited rights to the first publication,they can resell the same article elsewhere to make additional income.
Only in recent years,since the Internet’s explosive popularity,has there been a trend toward magazines asking for all rights. Don’t be part of that trend.
Writers value publications that aren’t greedy with their rights policies. If you’re willing to accept reprints (articles that have been published elsewhere before),be sure to state that in your writers’ guidelines. In many cases,you can buy reprint rights to pieces that have appeared in non-competing publications,which means that it’s extremely unlikely that your audience will have read the article before. Reader’s Digest contains more reprint articles than original articles.
For original articles,if you want to remain writer-friendly,your best two options are to ask for one-time rights or first North American serial rights.
One-time rights means you’re acquiring the right to print the article one time. If you decide to use it again in a later issue,online,in an anthology,etc.,you would have to negotiate a fee for re-use. The writer is free to sell the article elsewhere at any time; you’re not demanding to be the first to use the article.
First North American serial rights means you’re acquiring the right to be the first magazine in North America to print the article. Again,this gives you the right to use the article once,and any additional uses would need to be negotiated separately.
In both of these cases,you can add restrictions to the rights. For example,you might ask for first North American serial rights with three months of exclusivity. This means the writer cannot sell the article elsewhere until three months have passed since the issue appeared.
Electronic rights may be negotiated as part of the original contract,or as an add-on. If you have a web presence (or plan to) and would like the right to use the article on your site or in your newsletter,plan to pay an additional fee for that use. For writers,it’s preferable not to have their articles archived online "forever," because that makes it tougher for them to sell reprints. If you choose to archive your articles,you might work out a plan with writers: You’ll pay them a certain amount of money each year the article remains online,or a particular flat fee for archive rights. Otherwise,you can negotiate for limited electronic rights,giving you the right to print the article online for a particular amount of time.
All-rights and work-for-hire contracts are not appropriate for freelance writers. You may convince inexperienced writers to work under these conditions,but be aware that most top writers know better and will not even approach you if this is what you’re asking for.The only exception is if you have the ability to pay enough to make this deal worthwhile. You’re taking away an income source for the writer the writer will never be allowed to resell that article again,so you need to make the trade-off financially worth it for the writer. In an informal survey,I found that most writers would not accept less than $1/word for all rights,and with many putting the minimum at $2/word.
The best answer for determining what kind of rights to ask for is to honestly decide what kind of rights you need,and not ask for anything more. A regional magazine should not require exclusivity; if your magazine is distributed in Montana,why would it bother you if the same article appeared in a magazine in Pennsylvania? Writers will appreciate it if you keep your rights as narrow as possible: For example,you might ask for exclusivity among national parenting magazines,or 6-month exclusivity in New York and New Jersey.
Don’t let lawyers talk you into all rights because it’s "simpler." If you want the best-written articles,you need the best writers. Very few of them will work under rights-grabbing contracts.
Another major consideration for writers is the "frustration factor." How easy you and your editors are to work with makes a major difference.
Common writer complaints: editors who aren’t clear enough when they give article assignments,editing by "committee" (having several editors give differing comments before a piece is approved),long lags between when an article is turned in and when an editor comes back with comments or approval,editors who ask for more than the contract specified (for example,asking a writer to add in sidebars or cram six interviews into what was supposed to be a 400-word front-of-the-book piece),and editors who ask for things that are nearly unattainable (writers really,really hate it when an editor says,"I like this article,but I want you to find an attractive teenage girl who’s willing to be photographed and go on the record to say she had an abortion and has now regretted her decision and is going to be abstinent until marriage. Oh,and make sure her mom is willing to be interviewed and photographed,too").
Another major complaint is editors who change a writers’ work so much that it’s unrecognizable to the writer once it’s in print,often taking out entire interviews or changing angles without warning the writer in advance. This leaves the writer to explain to the possibly-angry source that the interview was cut. Of course editors are expected to edit,but the right thing to do is to show the edited article to the writer before publication if it’s substantively different from what was accepted. This can help you,too,because if there are any mistakes or problems with the edits,the writer can set it straight before you go to print.
Editors who appreciate and respect their writers keep their writers. There are a handful of markets I write for that don’t pay me as well as my usual rates; I continue writing for them because they’re a pleasure to work for. Editors give me clear assignment notes,quick and reasonable revision notes,and appreciate my hard work. They also turn in my invoices promptly,which leads to the next factor…
Speed of Payment
Many experienced writers will not write for magazines that pay on publication especially start-up mags that may not be around by the time the article is supposed to be published. Payment on acceptance is the norm.
Once a writer has delivered an assigned article,there should be no more than about ten days before the editor comes back with any revision requests. Once the writer turns in the revisions,the editor should review them and accept the article within a week,or come back to the writer with more editing notes. Once the article has been accepted,the check should arrive in the writer’s mailbox in fewer than 30 days.
Chasing down payments is never comfortable for the writer,and if writers have to do this more than once,only the most desperate or inexperienced will continue writing for you. If you’re known as a publication that pays on time,you’ll earn a much better reputation among writers.
Speed and Quality of Responses
The quicker your editors respond to query letters,the better. Experienced writers won’t sit around waiting for an answer for more than two weeks. And most of them will not send queries and clips by snail-mail anymore. There are just too many good markets that happily accept e-mail these days for most of us to bother using the postal route and waiting for a response.
It’s not okay to say,"We’ll respond only if we’re interested." This leaves writers trying to figure out whether or not to move on and submit elsewhere they don’t know if you’ve already rejected the idea or if you haven’t read it yet. It also shows a lack of respect for writers if you won’t even take the time to send back a simple,"Thanks,but not right for us."
Feedback of some sort is,of course,a prized commodity for most writers. If you can tell us why an idea didn’t work for you,or what you are looking for,or point us closer to the right direction in any way,we’ll happily try again.
It’s a very nice touch to offer your writers a short bio at the end of their articles. Especially for writers who have written books,this is a quick chance to publicize their work or their websites,and it can add credibility to your magazine,too. If a reader sees that the article about beating stress was written by a psychologist with two books on the subject,your magazine gains their trust.
Set whatever parameters you want for the bios (first-person or third-person,maximum word count,number of links or book titles allowed,etc.). You might also offer placement of a photo for columnists,or offer free advertising in the magazine as an added incentive.
Sometimes,editors put off looking at articles until they’re getting close to an issue’s deadline then they come back to the writer with revision notes and ask,"Can you add in two new interviews and write a new section on gun control and have this back to me by tomorrow?"
Don’t expect that because someone is a freelancer,that means they don’t have particular office hours. Many freelancers take weekends off and work a normal 9-5 schedule,and typically have several projects in the works at once. Be reasonable and give writers ample time to turn in assignments and revisions.
There you have it. Once you’ve established your writers’ guidelines,there are many places to announce your need for writers.
If you’re a paying market,you can start by posting your writers’ guidelines here: http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=24 or send them to [email protected]. She will send them (at no charge) to the writers who subscribe to the biweekly Absolute Markets newsletter.
Best of luck in your endeavors,and may you attract your ideal writers!
Jenna Glatzer is the editor-in-chief of www.absolutewrite.com and the author of 14 books,the latest of which is Fear Is No Longer My Reality,co-written with Jamie Blyth of The Bachelorette. She’s currently writing Celine Dion’s authorized biography. Contact her through her personal site at www.jennaglatzer.com.