What comes first, the article idea or the publication?

[Excerpt from Everything You Wanted to Know about Freelance Writing –  http://www.paullima.com/books/]

What comes first the article idea or the publication?

Some aspiring writers buy writers’ directories, look up addresses of publications, and pitch dozens of query letters helter-skelter to publications in the directory. The question I pose is this: “What comes first, the chicken or the egg? The article idea or finding publications?”

I say the idea comes first. Of course, I’ve been wrong before, but stick with me here for a moment.

Writers’ directories can be intimidating. They list hundreds of newspapers and magazines in dozens of categories. Looking through writers’ directories (or websites that list periodicals) will have you running all over the place trying to find ideas that fit the publications in the directory. What I suggest you do it this: develop a number of ideas and then go looking for the appropriate markets. That seems a more focused way of working. Ultimately, you have to decide if you want the chicken or the egg to come first. And, if you do the opposite of what I say and it works for you, then keep on doing it.

Sometimes, I confess, I go magazine shopping to see if looking at a variety of magazines can inspire me. But not often. Am I going to write for hundreds of publications? I think not. I’ve written for fewer than 35 publications and I’ve been making my living, successfully, as a freelance writer for over two decades.

Why might you write for only a few publications? The secret to successful freelance-writing is focus, coupled with repeat business. To become focused, you have to develop excellent ideas and pitch them to selected publications. If editors like your ideas and you do your job well (deliver clean copy on time to the assigned word count), editors will be more open to new queries from you, and might even toss you assignments. That equals repeat business. Once you are writing for half a dozen or so publications on a regular basis, you spend less time pitching queries and more time writing for pay.

By developing focus—expertise in the areas about which you write—you will reduce your per article workload and be able to recycle ideas and reuse research material. That means you will be able to write more articles more quickly, and increase your income.

So, from my perspective, the idea comes first, then you find the publication to pitch it to.

Note: one way to discover ideas is to read publications, especially those of interest to you — but don’t be afraid to read randomly either — and see if anything you read  inspires ideas in you. But once you have the idea, you still have to … find the publication to which to pitch it, so the idea still comes first.

[Excerpt from Everything You Wanted to Know about Freelance Writing –  http://www.paullima.com/books/]

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