Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Making a Buck With Your Writing While Waiting at the Dock

By Cathy Hall, @cathychall

Part of the How They Do It Series

Novels can take a long time to both write and sell, but that doesn't mean we have to sit quietly and wait until that happens. Please help me welcome Cathy Hall to the lecture stage today, to share some tips on getting your writing out there--and getting paid for it--while you're waiting for your novel to find a home.

Cathy C. Hall will one day sell her very own book. In the meantime, she’s busy making a buck, selling whatever. (Well, that didn’t come out quite right. Just go see her blog and you’ll see what she’s working on now. Oh! And you’ll get more writing stuff, too.)

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Take it away Cathy...

Technically, I’m not what you’d call “unpublished”.

In between working on my picture book or middle grade manuscripts, I work on short fiction and essays and limericks and…well, whatever comes along that appeals to me—and that I can sell. I like writing for these markets (and contests, too!) because the turn-around is quick. I usually know in 30 to 60 days if my article or story has been accepted (or won!). And then I get paid.

That’s a fine feeling, isn’t it? Of course, it would be swell to be paid for that 60,000-word novel, too. But it could take years for that ship to come in. Meanwhile, I’ve got to pay for the next writer’s conference. Maybe you do, too. So here are a few of my tips that might help you make a faster buck:

Consider anthology markets

There are all kinds of anthology markets, for fiction and non-fiction. Chicken Soup for the Soul, for example, may have four or five call-outs going on at the same time, call-outs like “Stories About the Christmas Season.” Sure, you need to submit a true story. But as a fiction writer, you already know the basics of a good story. Hook the reader in the beginning, tell the story, and finish with a heart-warming or even funny ending. (But I strongly recommend that, as with any market, you read a sample before submitting to get an idea of style preferences.) You have the skills to take advantage of this well-paying market, so go for it!

But if you’re strictly a fiction writer, then you might want to consider themed anthologies. A quick search of “anthology markets” will pull up a plethora of listings, and you can afford to be picky. Decide the amount you’re willing to work for, and then check out the themes for one that’s to your liking. But…it’s not a given that you’ll get an acceptance. The higher-paying anthologies are often invitation-only. And editors get familiar with writers’ work, choosing a familiar name over a new writer. Still, that doesn’t mean you don’t have a chance—or that you can’t become that familiar writer for an editor. Write to the theme (Do not drag out an old story and tweak it a bit, trying to make a theme fit. And don’t ask me how I know this doesn’t work. Just trust me.). Follow the guidelines and submit. Then try, try again. Or try something else.

Recycle your work

I know I just said not to drag out old stories and tweak them to fit a theme. But you can and should use old stories for new or different markets. I’ve turned Chicken Soup rejections into acceptances when I’ve submitted those stories to similar markets like Sasee Magazine. Essay markets are a good fit for true-life stories so save everything you write.

And that themed fictional short that didn’t make the cut? Look for a contest. Contests are great opportunities to use specific and well-crafted stories because contests are usually open-themed. Take the Whispering Prairie Press Writing Contest. It’s one of my favorite contests because of its flash fiction category. That’s it. Flash fiction, stories under 1,000 words (and it’s going on now!). If you win a contest (wheee!), you’ll often gain publication along with that prize money. Unfortunately, publication often means the end of the line for a piece. But not always.

Check out foreign markets

Foreign markets, unlike US markets, will often accept work that’s already been published. I’ve had success with Asian markets that are looking for English-only stories, particularly in children’s magazines. So I sell a contest-winning story to Red Squirrel Magazine and make money again! Granted, I may never actually read the story, but I do get paid.

So bring on the next writer’s conference—I’ve got a few extra bucks!


  1. Thank you so much! I published a short compilation of my best stories as a crime scene photographer and was hoping to republish after I gather some more and get it professionally formatted....

  2. Thanks for the links to the writing markets. You're always on top of these.

  3. I absolutely agree with this strategy. It proves that nothing is wasted! I submitted several stories and articles to online magazines who gobble up that type of work. It gave me confidence, and helped flex my writing muscles.

  4. Thanks so much, Janice, for featuring Cathy on your blog. I always read great tips on Fiction University, but this post was particularly helpful! Cathy, I followed one of your suggestions; I sent an essay to Sasee Magazine (never heard of them, to be honest *face palm*), and the editor, Leslie, responded within 24 hours---she'll publish my silly, humorous essay in the September edition. (I'm now searching through lists of foreign markets. Another excellent tip.) Rock on, ladies :-)

  5. So glad you found Sasee, Kelly! There are a ton of markets out there for the adaptable fiction writer--you just have to know where to look. ;-)

    1. Thanks to you, Cathy, I now know where to look!