We will be featuring an interview series on non-fiction markets with writer Noelle Sterne, Ph.D. who is a long-time professional contributor to the feature page Writers' Craftbox in The Write Place At the Write Time literary journal. Here she will share her extensive experience and advice from negotiating contract rights to managing submissions. Throughout this series, Noelle will be available to answer questions submitted through the blog.
Bio: Noelle Sterne is a writer of nonfiction and fiction, a writing coach, and a spiritual counselor, with over 250 pieces in print and online venues. Holding a Ph.D. from Columbia University, Noelle has conducted an academic coaching and editing practice for over 28 years. In her new book, Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, Summer 2011), she uses examples from her practice and other aspects of life in applying practical spirituality to help readers let go of regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. Visit Noelle’s website at www.trustyourlifenow.com
1. In terms of your extensive experience with managing submissions to paying non-fiction markets, tell us about some of the most important factors to keep in mind when submitting (either via query or on spec) and negotiating terms post acceptance (rights, payment, contracts).
When submitting, of course follow the advice you read and hear all the time: read and study the magazines, the articles, the guidelines. Do so for several issues until you’re imbued with the style and type of pieces that get published. And be alert to changes in the editorial stance and content. With new editors and changing times, magazines alter what they do and don’t feature. For example, more articles on meditation are showing up in a range of magazines.
Pay attention to whether the editors want queries or complete articles. When I have an idea I think would fit with a specific publication, I often do the entire article first—it seems “easier,” if one can use that term in writing—and later, after the necessary several drafts, I extract the query from it. On the other hand, if you do a query, when the editor asks to see the article, and you then write it, make very sure the article follows the query. That is what attracted the editor, and many editors have reported that they looked forward to one thing and saw its possibility for their publication, but they got another.
Another point on submitting: If you’re the type of writer who must write what moves or intrigues her, write your piece, and then look for markets. Remember: When the writer is ready the publications appear. If you’re the type of writer who can and will write anything for any market, study thoroughly the publications you want to publish in and go to it. I’ve done it both ways, especially with writers’ craft publications as I’ve gotten more proficient and familiar with their content and styles.
After acceptance, ask for the contract. Some publications provide one, some don't. If they do, go over it carefully and make sure you understand what is granted you and what is not. If you don't, get help. You don't necessarily have to hire a lawyer. An excellent book for writers--written in understandable English--is Tad Crawford and Kay Murray's The Writer's Legal Guide: An AUthors Guild Desk Reference (Allworth Press).
Today, many publications want unlimited online reprint rights as part of the contract. Some pay for this and others don’t. Think about what you want and do not be afraid to ask. You can pen in your changes on a print copy and/or send an email outlining your changes. Once, for the first contract with major writers’ magazine, on the single page I penned in six changes. Afraid the editor would take one look and tear up the contract and my query, I called her. We went over the contract together, and, to my shock, she easily agreed to four of them. I lived with the other two and went on to have a lovely, fruitful relationship with her.
If the publication does not issue a formal contract, the editor will generally spell out the terms in an accepting letter or email. In reply, you may need to do a version of my experience. But, finally, when you reply, reiterate the terms to show your understanding and, importantly, have a record that you accepted the terms.
Asking for what you want also applies to original payment. As several writing business gurus intone, “Always ask for more.” What can happen? The editor responds, “Yes . . . No . . . I have to check with my senior editor/boss/mother.” If the editor comes back with a negative, you can decide whether the publication credit and budding relationship you now have are worth it to you.
Sometimes an invoice is requested; supply one promptly—makes you look professional. You can fashion a decent-looking letterhead from your favorite font, a combination of sizes and bold and regular type, and maybe a nice neat horizontal line under your contact information. At the bottom, above my signature line, I like to add a sentence of warmth: “Glad to contribute.”
As you see, these considerations are very expansive. I’ve found two books excellent, both chock-full of guidelines, details, and examples: Jenna Glatzer’s Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer (Nomad Press) and Moira Allen’s Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer (Allworth Press).
I’ve also found that one always has more to learn about all of these factors. Publications vary greatly in their methods and procedures for dealing with authors. The more you know and are prepared for, the more you can negotiate terms that satisfy you and add to your pride of publication.
© 2011 Noelle Sterne
Do you have questions about the business of writing? Noelle will be glad to respond.