Monday, November 15, 2010

Nathan Segal Shares His Freelance Writing Secrets

When I began freelance writing back in the 1980's the keys to success included being part of a writer's group, attending a few writers conferences and reading as many books and magazines on writing as you could get your hands on. The best of these ended up in my personal library, and a few of them I pored over as if they were sacred.

With the exception of Stephen King's book on the the topic, it has been a while since I read a book on writing other than for reference purposes. And, if I may be honest, King's book left me flat. For some reason the press summary that I saw last month about Nathan Segal's book intrigued me and I contacted him for this interview. From the first pages of his book Secrets of Profitable Freelance Writing I could see this was like nothing I had ever read. Why? Because it has been written post-Internet and offers up tools and insights that no one in my writers circle could have conceived of. A scant 103 pages in length, it's packed with more information than a knuckle sandwich.

Here's Nathan Segal.

Ennyman: I’ve owned or read dozens of books on writing. Yours is like nothing I have ever seen. What prompted you to write this book?
Nathan Segal: It came about as a result of hanging out on forums. There were so many people who wanted to write for a living and many of them didn’t have a clue what to do. Worse, I kept seeing competitions on some web sites where people were charging only $3-5.00 for a 500 word article and talking about writing those in batches. That’s not possible long-term for a couple of reasons. One is that you won’t make any money to speak of. Worse, there’s an excellent chance you’ll burn out. I wrote this book to show writers how to market themselves in a way that would allow them to do well financially and be respected for their work.

Enny: It’s obvious the freelance writing business has changed dramatically with the advent of the Internet. At one time Writer’s Market was the mandatory pipeline to editors. Has Google made Writer’s Market obsolete?
NS: First off, I wouldn’t say that the Writer’s Market is obsolete. I admit I don’t use it and the reason is because it’s the easy route, where most writers would go. I strongly suspect that the editors mentioned in that book are inundated with more queries than they can handle. Also, with regards to finding writing work, Google is only one of many tools. There are online directories that you can use, as well.

Enny: The book is packed with resources for writers, but assumes the reader knows how to put articles together. Can you recommend a couple books that would help article writers improve their skills?
NS: The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White is my number one reference book. The Chicago Manual of Style is another one, though I haven’t used it. As for putting articles together, it’s crucial that writers study back issues of magazines before they send in a query. There, they will see how articles are constructed and they will also find out how to match the style of the publication.

Enny: My first “check” for a freelance article was for $20, which I photocopied and placed on my wall. What was your first article for which you were paid and how much was the tab?
NS: It’s been a long time since I wrote my first article, some 13 years ago. I don’t recall what I wrote, though I think the fee was around $100.00.

Enny: At one point you suggested batch query letters. Isn’t this a bit impersonal? Does it really work?
NS: It would be impersonal if the letters were just a form letter. Each one is personalized to the editor and each refers to different article ideas to match the tone of the magazine. When I recommend batch letters, what I mean is sending out several at once, so you make the best use of your time. And does it work? Yes.

Granted, not everyone will respond to you, so following up is necessary. It’s also important to realize that what you’re doing is selling yourself online and it’s a numbers game. Not everyone will say: “Yes,” so it’s important to cast a wide net.

Enny: Using your methods here, can you really find ten “paying markets” for the same query? Give me some examples of topics that fit this mass marketing approach effective?
NS: I think you’ve misinterpreted my approach. I’m not talking about using the exact same letter for all these markets. You might be able to do so for a few of them, but not all. The reason being is that each publication will have its own style and audience, so you’ll need to modify the query letter for each publication. The query letter is a template and once you’ve set it to match your requirements, the main change you’ll make is on the topics to query. You might also want to highlight some relevant experience, as well, though that’s about it.

Enny: You seem to have a lot of energy. Is your goal to continue freelance writing? Do you think you will get tired of this kind of hustle? Where do you see yourself in five year?
NS: I will continue to do freelance writing, though not as much. Also, my methods have changed, partly because of learning about joint ventures, which I explain in my book. My current and long-term goal is stepping into the role of teacher and mentor and to show others how they can build a career from writing. Among other things, I want to make this knowledge more accessible to other writers, so they, too, can realize their dreams of being published and make a good/great living as well.

Enny: Thanks for your time and insights.

You can purchase the print version of Nathan's book here or the Kindle version here.

Segal's book is self-published. This reviewer does not promise that the book will have value to all readers. I did find much of the information interesting, though some sections appeared to be padding to help transform a long pamphlet into a short book.

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