Gather around my writer friends and I will tell you my favorite story about freelance writing.
Once upon a time, a writer crafted a funny piece about her inability to have a Martha Stewart Thanksgiving for her humor column. The piece didn’t earn much money; I think she may have been paid all of $40 for it at the time. Anyhow, she worked it up, sent it off for the deadline, and didn’t think too much about it.
Six weeks later, the piece, titled: “A Change in Plans,” appeared in the November 2000 issue of Today’s Woman magazine. Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of the magazine. It’s a regional pub, free at local grocery stores. Practically every town has a magazine or freebie newspaper like it. Bigger cities often have more than one. The point is, it’s not a glossy national mag. It’s not a place you immediately think of if you are looking to write for “fame and fortune.” It’s a little magazine that writers who practice market snobbery might turn their noses up at. And maybe those market snobs have a point.
Within a week, this little essay is everywhere. People are pirating it for their blogs, posting it on their web sites, emailing it to friends. (Which would have been nice for the writer, had any of them attached her name to it… but that’s another whole post.) It went viral back in the day before “going viral” was even a term. Back in the day before the column appeared online and folks actually had to type the thing in for themselves before they could use it. (Which probably explains why it has a number of variations that don’t appear in the original.)
This simultaneously amused and irritated our writer, who found out what was going on when a friend emailed an unattributed copy of the article to her with a note saying: “I thought I’d share this. It’s funny.”
Fast-forward another week.
The telephone rings. The writer answers. On the other end of the line is the very excited editor from Today’s Woman.
“Are you sitting down?” she wants to know.
The writer sits.
“I’m calling to ask if it’s okay to give your telephone number to Family Circle. They’re trying to track you down.”
The writer considers this for all of a nanosecond before saying yes, then checks to make sure she is really sitting down, because she might fall over anyway.
A later conversation with the editor at Family Circle reveals that her sister had read the essay in the magazine and passed it along. It got passed around the office (!) and after much shared merriment, they decided this writer would be a good fit for their (now defunct) humor section.
The result? The writer wrote quite a few humor pieces for a glossy national magazine, for decidedly unshabby paychecks. All because of one small piece in a small magazine that not many people outside the region have heard of.
The moral of the story? Don’t look down your nose at a market just because it’s not big, or noteworthy, or something that everyone has heard of. You never know who might be reading it.