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An Excellent Guide to Writing Cover Letters and to Making Pitches

Format Magazine is out with a great page on pitching editors:
(external link)

They advise most of what I’ve recommended over the years but I’d add a few things.

Consider making two or three pitches in an e-mail. An editor knows in a sentence or two if your project is intriguing, why spend four or five paragraphs developing your thoughts when one or two will do? Since you have the editor reading, pitch another topic.

Fewer than one in ten cover letters leads to acceptance, get efficient at writing them and realize they are as hard to craft as the article you are proposing. Learn to accept rejection, and what is even more frustrating, get used to absolutely no acknowledgment at all.

Consider carefully what you might get paid. If the magazine pays only $100 or so, is it worth your time? If the article will require travel, your own photographs, and 2,500 words, it may make more sense to pitch another publication that will let you at least break even.

The time you spend writing for very little could be better spent making pitches to a magazine that will reward your effort. Unless you are resume building or just enjoy writing on a particular subject, always angle for better paying work.

Regarding book proposals, I’d say to query with a one page letter before writing a full proposal. A complete proposal will take you at least a month to write. See that a publisher is interested first rather than commit to what might be a doomed project.


Random thoughts on internet writing

I’m getting more used to the rushed pace of internet writing. From scratch, an original 500 to 750 word article now takes me about two hours to write. That’s if there are plenty of resources on the net to aid with the research. Mind you, the quality won’t be that of The New Yorker or Harpers Magazine. But that’s not what you are getting on the net. What you are getting are workmanlike articles, stuff that’s sturdy enough to be useful to most readers and something the search engines will recognize as worthy of ranking. You are not getting Dostoevsky or Thoreau nor is there a need for that. Increasingly, the net is consumed in bite sized chunks, small paragraphs, often scanned and not read for its literary value. It is delightful when we do find fine writing, but that is not what most web site owners are paying for. And its not what we writers can hope to achieve in the time given us. Which brings me to another point.

I think that one reason the internet pays so little is because the writing only has to be average. And there are tens of millions of average writers. Many writers in Pakistan, India, and the Philippines have a good grasp of English and can write competent articles with just a little direction. Instead of competing against other writers in the English speaking world, we authors now contest against all those who know English as a second language. And there is no way we can compete on price against someone in the developing world. Where native English speakers can find a market are employers like law firms and other high-end services which demand that the wording on their sites be exact. I think it is within this niche that I will be successful. Now, some self promotion.

My brother Dave says that freelancers and independent contractors would go broke if they had only one client. Even though I am now working primarily for one company, I am still soliciting work from other firms. I would be happy to draft an article for you, gratis, based on your requirements. If that trial article seems acceptable then we could talk about further work. I’ve added a gmail account to my contact choices. Feel free to write me at Thank you.



Thoughts on the end of the year

Apologies for the tone of this post, it is more negative than anything I have written while as honest as anything I’ve penned. Trying to be positive is absolutely essential in an oft-too negative world, but I won’t be Pangloss; I am now a troubled Candide in the freelance writing world. With that one cry of human distress, I’ll try to sum up what I’ve learned from 2014.

It hasn’t been a good year for me as a freelance writer. I am bothered by that certainly, but I am more bothered by the fact that I don’t know why I haven’t been successful. Of the dozens of query letters and job proposals I’ve drafted, only one has generated a form letter rejection. That despite each proposal being individually crafted. Lacking any kind of feedback, I stumble forward. Although guesses aren’t a good way to explain the past, it is all I can do. Here, therefore, are my conclusions about writing in 2014.

The hardcopy magazine business is certainly dwindling. Fewer titles mean fewer markets. And while each magazine has a website to complement it, these sites aren’t new opportunities, they are merely an extension of the title, an archive and showcase, rather than a market for additional writing.

Opportunities to write abound if you don’t need to make money. You can write for free for the local newspaper or one of  thousands of websites covering your interests. Everyone wants content if they do not have to pay for it. Revenue from advertising for most web sites has to be scarce to non-existent. I can think of dozens of sites that are so covered in ads that you accidentally click on them as you scroll down the page. But if you need to write, if you are really driven to that, never mind getting paid, the world is wide open.

Developing new skills like video does not mean that a writing pitch will be more successful. Each query letter that I wrote in which I mentioned developing complementary video was met with silence. Working with sound files or developing an app mean little as well unless you have someone interested in a project beforehand. Being versatile and skill rich is a good thing, just don’t expect that to get your proposals answered any more than when you didn’t have those talents.

Any bright spots? My gardening video on YouTube has been a tremendous hit, with over 2,700 views at this point. Although I think the gardening market is saturated, perhaps there is room to grow here.

What’s next? I am developing a motorcycle website. I hope to attract a sponsor at some point but I have tempered my expectations lately. There are so many websites covering the trade that I may be irrelevant or simply overlooked amid all the sites. In the spring I will probably return to nursery sales part-time as a way to earn extra money. Right now, I can’t think of a way to do that on the web.




Wired Magazine handles queries well

I have to complement Wired Magazine, even though they just rejected an article proposal that I sent them. They seem to be treating writers fairly and I wish other publications would follow their lead. They have the query letter process figured out so that a person knows where they stand. How so?

The first good thing is a clear path to query, a web page designed to accept proposals. The next positive step is that you get an e-mail acknowledgement of your submission, so you don’t have to wonder if they got it. And then there is the turnaround. In only a week they responded to my query. They rejected it, but the point is that they told me so. Knowing that they didn’t want it allowed me to redo it for another publication. With most magazines you don’t know how long to wait before giving up and trying somewhere else. More?

The rejection letter itself, although generic and devoid of any specific information, did include encouraging language, telling me to feel free to submit new ideas.  They also attached a .pdf file containing their Writers’ Guidelines. It had more specific information than I had before. All in all, I can work with this kind of treatment.

February 11, 2016 Update. Alas, my second query to Wired produced only stony silence. No reply of any kind.



Clear paths for submitting article proposals

August 10th, 2019. This list is now long out of date. Fully 30% of links die each year on the net, making any link article impossible to maintain.

These publications offer a clear path for submitting article proposals.

Discover Magazine:

Esquire Magazine. Unusual. Accepts complete manuscripts. Link now dead.


High Country News:

Los Angeles Times Magazine:,0,760705.story#axzz2slBY9koC

Pacific Horticulture Magazine:

Popular Mechanics:

Popular Science:

Sacramento News and Review:

Sactown Magazine:

Scientific American:

Smithsonian Magazine:

Spirit Magazine:

Sunset Magazine:

Via Magazine:




A new site and a new beginning

tomnewphoto“I’m like a monkey with a transistor radio!” A friend used to say that whenever confronted with new technology. At this point, I, too, am feeling a bit simian. Although I developed a 400 page website over a period of ten years,, it’s been eight years since I created a web page and time has rushed on. This web site and blog uses, a web authoring service that you can use to endlessly edit. Like a word processor, it offers the promise of carefully groomed text or complete inefficiency.  How much time, for example, should you spend changing link colors from green to blue? Revisions and editing are acceptable to a degree, but at some point you must get your writing done, especially promised writing. Deadlines must be met, they are the one thing that technology will never change.