Magazine article Thoughts on writing Uncategorized

Another Article on Spec

Once again I am writing an article for Rock&Gem magazine on spec. I’ve written about this approach many times. (internal link). With spec, you don’t have a writing assignment, you are on your own to create a piece that with luck will be accepted.

While writing without a signed contract may seem frightening — what if my 2,000 words are rejected? — there’s also freedom in that you have no deadline and no fixed rules to obey on style or substance. You try to model the magazine’s editorial approach and you send your MS in.

Although no deadline is involved, I usually set one myself. That’s to keep the project from being open-ended and stealing time from other things. One can’t endlessly edit forever. I’ll give myself four weeks for this article and then off it goes. That should be enough time given the other writing and editing I have to do.

Right now I am sending off e-mails for help and I am also ordering books and magazines where necessary. Coffee is in order, too. I may speed off to Madhouse Coffee (external link), my favorite 24-hour coffee house in Las Vegas. Or I’ll put some on the boil here. Who knows? That choice is up for speculation.

Thoughts on writing Uncategorized Writing tips

A Response to Writers Market

Writers Market has a nice .pdf called Query Letter Clinic (external link) that contains many helpful hints. It also contains some assertions I don’t agree with. Consider this paragraph:

“Many great writers ask year after year, ‘’Why is it so hard to get published?’’ In many cases, these writers have spent years—and possibly thousands of dollars on books and courses—developing their craft. They submit to the appropriate markets, yet rejection is always the end result. The culprit? A weak query letter.”

Really? How do you know? The editor may not be interested in the idea. Not even if it were written by Tolstoy or Hemingway. Or maybe the material doesn’t fit their editorial calendar. Or perhaps the editor prefers to work with writers they already deal with. It may not be your fault. So, what to do?

Get efficient

Write shorter query letters, especially for newspaper (internal link) or magazine articles. An editor will let you know if your query leaves questions. Personally, I am done with crafting finely detailed, individualized query letters. My acceptance rate is so low I find it better to send more queries rather than spend more time on each one.

Write on spec

Consider writing on speculation. Certain magazines consider complete articles, without assigning a contract first. Type it up and send it in. I’ve written on this before (internal link). Even here, it’s wise to query an editor to make sure your topic fits. Just a few sentences should suffice.

All five of my Rock&Gem articles have been written on spec. One article was rejected (internal link), and that could have been avoided if I had short queried ahead of time. The topic had been covered recently and I missed the similar story when I reviewed their back issues.

Emphasize photography

Mention that you can provide original photographs or that you can arrange permissions and releases for historical photos. Editors expect today’s nonfiction writer to deliver photographs for their layout artist to arrange. You’re probably not selling to National Geographic which may assign a photographer. Even then, offer to provide your own images.

When sending photographs, remember not to include too many. The editor wants to know what images are key to the article; too many diffuses those needed to address your central theme. Consider putting your best photos at your website, to show off your talent in that regard. Hmm. That’s something I need to do. Which brings us to the next point.

Have a website

This goes without saying and I’ve written on this before. (internal link) You need an online portfolio in case an editor wants to know more about you without going through an e-mail exchange. A website is vital. And don’t run ads!

Don’t get discouraged

Silence from the editor is the normal response these days. You won’t get a critique with a rejection, if you get any reply at all. And the reason one magazine rejected you may not be the same reason as another magazine’s rejection. They could have completely different policies and needs. Despite what Writers Market says, hang in there. It may not be your fault.



Thoughts on writing Uncategorized Writing tips

On Deadlines

“I find that it takes a lot of years of living, and many more of reckoning, to come up with one worthwhile paragraph. And when a deadline looms, prayer doesn’t hurt, either.” Carmen Agra Deedy

I respect many newspaper reporters because they work on tight deadlines. We can all make a story better in three days or three weeks, but what if you have only three hours? And what if you are working on several stories at once? With a close deadline we must set aside our desire for perfection and get our writing out the door. There is nothing more important than meeting deadlines.

There’s another side to this: the lack of a deadline. When I am working on spec (internal link) there’s no fixed deadline. It’s up to me. The editor may know I am working on an article but unlike an assignment, I control when the piece is sent in.

The danger here is that one can collapse into endlessly editing. How much extra work will make something better? If you spend another week on a project, will it be 20% better? Or only 5%? At what point should you send the work in and get going with other writing?

It’s an individual decision but I usually work on spec until I feel burned out. At that point I no longer work toward perfection. If I’m tired, I proof the piece a few more times and then send it off. Better to work on something new than grind away at something that’s become old and stale. There’s also a backstop here. Once sent in, the editor can tell you what isn’t clear or what needs work. That’s often better than spending time agonizing over what you think may be wrong.

At what point do you stop your writing?





Magazine article Thoughts on writing Uncategorized Writing tips

Happy Thanksgiving!

In America we celebrate Thanksgiving, a holiday which means just that. Time to be thankful for all things great and small. I’m thankful to have been published three times this year in Rock&Gem magazine. Right now I’m working on two more articles for them, again on speculation (internal link). This will keep me busy while waiting word on my book proposals.

Do you have a hobby or interest compelling enough to write about? I’d encourage you to research magazines in your field. Even if you have to write on spec, even if the pay is only an honorarium, query an editor to gauge interest in your subject.

Not an expert? Don’t worry. Find the right market and write from the viewpoint of an enthusiastic newcomer. Show doubts and questions and how you will resolve them with dedicated learning and research. Again, enthusiasm always helps.

Working up a long article will get you endlessly editing and researching and securing photographs and doing everything a good writer should. Writing credits are good for the ego and resume building. Most importantly, it keeps you about your work. Something to be thankful for.




Magazine article

Background on My Second Rock&Gem Article

In mid-February 2016 I visited the once roaring town of Goldfield, Nevada. An old set of gem claims had come under new ownership and new direction. I was eager to find out what that meant for rockhounds.

You can read about what I found by getting the May, 2016 issue of Rock&Gem magazine. (external link) It’s available at Barnes&Noble as well as larger bookstores. You can also download the Rock&Gem app for your mobile device to purchase an e-version of the article. Look below for photographs not found in the article.

Here is the beginning of the article:

A venerable Nevada collecting site has changed ownership and is now open under new management. The current operators wish to say you are welcome to visit. Very welcome, indeed.

Sharon Artlip and Nadiah Beekum now own and run the Goldfield Gemfield Gem claims outside of Goldfield, Nevada. The site is about 25 miles south of Tonopah and 190 miles north of Las Vegas. Only four miles from Highway 95, the site is accessible without four-wheel drive or a high clearance vehicle. Collecting is on the honor system, with rocks going for a dollar a pound.

Five non-patented lode claims make up the site. Chalcedony (Cal-said-a-knee) is the main draw, in many forms. Dendritic agate, bulls eye agate, and rainbow agate, all chalcedony variations, have been collected at Gemfield over the years. Many times the chalcedony can’t be broken out into a category. It appears simply as rocks with tints of red, pink, yellow, and lavender, often with bands and swirls of color. . . .

01/04/2019: Website for the Gemfield Gem Claims:

12/28/18: Visited Goldfield last month. Couldn’t connect with Bryan or Sharon. Bryan looks like he is adding onto his business. Sharon no longer operates Goldfield Art & Business Services out of the store on I-95. The present owners of the new store at that location, however, will accept your registration and rock fees. Stop in and check out a new business.

05/13/2017 update: Visited Goldfield again. Possible future article discussed.

10/ 30/2016 update: I visited Goldfield, Sharon Artlip, Byran Smalley, and the claims this week and all are doing well. The road to the claims has had further work and is still passable by most vehicles.

6/7/2015 update: The issue in hardcopy sold out almost immediately.

About 25 miles south of Tonopah, Nevada sits Goldfield in Esmeralda County. The Gemfield Gem claims are a few miles out of town.


Chalcedony is the draw here; agate in many forms. Cut as a slab and then polished, this stone would appear quite dramatic.


A Gully at the site, showing typical terrain.


Chalcedony boulder, a confusion of swirls and bulls eyes.


A Closeup of a typical rock. Imagine a pair of highly polished bookends made from this material.


Hidden Treasures Trading Post in Goldfield. Make sure to stop by Bryan Smalley’s shop. 489 S. Bellevue Ave Goldfield, NV (775) 485-3761. His Facebook page was at this link:, however, it now appears inactive. Try searching for Bryan Smalley by his name on Facebook.


Look for this storefront right on Highway 95. It’s Sharon Artlip’s store, Goldfield Art & Business Services. She’s one of the claim owners. (775) 485-3789.


Magazine article

New Magazine Article Coming Out

I’m happy to say that Rock&Gem Magazine (external link) will publish another one of my articles. It will come out in May. I can’t yet say what I wrote about but I discussed preparations for it in a previous post. (internal link). Think rural Nevada.

It’s always thrilling to appear in a national magazine. Look for the May edition at any Barnes & Noble. For now, I am hard at work on an article for COINage, also a Beckett publication. It is, again, another article written on spec (internal link); I hope to submit it in two or three weeks. Back to the writing . . .

Update: Background on my first Rock&Gem article (internal link).


Magazine article

On The Road Again

On Thursday morning I am off to do research and take photographs for an article I hope will be accepted by Rock&Gem Magazine. It’s another article written on spec (internal link), risky business for a writer since there is no assignment and hence no guarantee of acceptance. Still, there’s a story I want to tell and rural Nevada calls. Wish me luck.

March 23, 2016 Update: Success! My article was accepted and will be published in the May issue of Rock&Gem. (internal link) To my fellow writers, keep at it and keep writing.

Getting ready:


February 26, 2016 Update. Seen along the way:


Magazine article

Woot! Rock And Gem to Publish My Article in January

The 2,800 word article I submitted to Rock&Gem (external link) has been accepted and will be published in January. I wrote it on spec (internal link), the first time I have used that process. Unlike writing on assignment, you have no guarantee that your work will be accepted. But I wanted to write on my subject quite badly so I took the risk.

What’s the article about? I don’t feel free to disclose the subject until the magazine hits the newsstands, but it will be a field trip article. I will write more about this when I can. A good day.

Update: I’ve gone on to have another article published (internal link) and a third may appear in August, 2016.



Writing on Spec

Writing on spec or speculation means submitting writing without a contract, usually a complete or finished work. Normally, an editor approves a query letter and you are sent a contract that outlines what is expected and what you’ll get paid. Writing on spec offers no guarantee of payment. After a tremendous amount of effort you submit your article and hope it is accepted. Risky. Yet a few magazines have this policy. What to do?

In two weeks I’ll take a geology field trip into Nevada and I’d like to write about it. My target magazine takes articles only on spec. Although I’ve never written under this arrangement, I’m going to do it this time. I want to write about the topic so much that I am going to take a chance.

To improve my odds I will closely adhere to the look and feel of the magazine’s previously published articles. I’ve also looked up their editorial calendar for the coming year; it details when articles like mine should be submitted. I am going forward. What did Churchill say? “For myself I am an optimist – it does not seem to be much use to be anything else.”

December 11, 2015 update: Success! Rock & Gem (external link) will carry my 2800 word article in their January issue.

December 30, 2015 update: Background on the article (internal link).

April 22, 2016 update: Rock&Gem will publish the second article I wrote for them on spec in May. Look for it at Barnes&Noble.