2016 Freelance Writing Workshop: notes from the professionals

I like to interview a few freelance writers and editors each year for my workshop to give me a more comprehensive view of what’s happening in the freelance universe. I met Nick at my storytelling event, Long Story Short, where he told a fantastic story of a woman he met working in an Alzheimer’s unit. Hearing that he had done some freelancing, I shot him a few questions. Here are his answers.

Nicholas Conley, author of novel Pale Highway and has written for Vox and Alzheimers.net

You have published a novel and written some freelance writing pieces. Did the novel come first or the articles?

I’m a novelist, first and foremost, though my first writing publications were actually short stories, which allowed me to get a better idea of how the publishing process works. Writing articles really began when I was first getting ready for the publication of Pale Highway, a novel which deals with Alzheimer’s disease. Because this is a subject that I have real life experience with, I felt a strong desire to write articles relating to the subject of Alzheimer’s care in order to spread more awareness about what it’s really like. After having success getting these pieces published, my article writing work branched out into a general interest in writing about topics that I feel are important and worth discussing, with an emphasis on healthcare.

Once you had written the novel, do you feel it was easier to get the interest of editors?

Absolutely. Having a list of publications to my name allows editors to look me up, see what I’ve published, and have a pretty good idea of what I’m about. In addition, it demonstrates a proven track record.

How important is it to have a niche, would you say? For instance, you write about alzhiemer’s disease and can show you have first hand experience with patients. How important is that to an editor would you say?

It definitely helps, especially when starting out. Editors want to know not just what the article is about, but why you are the person who should write it. In addition, when getting future pieces published, it helps to have demonstrable evidence of your expertise in a given subject, as you can include clips of prior articles with your query.

Do you write pieces first and then shop them around? Or do you pitch ideas to editors and write based on their feedback?

I do both, depending on the length and complexity of the piece. I personally prefer to write pieces first, because then I know exactly what I’m working with, but I often do pitches as well. If one is pitching, think the biggest priority to keep in mind is having a strong idea from the outset about exactly what one is going to write about, how one is going to write it, and a general idea of how long it will be.

How successful have you been in regards to pitching stories? I would say I have a 75% success rate with editors I know and a 0% success rate from those I do not. How about you?

Great question! It really varies depending on the subject. My success rate has gone way up in this last year since the publication of Pale Highway, and since my articles appeared on Vox, Alzheimers.net, and so on. However, back when I was just pitching short stories, I had a long list of hundreds of rejections. It’s really all about perseverance; pretty much every other writer I’ve met has more rejection stories than I can count, and it’s those rejections that will act as the building blocks of your future success.

NOTE: My most amusing rejection to date was back when I was 18, when I accidentally pitched a story to one magazine’s submissions address… while in the query letter itself pitching it to a different magazine. The editor made a point of mentioning that he was pretty sure I’d submitted to the wrong publication — but that “even so, this story is not what we’re looking for.” Quite embarrassing!

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