Saturday, April 9, 2011

How to "how to" and other filler

One way to break into magazine publishing is by writing filler. Filler can be an anecdote or joke, a short story, poem, or even a recipe that is used to fill the empty space on a page. Since most feature articles don't fill a page exactly, editors are always looking for fillers.

One advantage to writing filler is that these short pieces, ranging anywhere from 20 to 250 words (sometimes longer), do not take much time to write. Sometimes they are based on personal experience--something funny that happened to you or that you observed, a helpful hint, or a family recipe--therefore, you need to do little research (if any at all). Editors rely on freelancers for these short pieces, because their staff writers are too busy writing feature articles to do so. Since there is always a need for filler, your chances of being accepted are higher than for longer pieces, and will help you gather published clips (which may one day help you when querying for a feature).

The major disadvantage of writing filler is that it tends to pay poorly.  Pay might be as minimal as only $5, though much of the information I have seen lists $25 to $50. Considering there is much less work involved than larger pieces, one can't expect much. Some publications only offer a copy of the issue in which it is featured. However, Reader's Digest pays up to $300 for some types of filler.

Another way to break into a magazine is with the ever-popular, short "how to" article. If you are a beginning writer you've certainly come across those articles that promise to help you in your effort to write well and establish yourself in the publishing world. How to Write Good Dialogue, How to Develop your Main Characters, How to Write a Query Letter--c' know what I mean. Writer's magazines and the internet are flooded with them. But these type of articles aren't just marketed to wanna-be-writers. With the hectic lifestyles most people lead these days, most people are eager to read short pieces such as How to Save Money on Food and still Eat Well, How to Cut Your Cleaning Time in Half, or How to Declutter and Take Back Your Life. Of course, "how to"s aren't just about saving time and/or money. Some highlight basic knowledge such as How to Change a Flat Tire, How to Land Your Dream Job, or How to Get Your Toddler to Sleep at Night in Three Easy Steps.

Many "how to" pieces have already been done. So it is good to find a way to update them in some way or to provide a new twist. Instead of how to save money with coupons, how about writing guidelines for beginning a coupon exchange group. Pay attention to current events, either within your country or community. If there is an issue which needs addressing, whether that be the increase in bullying in schools or even an overabundance of ladybugs, there is always a how-to piece in the making. Sure, the past year has given us plenty of articles on how to protect your child from bullying, but what about how to approach your school teacher/principal about bullying?

Of course, my favorite how-to articles are the humorous lists written for the sole purpose of entertainment. How to Tell if Your Cat is Two-Timing You, How to Trick Your Kids on April Fool's Day, or How to Tell if You are Old makes much better reading for me than How to Lose Weight (though I probably should be reading the latter).

So, here is my "how to" for today.

How to Avoid Feeling Bad about your Weight

1. Go through women's magazines and find as many of those "I lost 75 lbs. on the blah-blah-blah diet". Cut out the before photos and hang them on your refrigerator. Every time you walk by or want to open the door for a tasty chocolate pudding or bacon or whatever you shouldn't eat, you can think "Thank goodness I am not THAT overweight."

2. Go to a circus or carnival. Ask if you can purchase one of those mirrors from the Fun House than makes you look like a 20- foot tall human hot dog. Ahh, optical illusions DO have a purpose in life.

3. Go shopping and buy an inexpensive outfit that is one size too big. Try it on from time to time to reassure yourself how thin you are.

4. Agree to pay your kids 10 cents for every time they say "Gee, mom. I hope I look as good as you when I am your age."

5. Use one of those self-help, hypnotic tapes that tells you "You are wonderful the way you are" while you sleep. Hopefully your subconscious will hear.

6. Set your scale so it says you are 5 pounds lighter. Sure, it's a lie but what's a little white lie when it makes someone happy? So what if the person is yourself.

Okay, okay...or you could actually lose weight. That's it. No evening snack for me tonight. Just a cup of herbal tea and my vitamins...

yeah, right.


Oh, I almost forgot...I would like to write about how to surprise someone and how to make someone happy. Dierdra Eden Coppel did both today. I got an email from her saying she visited my blog and enjoyed it very much. She sent me a Creative Blog Award.

Thank you, Deirdra!

Deirdra also has her own blog called A Storybook World. If you'd like to take a look, click here.


Siv Maria said...

That was a wonderful post I had never even heard of fillers before. Liked your weight control ideas as well...I just let my mirrors get so dirty that I can't see myself :D

Linda H. said...

Siv, they don't always call them "filler", even if that's what they are.

Lots of women's magazines (Woman's World, Family Circle, etc.) use them. Woman's World pay $50 for each "Kids are Funny" or a "Was My Face Red!" contribution. They are usually about 50 words in length. Not bad pay for "shorts". They are also open to full-length stories and pay up to $250.

V. Furnas said...

Great ideas! I haven't really thought about these before.

Linda H. said...

V., another idea is anniversaries. Google when something happened (first potatoe chip, publication of a classic, birth or death of a person) and write a short clip on it giving ways to celebrate.

Sylvia Ney said...

Great post! Very cute.

Nikki said...

What an entertaining post :) Loved it!

nutschell said...

Congratulations on the award! well deserved! I love your how to post for the day. It's hilarious!I think I'll go and set my scale back right now. Why stop at 5 when you can do 10 :P

Linda H. said...

Thanks, Sylvia, Nikki, and nutshell. Glad you enjoyed it.

Nutshell...I love your name, and The Writing Nut is a great blog name. I like to write, and I am a nut so I think it is perfect.

SweetMarie83 said...

I never really thought about magazines hiring writers to do filler...hmmmm, definitely something to look into, thanks! I love your how to, very funny!

junebug said...

Great post! I learned something and I laughed. Sending good vibes for your daughter's competition this week.

Linda H. said...

Thanks, Junebug. Just got back from the competion. It was close but they pick someone else. My daughter is so disappointed, but we are still proud she got this far. After all, being the county champ isn't bad.

Linda H. said...

oops...should say competition, not competion (silly finger :-)

Linda H. said...

haha...and that should say silly fingerS not finger...gee, I really can't type this evening.