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As a freelance writer, you may have discovered that you can only sell regional rights, national serial rights, a few reprint rights and electronic rights and the article which may have taken you more than a week to write is done for, unless you can rewrite it. This makes commercial writing very labour intensive, and thus, limits your income potential. One of the ways to make sure that your articles have a longer life span and continue to earn money long after you have sold the first rights is to sell your writing to the international market. Here are a few suggestions on how you can accomplish that:

Understand the International Market
Every country has unique characteristics. You need to understand what is generally required of writers in that country, so that you can be on the same wavelength as the commissioning editor. For example, many South African editors prefer to receive complete manuscripts, rather than queries, as they are able to make on-the-spot decision regarding the article, rather than reading and responding to queries, which may generate articles they cannot use. On the other hand, you rarely hear from them if your work has been rejected. Dead silence means 'No.'

Conversely, I have found that many American editors prefer you to pitch a story first, before you submit a complete article. Some of them will not even read your complete, unsolicited manuscripts. However, when they like the idea, they give you a clear picture of what they want, and a preferred method of submission.

Understand whom your article is speaking to
The idea is to sell existing work to international markets, so you need to find publications, which will require little or no changes in your work. How do you do that? People are the same the world over. Yes, it is a cliche. But the truth in it is what makes it a cliche in the first place, isn't it? So read your current articles and ask yourself: what is this article about? What is at issue?

As an example, I had a profile of an African woman, which I wanted to place on the International market. At first reading, it sounded like a local story, which would only interest South Africans. But what was this woman about? What drove her? Her passion was fighting HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa. Now, HIV/AIDS is a subject which interests people the world over. And HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa is topical. So this article ceased to be about this woman, and became a story of a courageous woman's fight against HIV/AIDS. I changed the title, sent it to a Zambian magazine, an American magazine and a book publisher looking for inspirational stories. They all loved the story and wanted it. And no, they didn't mind that someone else had some rights to it.

Find the markets
One of the ways you can use to find a home for your existing articles is to use the general search engines. I usually key search phrases like "Malaysian search engines," "Japanese Search engines," "Kenyan search engines" and so on. The reason I prefer this is because I will then operate from the domestic perspective, and find local sites, which don't have a very high rating in the international search engines. From there, you can do the standard search like "parenting publications" or "woodworking" or whatever subjects your article is about.

Co-marketing your work
Do you know a freelance writer in another country whom you respect? One of the ways you can use to find publications is to let someone else do it for you. In exchange, you will of course, have to find markets for her. I have an arrangement with a Canadian writer to exchange markets information. Once a week, we write to each other and I give her details of publications, which I think would be perfect for her work. She is one of my favourite writers, and so, reading her articles is not work at all. Rather, it's fun reading her work and trying to think which publication it would be perfect for. Once I give her the contact details to the publication, it's up to her to query them, and send them her work.

Assess the publication

Use your judgment. Does the web site/publication have quality material? Read the "About Us" section. Is this one man and his fax, who may appreciate the content you offer, but can hardly afford to pay you? Read the articles; find out who else contributes to this publication. Read the fine print: find out if they are a paying market.

Writer's Guidelines

Some of the publications have writer's guidelines, making your job a lot easier. But in some cases, you may have to write to the editor, publisher or web master to ask if they are open to freelance submissions. Yes, people are rabid about spam. But in any business relationship, someone has to take the first step. In this case, that's you.

The results are varying. I have met wonderful people whom I am happy to work with. I have also received abusive letters from people who believed that I was spamming them. Rejection is part of this business.

The Query Letter

a) The heading
The heading in your e-mail is very important. It will either ensure that the editor reads your letter or deletes it. Generally, I write the article's heading and add that it's a query. If the publication is open to freelance contributions, the editor will read at least the first line.

b) The first paragraph
The next important part of your query is the first paragraph. Capture her imagination. Give her a taste of your creativity. Show her why her readers will want to read this piece. The method that works best for me, is to dive right into the introductory paragraph of the article.

c) What is the article about?
My next paragraph is then an explanation of what this article is about, how long it will be, whom it's speaking to, and why I think it's perfect for her readers.

d) Sell yourself

Sell yourself as a writer by giving her a short bio, which catalogues your experience in writing related work. Lastly, give her contact details and an url to your web site(in case she needs to read a few samples)


a) When is payment due?
You need to know when payment is due before you send your articles. Again, the terms may differ from publication to publication, and from country to country. In South Africa, I have only worked for two publications that pay on acceptance (there may be more.) Many pay on publication. Even then, the terms vary. Some pay at the beginning of the month your article is published, while others pay 30 days after publication.

One Zambian publication accepted my article, and told me that they would publish it in due course (whenever that is) and that payment would be after that article was published. I'm not panting with anticipation, but neither am I withdrawing the article (it will likely earn me money with them than it will gathering dust in my files.)

b) Exchange rate
Before you send your articles, find out what that country's exchange rate is. If the publication lists its payment schedule, convert the figure to US Dollars.

c) Bank Charges
Also find out what the bank charges will be. I learnt this the hard way: I sent a poem to an American publisher, and they bought it for six dollars. That was wonderful, until I realized that the bank charges in South Africa could be up to $12.50. Did that mean that I now owed the bank money? I still have the original cheque as a souvenir.

Find out if the publication is willing to defer payment until you have accumulated enough money to make it worth your while. If you offer quality material, you may find that the editor is eager to purchase more articles from you, and you will therefore build up a nice stash of cash.