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OK, this is my story on how I got published. I apologize in advance if I meander, but most people will tell you that no two people get there the same way!

About three years ago, I decided to focus on food writing, linking my love of food with my love of writing. It's weird -- I've loved reading about food for years, but it took me a while to put two and two together and try to write about food myself.

The first year I just sort of flailed about, randomly trying to find local outlets to write for. Not a good strategy. It helps to have a plan! I was pretty much ignored by every local newspaper and magazine and was spinning my wheels. I then stumbled on and found an e-book on how to be a food writer. Guides like these are great for the completely clueless (like I was). There, I learned about Writers Market (required resource for freelancers -- I prefer the online version). I also took an online writing class which, if nothing else, forced me to complete some real pieces.

I was writing down random ideas I had for articles when I came across a short article about a new food magazine called Gastronomica. I read their first issue and felt that they may be interested in one of the stranger ideas I had for an article because they tended to publish quirky stuff (lesson: know your target market). On a whim, I called the editor and left a message about my idea (I do NOT recommend this, by the way. Normally, you'll want to send a query letter). I pretty much forgot about the call until a few weeks later, when she called back and asked me to submit an article.

So that article was my first "clip" (writing sample). Most magazines want you to send clips with your resume and query letter. Getting the first clip is always the hardest, so in the beginning I'd probably focus more on getting clips than getting paid much. That means being willing to write for magazines that you might consider "lesser markets" (one writing coach told me: "if you want to be published, don't be a snob about who you write for when you're starting out."). So "The New Yorker or bust" is probably not the best approach!

I also blew a chunk of money on a food writers' conference (at The Greenbrier). That was like a crash course and worth every penny. It pays to take your writing seriously instead of treating it as "just a hobby" (despite what your friends and family may say!) if you want to be published. Go to a conference, join a writing group (careful on this one -- not every writing group is helpful, so it may take a while to find a good one or start your own). There are soooo many times when I feel like no one around me understands why I'm doing this or, worse yet, thinks that it's easy. I'm sure many of you know at least one person that says they "would write if only they had the time." HAH! Sorry, I digress.....

Anyway, I used that first article as a springboard for more articles with the same magazine, which led to other writing projects. I also kept researching the market to see if there were any other publications that might be interesting to write for.

My advice, for what it's worth (I'm still quite the newbie),

1. Do it for love, first and foremost. That love will make you curious enough to search out every nook and cranny for opportunities, and you'll have fun doing it. It will also keep you going during the inevitable dry spells.

2. When writing queries, make sure it's targeted (and do what you can to make the query fit the voice of the magazine. One editor told me she looked for writers who could "speak the magazine's language." Although you may have a topic that may be of interest to multiple outlets, you will rarely be able to use exactly the same query for more than one outlet. I was able to use the same topic and research for two different articles, but the two articles I ended up with were *extremely* different. Reading several back issues of the magazine you want to write for helps you get a feel for what they'd be interested in and their writing style.

3. Keep an eye out for new magazine launches. The chances of getting published in a new magazine are higher because they're often still scrambling to find material. Writer's Market (the online version) will help here.

4. Maintain good relationships with editors you work with. I've opted to focus on writing for a few publications rather than jumping into the "big 3" food mags (Gourmet, Bon Appetit, Food + Wine) right now because I think it pays to nurture long-term relationships. I want my current relationships to be on good footing before searching for more. Besides, the "big 3" are incredibly competitive, and I don't feel I'm ready (yet).

5. Get used to rejection. You'll likely get a lot of rejection slips. Some writers save them. I don't --why dwell on something so unpleasant? I throw them out and move on to the next query. Which leads me to: as soon as you finish one project or query, start the next one. Don't wait until you get feedback. It helps keep the momentum going and forces you to focus on the process, not the result (which is why I do it, at least). Plus, you'll get more queries done that way.

6. Keep learning the craft. I don't think I'm ever going to be writing expert. And that's just fine by me, because I love the constant learning process.

7. Keep looking for markets and submitting queries. Looking back, I feel like I got a lucky break. But on the other hand, if I hadn't made the first move on the opportunities I learned about, I would not have gotten published. So it's worth it to do whatever you can to make your own good luck.

8. Subscribe to Writers' Market ( and USE it.

9. Avoid falling in the trap of talking, reading, or thinking about writing rather than actually writing. The slew of magazines and books for writers makes this all too easy. Just write. You can edit or toss it if it stinks.

10. Set wild goals. Really. You'd be amazed at what can happen. Some of my craziest goals came true years before I thought they would. Dream big, then work like heck.

Sorry this so long, but I hope this is helpful!

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When Life Gives You Lemons
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