Featured Writer of the Week: Kerrie Flanagan
This week's featured writer is Kerrie Flanagan, an author, ghostwriter, writing consultant, presenter, and freelance magazine writer with over 20 years of experience. She’s the creator of The Magazine Writing Blueprint, the author of The Writer's Digest Guide to Magazine Article Writing and eight other books, along with five novels with her co-author under the pen names C.K. Wiles and C.G. Harris. Her articles and essays have appeared in publications including Writer's Digest, Alaska Magazine, The Writer, FamilyFun, and six Chicken Soup for the Soul books. www.KerrieFlanagan.com
Tell us about your journey as a writer. How did you begin writing, and how did you break into your niche?
My main niche has been magazine writing, and recently that has been writing articles about the craft and business of writing. I am not one of those people who knew from childhood that writing was the profession for me. I liked writing and English classes throughout school — I even loved diagramming sentences — but I never fantasized about being a writer. I always wanted to be an elementary teacher (which I was for 10 years). The door to writing cracked open while I was teaching a class of second graders. My task was to teach them how to use a comma in a list. I wanted to find a creative way to get the point across to them, so I wrote a story, made some simple cut-out illustrations to go with it, and brought it to class to read to them.
"Cornelius Comma Saves the Day" was a big hit with the kids. I thought it would be helpful to other teachers, so I researched how to publish a book and began sending it out. During this time, I also joined a critique group. Because this writing world was brand new to me, I figured I could use all the help and support I could get. The group had writers of different genres: children’s, romance, historical fiction, personal essays, and magazines.
I couldn’t get any interest for my book and ended up finding an illustrator and self-publishing it. We sold a couple thousand copies and eventually we moved on to other ventures. While all this was going, I became intrigued by the idea of writing for magazines. One woman in my writer’s group frequently brought in articles for us to critique. I loved the timeframe of it all; send out a query, get the assignment, write the article and see it in print. This whole process seemed to take four to six months. It was much faster than the book world. Plus, I could fit it more easily into my life which now included a full-time teaching job, a husband, and three kids.
After learning all I could about writing for magazines, I started querying. My first published piece, a craft idea with about 150 words of text, ended up in Better Homes & Gardens. It was no Pulitzer award-winning piece of writing, but it showed me that I could submit ideas and queries to any publication and have a good chance of getting a yes, if I did my research, studied the magazine and only sent it to those that were a good fit. I never did publish another craft idea or article in Better Homes and Gardens, but it did open the door for me to write for other magazines. Not long after, I received an assignment to write a feature article about Colorado wineries for a regional publication.
I eventually resigned from teaching to be more available to my family and to pursue writing. Over the past two decades, I have published hundreds of articles for national, regional, local, and niche trade magazines.
When did you know you could make a career out of it?
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when I decided I wanted to be a full-time writer. It was more of a gradual build. I consider myself very lucky, because my husband has been supportive of my writing and it was because of him and his consistent income, I was able to make the transition into full time writer. After a couple years of success with magazine writing, I began teaching classes on the subject, then started a writing organization and conference where I could connect with writers, I moved into writing consulting, and copywriting, all while continuing my magazine writing. All of these experiences paved the way for my book, Writer’s Digest Guide to Magazine Article writing, which was released in 2018, and a ghostwriting project in which I wrote a self-help memoir for a successful businesswoman.
What special considerations are required for writing online content vs. print content?
Because online content is consumed differently, there are additional things to keep in mind when you study the articles to better understand the style and tone. First, pay attention to the use of hyperlinks. Are there links to sources and/or links to additional information that enhance the content? If so, you may want to make note of places you intend to link to in your query, and you will need to incorporate links into any articles you write for the publication. Also, notice the length of the articles and how they are formatted. Are the paragraphs short? Are there more bullet points and lists? Consider these things when you get ready to query the online magazine.
Do you have any quick tips for working with editors, especially those of major publications?
Regardless of the size of a publication, our job as freelancers is make the editor’s job as easy as possible so we can become that “go-to” writer they can always count on. That means turning in a clean article with few, if any, grammatical or spelling errors; keeping the article to the assigned word count and turning it in on time. It’s also important to keep an editor informed of any issues that may arise. That could be not being able to track down a source, an interview fell through, or you are not going to be able to meet the deadline. Whatever it is, the sooner you get let the editor know, the better. Don’t wait until your article is due to bring up the problems. Editors are people too and they understand that challenges can happen, but they don’t want to be left in the dark when they do.
How do you generate your writing ideas?
With my magazine writing, coming up with ideas is not a problem. My challenge is sorting through all the ideas zipping around in my head and filtering out the ones I want to use. Years ago, I figured out that when I shifted how I looked at the world, ideas were everywhere; my life experiences, television, the newspaper, the Internet and my city. I always think about questions like why, how, where and who. This gets me looking at situations and people with a deeper curiosity and story ideas will emerge. I might think about how a company got started, why is a certain tourist spot so popular, how does that mom manage her busy schedule and three kids … I then write down the ideas in a notebook or on my phone or take pictures of things that spark ideas. I found that if I don’t record the ideas somewhere, there is a good chance I will forget it.
What's your best tip for crafting a great article pitch?
A great article pitch is short and succinct. The editor needs to see you understand the magazine, the readers and the type of articles in their publication, along with you great article idea. The key to an effective pitch is to find that unique slant. What makes your take on the topic unique and one that differs from how it’s been covered in the past? This becomes your selling point and the focus of your pitch.
What does your writing routine look like? How do you stay productive and overcome blocks?
I wish I could say I have this incredible, consistent writing routine, but I can’t. I do find that I am more productive if I block out my time into chunks to take care of certain tasks-writing, researching, marketing… this allows me to focus on something specific during each time frame. Morning tend to be my most creative time, so I do my best to keep it open for the actual writing and I do research, marketing and business tasks in the afternoon. To overcome blocks, I will get out of my home office and go work in a coffee shop. This gives me a change of scenery and helps me focus.
What strategies do you focus on when cultivating your platform?
Platform is all about connecting with your audience. My favorite way to cultivate my platform is through teaching, whether that is at my local community college, online or through a conference. Most of my writing is about writing and presenting a workshop at a writing conference allows me to connect directly with my audience. Then I do something to collect emails (a giveaway, bonus materials…) and build my email list, so I can stay connected with them in the future.
If you could go back and change anything about your writing career, is there anything you would choose to do differently?
Honestly, no. I wouldn’t change a thing because each step in my writing journey has been integral in getting me to where I am today. Every success, every challenge and every mistake has helped me along the way. I have so much to be grateful for and I’m eager to see what the future has in store for my writing career.
What’s your best piece of advice for someone looking to be a full-time writer?
Patience, diversify, and persistence. To make a living as a writer, you must understand it is not going to happen overnight because you have to begin by pitching ideas or finding companies looking for writers. Then you must sit down and look at the numbers. To make $48,000 a year, it means you need earn $4,000 per month. If you are getting assignments that pay $200 per article, you will have to write 20 of those to reach your goal. If you can write those articles quickly and they don’t take a lot of research, than great. But if each of these articles require lots of hours, then it’s probably not feasible.
One thing to do is decide on an hourly rate you want to earn. When you are offered an assignment, look at what they are paying and divide that by the number hours you think it will take. This will let you know if it is worth it. You can also set a base amount you need to get paid per article or per word. Then only pitch to publications who meet this requirement.
Diversifying the types of writing you do can also help bring in income. There are always businesses looking for writers, and this could be a good way to bring in a consistent income along with writing for magazines. Ghostwriting books, op-eds, and other content is also a great way to earn money writing.
There are some great writing resources for freelancers looking for work. Of course there is Gotham Writers. In addition check out www.freelancewriting.com and their free morning coffee newsletter that highlights different writing jobs. Writer’s Weekly also offers a free newsletter with freelancing jobs.
What are you working on next?
I am very excited about upcoming projects. With my magazine writing, I am working on a piece about the history of publishing. In addition to that, I’ve been working with a co-author for the past few years on a variety of fiction projects. This is my first real foray into writing adult fiction. I’ve helped many writers over the years as a developmental editor and have written a few more children’s books, but nothing for adults—until now.
My writing partner Chuck and I write under two pen names; C.K. Wiles for romance and C.G. Harris for sci-fi/fantasy. Our romantic comedy series launched in 2018 and earlier this year we released the first in an urban fantasy series and a YA Sci-fi series. We continue working on these and anticipate launching the next two for each by the end of the year. Plus, we are in the process of creating an audiobook for The Nine (the urban fantasy) with the talented MacLeod Andrews as the narrator. Audiobooks are huge right now and I wanted to ensure we were taking advantage of that growing market.
What's one important think to know before beginning the process of co-authoring a book?
A successful co-authoring relationship is based on trust and respect. Find someone who you respect as a writer and whose skills you are confident in. Chuck and I knew each other for years and provided feedback and critiques on each other’s work. I value his opinion and suggestions with my writing, so I knew before forming this partnership that I could work with him and vice-versa. When it comes to co-authoring, trust is crucial. You have to be confident that you and your partner have the same goals and visions for the book, then allow each other the freedom to make changes and adjustments to produce the best book possible. There will be disagreements at times, and that’s okay. Talk through them and come up with a solution you can both live with.
Do you have an idea for an article or book? Pitch it to us below, and we'll work to match you with a writer like Kerrie who can help you bring your vision to life.