The Language of Freelance Marketing

For freelancers, knowing the basic terminology “before” they begin can be a valuable lesson in earning a few extra dollars in that initial stage. When I started my freelancing career, I knew nothing of rights, simultaneous submissions, querying or varying payment rates. All I knew was– I could write. Everything else, I learnt on the job. You will too. But just to make your stay a little less frustrating, and a lot more enjoyable, I’ve listed a few concepts that will help you immensely as you contact editors and try to make them pay you for your words.


It’s yours as soon as you have those words on paper. You don’t have to register copyright to claim it, though if you’re writing a novel or book, it’s a wise investment. Registered copyright is proof enough for a court of law, and is extremely valuable in cases of dispute. However, for short materials like articles or essays, copyright needn’t be registered. You can however, club a number of essays and register them together.


Reprints are articles, essays or pieces that have already been published. If you own the copyright (more on that later), and want to sell the piece again to another publication, it will be termed as a reprint. Most publications pay much less for reprints and some don’t accept them at all. However, for a freelancer, sometimes reprints bring more income than original articles do.


Earlier, magazines asked for all rights to articles. Even today, in many countries, including my own (India), most magazines want to keep all the rights ensuring that the articles in their magazine remain unique to them. However, this trend no longer exists in America, Canada and England, and is making headway into other nations as well. Now, almost all magazines in these nations refrain from asking for all rights to the work. Others have opened their doors for reprints, which is a boon for writers. Let’s look at some of the different kinds of rights.

  • All Rights: This means that the article must not have been published before, and cannot be used again after it has been published in this particular publication. Never give up all rights for a measly sum of money. If you’re selling all rights, make sure you’re being paid what you deserve.

  • First Serial Rights: These usually pertain to some country. For e.g., First North American Serial Rights, or First British Serial Rights. Although the article mustn’t have been published in the country prior to this, you are free to submit elsewhere after publication.

  • Electronic Rights: As more and more publications archive their articles online, they are asking for electronic rights. This means that they can carry your article online. Usually a time-period is specified. Also, electronic rights are usually non-exclusive, meaning that you can sell this article elsewhere although it will continue to appear on this publication’s website.

  • CD-ROM Rights: A fairly new addition to the list of rights, this means that the publication is free to use your work on a Compact Disk.

  • Anthology Rights: Some publications publish yearly anthologies (collection of articles or stories). In such cases, they ask for these rights for possible inclusion of your work in their anthology.

  • First-time Rights: Your article must not have appeared anywhere worldwide. You are however, free to sell your work elsewhere after publication.

  • One-time Rights: Your work may have appeared elsewhere. Publications asking for one-time rights require that you let them use your work once. It may or may not have been published before and you are free to use it after publication.

Payment on Acceptance vs. Payment on Publication

You’ve written an article and the editor has approved it. Now comes the time to pay you. Well, not quite. Many publications prefer to pay their writers on publication, meaning when the article appears in print. In established magazines, the time between acceptance and publication can be months, so you may write an article in January, and be paid for it in June. Always try to get paid on acceptance.


When you write a query, the editor wants to see more than just a good idea. She wants to know whether you can do it justice, whether you’ll be able to carry it through or not. For this, she needs to see samples of your writing. Published samples are termed as clips. Simply stated, you photocopy the pages of approximately three magazines in which your articles have appeared and send them to the editor.

If you haven’t been published, you’ll still need to send in samples of your writing. For this, write out an article or two related to the subject of the magazine, and send them off with your query.

Lead Time

A magazine usually asks writers to submit their work well in advance so that there are no last-minute goof-ups. Magazines, especially reputed ones, cannot risk delaying an issue because of a single writer. This period is usually termed as lead-time. Although most magazines have lead times of approximately three months, many have periods of more than six months.

Kill Fees

Editors are always “killing” articles that they’ve assigned. To the writer, this could mean wasted time, as well as money. To reimburse the writer for her research and hours put in, magazines usually have a 20-50% kill fee. Simply put, if your query has been accepted, but your article isn’t published for some reason, you’ll be given a kill fee for your work.


For your article, you may have to interview a subject. In some cases, you may have to make long-distance calls or spend a few bucks on travel, lunches and other expenses. All such expenditures incurred for the assignment are usually paid for by the publication. You should be very clear on this before you get on the assignment. Usually, editors will agree to reasonable expenditure refunds.

Bios and Photos

Haven’t you sometimes noticed how the author’s picture or contact information appears alongside the article? Yours could too. Although this isn’t always done, sometimes editors may agree to put up a photo or a short bio beside your article. It never hurts to ask.

Simultaneous Submissions

Although this is something magazines advise against, it isn’t always feasible waiting three months for your hot idea to strike a note with the editor you’ve submitted it to. This is where simultaneous submissions come in. Although I truly warn you against submitting the same article to more than one publisher (I did it, and I regretted it), I do advocate simultaneous queries.

Now that you’re armed with the basic knowledge, you’re all set to go out into the big, bad world of publishing, and show them what you’ve got. Good luck!

About The Author

Mridu Khullar is the editor-in-chief of, a free online magazine for writers. Sign up for the free weekly newsletter to get a complimentary e-book with 400+ paying markets. Also check out her e-book, “Knock Their Socks Off! A Freelance Writer’s Guide to Query Letters That Sell,” available at

This article was posted on January 22, 2005

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