Writing for Fun or Profit
By J C Kleinbauer
(The following is a history of my writing adventure with an update!)
So, you are thinking of becoming a writer! Well I wish you all the luck in the world because it is a long, lonely road. When I decided to write this ditty, I knew it would have to be in story form. I find a story is more interesting and easier to remember. I will try to give you a realistic view of what to expect. If you don't have any friends in the publishing field, this guide will be invaluable. Don't let the fact that I write technical articles throw you. All stories are technical to some degree including love stories. Focus more on the steps I went through to get my article published.
It was several years ago when the writing bug hit me! I was standing in a surplus electronics store along with a group of electronic hobbyists. We were talking about electronic magazine articles we had read. Each one of us, took a turn picking apart, the magazines we had bought and the worthless articles in them. I received laughter from the group when I mentioned the famous crystal radio project. This simple project has been done to death. It was at this point one of the men in the group asked what I was working on. I explained how I was able to add small experiments to my computer by piggy backing them on a card that was already in the computer. The serial card in the computer had an empty UART socket and that is where I hooked in.
The group was quiet until one person said " Why don't you write an article about your circuit. " I then went into ten minutes of self-depreciating humor. " You expect me to become a writer."Not in a million years!" In school, I would take a failing grade before I would read a book or turn in a report. I suffered from some type of reading disorder that made my life a living hell! I held my pen the wrong way and my penmanship was called chicken scratch. The last thing I could see myself as was a writer.
Looking back my subconscious must have been affected in some way that day. I found myself using a word processing program and over the next few months I refined my project while also turning out how-to projects that where passed around on Bulletin Board Systems. Several people saw my projects and some even sent me Email about them. Now with some experience and a finished article I went looking for someone to buy and publish it.
I called several magazines and they all sent me a writer's kit. A writer's kit is several pages of text that tells you how your article should be formatted so it can be evaluated and edited quickly. The kit warns you not to send in a half finished project. It tells you the type of article they want and their payment rate. Every magazine has a different format so you must prepare yourself for some extra work. Most magazines require the work to be sent as Data on disk as well as printed form. The printed text needs to be double spaced with numbers in the margin, that corresponds to any drawings or pictures that go with the text.
Now you send in your work and wait! Your project arrives at the magazine and it is opened and sorted. If it is not what they want you may get a letter. In most cases, the article will be thrown on the infamous " Slush Pile ". The article can sit on the pile for up to two or more years before someone even looks at it. Do you think this is unfair? I once made the mistake of calling a magazine to ask about something I sent. The man on the other end of the phone gave me some important information. Anything that is sent unsolicited warrants no reply. This may seem rude to you but each magazine gets piles of letters each week. There are more writers in the world then there are magazines. To be in the game, you need to play by the rules and to stick it out! Here is some insight from someone who has done that and been there! Most magazines are produced to make money and for no other reason. The money the magazine gets from subscriptions, only pays to deliver it to the public. The real money comes from the ads in the magazine. Most magazines have a staff of writers so only a few are looking for an independent writer. Before you send in your work, write a letter asking for a writer's kit and give them a quick review of what you are going to send. If you get lucky, you will be sent a letter and you will be rolling!
Oh yea! I forgot about the money angle. How much will you be getting? Well it varies from four hundred dollars per article to one hundred and fifty dollars per printed page. Just remember the magazine can cut down your article and print it without even sending you a letter and if you think that is bad, some magazines don't pay anything. Some people just want to see their name in print and that ruins it for the rest of us. Is there any money in being a writer? First you need to like it and then you need to find the money. If you are good and produce several articles you may be approached to write on a regular basis. Magazines will supply you with new information and sources but you will be told what to write about. Is this what you want?
Ok here is how I got my first project published. I called one of the top electronic magazines by phone to ask about a writer's kit. I gave them my address and in two weeks a writer's kit arrived. After reformatting my project, I was able to make the article comply with their instructions. I mailed the project off and in three weeks I got my first rejection. I was crushed! The project was as good as anything in the magazine but I failed to read the whole letter. They said the article was good but it was not the type they were looking for currently. One of my friends saw the letter and pointed this fact out to me. I could only see the rejection of the project and not the rest of the letter.
At this point, I had a finished article but I was starting to doubt my abilities. It seemed like I was back in school failing once again. What I needed at this point was an unbiased opinion. I knew of a writer in a magazine who listed his address at the end of each of his articles. He always said if
you have any questions about a project or if you needed a little help just ask. I sent him a copy of my article along with a letter asking him to look over my project and give me an unbiased opinion. In less than one week, I got a letter that told me my idea was good along with some people to contact. None of the people he listed returned my calls but I kept at it. I called a smaller magazine to ask for a writer's kit and I was told they had none. I was asked about my project and once I explained it I was given a home phone number of the editor. The editor of the magazine was in his late sixties and he was having trouble following my idea. A few times he asked me some really stupid questions but I managed to explain the concept to him. Suddenly the light went on for him and we were both on the same wavelength. He got excited several times as I told him how simple the whole project was. He told me how to format the article and where to mail it to.
To make a long story short and to quickly pass the year I waited and waited I did hear from the magazine again. One year later, after almost giving up all hope, I received a call from a guy who was doing the final edit of my article. He had a few questions about some of my drawings but I was soon able to get him on track. Two months passed and a large envelope showed up in my mail box with an advanced copy of the magazine. I was happy and disappointed both at the same because there were errors in my text. Whoever edited my work made a few grammar and spelling errors. I waited around several months before I went looking for my money. I called the magazine and a young girl took my name and address. She pleaded with me not to get upset. I stayed calm but I did ask her a few questions.
It seems the magazine was very unorganized and this sort of thing happens frequently. A few weeks passed and a check arrived by mail with information on where to send my next article. I looked at the amount of the check and I was shocked to say the least. I got out the original pages and compared them with the published article. The published article uses smaller print then my computer so some pages got absorbed. Drawings get reduced so they are no longer one page in size. I then realized that someone who reviews a new product gets paid better than a person who designs, builds, and documents a new idea. This seems unfair but then again so is life!
While waiting to hear from the magazine about the first article, I went on to develop several more experiments to follow up my first article. I sent one of them off and presto within two months my article was published. Another month goes by and a check arrives. I look at the check and I couldn't believe how little the amount was. I got out the original text and compared it with the printed text but I failed to see a reason for the reduction in my fee.
After some soul searching, I decided to call the magazine to ask what had happened. I know this could end my stint with this magazine if I handled the situation wrong. I gave the magazine a call only to be told to contact the editor at home. The editor played hardball with me right off the bat! First he said he was not familiar with any of my work. I explained how I talked with him the year before and how he was the one that handled my work. He then said that since the magazine had changed it's name I was now considered a new writer and the rate was different. Trying to hold back my anger, I then asked how it was my fault that the magazine changed its name while they had my article. I also pointed out the fact that the magazine had changed its name several times in the last few years. From the other end of the phone, I heard him say " I don't want you, to be unhappy." " Let me see what can be done for you." He got out a copy of my article and we went over it together. At this point, I was starting to lose it. I pointed out how they cut my article to the bone and how small in size the drawings were. I then let him know my article is better than most of the clutter found in his magazine. He apologized to me and he offered to send me the money I should have gotten in the first place. I thanked him and two days later I received a check.
Two months go by and I get a strange package in the mail from the magazine. I open it up and found a computer CD in it along with a letter and several pages of data. It seems the
magazine sold one of my articles to a guy who was putting the complete year of the magazine on CD ROM. The letter told me about the royalties I was going to get if it sold well. I like how these bastards work! First they pay you next to nothing for your work then they sell your work without notice. In all I got five dollars in royalties.
After this bad experience, I gave up on writing for a few months. In and around this time someone I hung with a guy who starts talking about making small booklets, and placing ads in the back of magazines to selling them. During this time I canceled my cable TV and I put up a regular antenna. I also bought a fifty year old radio to mess with. I designed and built a wooden frame antenna so I could listen to Radio stations that are far away. The antenna was named " MOOSE LOOP " and a twenty page booklet soon followed. I placed an ad in the back of a magazine and waited. Six months went by and only three people bought the plans. I took several copies of the booklet to a flea market along with the antenna. In just three hours I sold four copies for fifteen dollars each.
It was now clear to me that the only way I was going to get my money for the antenna idea was to get someone to publish it. I started sending it out to every magazine I could think of. While I was waiting for an answer, I started writing my first book. That's right I said a BOOK! I wanted to create something really different than anyone else. I became a fan of Barrel Organs. A barrel organ is a mechanical device that produces music. You turn the handle and it makes its own air while also reading pins on a drum that moves levers that control air flow to reeds. It is louder than a music box and it can have several different instruments in it. Barrel organs were made over two hundred years ago and now the parts are almost impossible to find. I spent the next two years experimenting with different materials and solving all the parts problems. I found I could use the insides of a harmonica, some canvas, PVC plastic and other easy to find materials. One year into the book a letter shows up at my door from an editor who found a box of unpublished articles. He says he wants the antenna article, but I must cut it down from twenty-two pages to six. I looked over my work once more and I felt it would lose it's appeal if it were cut that short. I contacted the editor again and I asked if I could make it a two part article or if I could have two more pages. That was years ago and I guess by now the answer was no.
After I finished my Barrel Organ book, I got out some of my unpublished works and started sending them out. The Moose Loop got accepted by a large magazine but they were only going to pay me $150 for all my work. I only learned they were using the article when the IRS forms showed up. I told them I wanted $300 for the article or forget it! Cheap Bastards! My Barrel Organ book got reviewed in a small magazine along with my name and address but I did not get any responses. I print the book out on my computer only if I get an order. I looked for someone to publish my book. All the offers I got were just an attempt to steal my work or get a FREE copy.
The Internet takes off! I shut my BBS down and go on the Internet. I contact one hundred people who have mechanical music websites. Out of the one hundred, three agree to sell my Barrel Organ plans. I then redo the plans so the crankorgan is easier and cheaper to build. Sales of the crankorgan booklet are three a month. I seek a new path.
After repairing a Bridgport Boss CNC machine, I realize there is a market for a cheap CNC machine for learning purposes. The second market is the people who just want to build something computer related. The third market is software developers. The fifth market is people who use the machine to make product. There is also a group of people I call "Motor Spinners". They are like the car buffs who used to spend the weekend messing with their car. They only buy the best hardware. They give out expert advice while suggesting the most expensive solutions. When they finally get around to wiring up there high price parts, they ask all kinds of stupid questions. Buying somthing does not make you smarter, building something does!
So I design a simple cheap CNC machine. I produce a $20 planset. I join a group up on Yahoo for CNC. I tell them about the plans I am selling. I tell them about my website. I started getting hit with all kinds of insulting Emails from the "Motor Spinners". Everything from "Your website stinks" to "Nobody will want a CNC machine that is made out of plastic!" I then got banned from the Yahoo group for arguing that a PIC is not cheaper than a L297 chip. The moderator of the group was sending me warnings VIA my JUNO account. JUNO was down that day so I did not see the warnings till I was history.
Getting banned was the best thing that could have happen to me! Dozens of nice people contacted me and bought my plans. Most of my sales came from people who belonged to the Yahoo group. On the side they would build my machine to learn with. A few brave souls even mention me from time to time. This Yahoo group I like to pick on has 2,000 members. If you look at the picture section you will see Taigs and Sherlines. Almost no homemade machines. Percentage wise I have a bigger following! I think the "MOTOR SPINNERS" should post pictures of their motors spinning!!!! LOL and ROTFL
But on a serious note I try to bring CNC to people who are on a tight budget. Somewhere along the way it became unpopular and foolish to try to build things. You can't put a price on what you learn from doing! The United States has some serious problems because people try buying their way out of problems. If it don't come in a spray can, people are lost. My dad was a toolmaker who also learned electronics. Before that he worked on a farm and in the coal mines in P.A. He would make his own washers and bolts. I used to wonder why he did not just buy a washer or bolt. Then he make a custom bolt for something of mine that broke. I could not get the bolt anywhere. It is during these times when you realize, experience has it's place. Throw it out and just buy a new one will get you someday! It's cheaper to just buy it will get you too!
I stop mowing lawns, I stop repairing things for people. I declair myself a writer! The booklets I sell bring in more money than mowing lawns or fixing people's vacuum cleaners. I laugh at people who tell me I should make and sell my machines. I know where the real money is! Information! People will pay for information that will save them money. I sell sheets of paper with words on them! A concept people can't seem to understand. I stocked vacuum repair parts! For every part that sold well I got stuck with a part that nobody wanted. Unwanted inventory kills a business. Selling information has less of a downside. I found my niche after years of striking out! I have learned that people who make suggestions are only trying to act smart or they are hoping you will save them money! I have learned if you sold twenty dollar bills for five dollars each, some ashole would ask for a discount. When you say no! He will start bad mouthing you! It is just part of the game!
Well I hope I have been of some help to you on that long road of life! Just remember if you enjoy what you are doing, it will be easier to stay with it. Don't become a writer just for the money. If you want a real shock, visit the large book stores that are springing up everywhere. I went to the book store the other day and saw a large section of books that were under five dollars. The books laid there like a pile of over ripe bananas. Every book on the table was two years of somebodies life. One thing I have learned from this whole experience, you really do learn more from your mistakes than from your success and the only failure is not trying. Good Luck!
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