with Patricia Fry
Patricia Fry is a full-time
freelance writer and the author of 24 books (and counting). Her articles
have appeared in about 250 magazines including, Writer’s Digest, Writer’s
Journal, Canadian Author, Pages, Cat Fancy, Woman’s Own, Entrepreneur
Magazine and many others. While several of her books are published by
traditional publishers, she established her own publishing company, Matilija
Press, in 1983, before self-publishing was fashionable. Patricia is the
president of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network)
congratulations! You have sustained a lengthy career as a non-fiction
writer, with articles in a number of magazines - including Writer's
Digest, Cat Fancy, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Woman's Own. The
list seems to go on and on. Could you give an outline of your writing
career? How long have you been selling non-fiction articles? What got you
I have been writing for publication for over 30 years. Even during those
years when I was dreaming of becoming a writer—before I actually took the
plunge, I aspired to write nonfiction. I prefer reading nonfiction. I guess
I’m just a give-me-the-facts sort of gal. I started my writing career in
1973 with a manual typewriter on a small desk placed in the corner of my
bedroom. The first article I wrote sold to the first magazine I approached.
And the first book I wrote was accepted and published by the first publisher
I approached. Both writings related to horses.
I read a lot about
writing during the years I was busy raising my three daughters and when
I started writing, our family was involved in horses (we were doing a
lot of trail riding and packing and the girls were competing in shows).
They say to write about what you know, that’s why I started out writing
about various aspects of using and caring for horses.
I’ve since written
articles on numbers of other topics and, along with a goodly amount of
acceptances, I’ve certainly received my share of rejection slips.
My articles are always
fairly positive. I have avoided writing on controversial issues and I
don’t look for the negative hook in order to grab the attention of an
editor. I’ve interviewed numbers of people from all walks of life and
always try to profile them in a kind light. I’ve tackled topics related
to the world of business, but from a soft angle. I write on the soft
side of business—using intuition in business, organizational tips for
your office, teen businesses, networking ideas and so forth. I also
write on health, fitness, parenting, grandparenting, public speaking and
now I write mostly about writing and publishing. While I write
nonfiction, I write with both the fiction and nonfiction writer in mind.
Any articles that still stand out in your mind as favorites? Was there a
magazine that you desperately wanted to crack when you started? If so, did
you achieve that aim? Feel free to share the names of favorite magazines
you've sold to, or a few stories that go with a special sale!
I really enjoyed writing
those long, 3,500-word researched essays for “The World and I” magazine
until they quit publishing the print version. This afforded me the space
to vent and to, hopefully, make a difference on behalf of children,
families, seniors, animals—or whatever else they would allow me to
“speak” to. As for a magazine that I wanted to crack, I “cracked” quite
a few of them over time and with pride. I even had small pieces appear
in “Reader’s Digest” and “Family Circle” some years ago. I believe that
I have something to offer “AARP The Magazine” (formerly “Modern
Maturity”). Maybe someday I’ll convince them of that.
My purpose for writing is
two-fold. First, it is a passion. Even though it is nonfiction that
holds my interest, I find that I just can’t not write. I have to
write! It’s so much a part of who I am and what I’m about. But, in 1986,
it also became my way of earning a living, so I’ve had to look at
writing as a business rather than a frivolous activity designed to
tickle my fancy. I’ve had to make business decisions, so I approach
writing a little differently than I would if I was writing purely for
enjoyment. Consequently, I seek out the job—the work—the potential for
selling the article or earning the largest paycheck. And, thankfully,
I’ve done so always with my sense of values intact. I’ve turned down
assignments that went against my grain and my belief system.
I said above that you have "sustained a lengthy career as a non-fiction
writer." Do you feel that way? Are you satisfied, or is there a market
you're still wishing you could place a sale with?
I have sustained a lengthy career and I am more than satisfied. That
said, of course, I have a wish list. I think that a writer without unmet
goals is a writer dying on the vine. I am constantly reviewing my goals
and setting new ones. Currently, I dream of producing a book of cat
stories that I’ve been working on behind the scenes for years. I would
like to write a novel before I step away from the keyboard. My only
experience writing fiction is when I used to write stories for my
children when they were small.
Is writing a sideline, or your main source of income?
Writing has been my source of income for about 20 years. It wasn’t an
easy transition from hobbyist to career writer. I’d been writing at home
already for about 13 years when circumstances occurred which made it
necessary that I get a job. I became despondent. Even though the job was
enjoyable and I worked with wonderful people, something was direly amiss
in my life. One day while on my early morning walk, I realized that I
was unhappy because I wasn’t writing. It looked as though a full-time
job would be my life for a long time and I knew that I had to find a way
to write no matter what else was going on in my life.
I started getting up at 4
every morning. I would write for two hours and then I’d take my walk and
prepare for work. I also wrote on weekends. I completed an entire book
within 8 months on this schedule. Not only was I much happier, I
realized that I could build a writing business using those same two
hours every morning and maybe eventually cut back to part-time at my
job. A year later, I quit my job completely and went home to write
full-time. I am convinced that if my love had been fiction instead of
nonfiction, this would not have been possible. Things do seem to have a
way of working out if we will just let them—if we will follow our
Based on your experiences, what kind of money can a freelance
non-fiction article writer hope to make in a month, or a year, selling to
possibilities are amazing, actually. But one must have a business head
as well as a writer’s heart. You should also be diverse. While I wrote
primarily for magazines for many years, I also solicited side writing
work. I was once commissioned to write the history of a world-known
private school in my community. This was an extra $300 per month in my
pocket for several years while I interviewed former students, researched
and wrote this 300+ page book and saw to it being published. I had also
established my publishing company by then in order to produce a 360-page
comprehensive history of the Ojai Valley (where I live in Southern
California). I was profiting from these books, as well.
Over the years, other
writing jobs came up and I took most of them. I would teach a workshop
occasionally, give a class at the community college and do some writing
for a local company or agency, etc. And then I finally succumbed to the
pressure from others to take on clients. I’ve always helped others with
their projects, but in 2000, I began considering these people clients.
This increased my bottom line.
So now I am not only a
freelance writer and author, but I am a consultant, editor, lecturer and
workshop leader. Like I said, it takes a business head and these are all
business decisions. I am just so fortunate that my heart agrees with
each of these decisions. Yes, I am still having fun and I’m making
What does it take to achieve that? Can you break out how many article
manuscripts you have in the mail on a normal month?
As I said earlier, my
goals change periodically and the shape and scope of my business does,
too. Currently, I’m submitting fewer articles, selling more books and
working with more clients. When articles were my primary source of
income, however, I might have around 100 query letters on a variety of
topics out at any one time and maybe anywhere from 3 to 10 articles
requested. If you can write and sell 5 articles per month at an average
of $500 per article, that’s $30,000/year. If you only write for mags
that pay $800 and above and you can sell 3 articles per month, you could
earn as much as $45,000 or 50,000/year. It’s all in what you are willing
to do and what standards you set for yourself.
Vision: How do
you choose topics for your articles? Do you specialize in certain subjects?
How much time does it take to research and write an article for your typical
I’ve written articles on
the topic of choosing topics for your articles. Writer’s Digest
published one such article. I say that there are article ideas
everywhere and that if you aren’t aware of them, you just aren’t paying
attention. While I’ve never specialized, I am rather discerning about
the subjects of my articles. I like writing with a positive flavor. It
does my heart good to think that I might help someone to do better or be
better. And I’ve discovered that I love to teach. Over the years, my pet
topics have included cats, youth mentoring, fitness, health, exercise,
gardening and anything that helps children. Currently, my articles
almost all focus on writing and publishing issues. As for how long it
takes to research and write an article—it depends. There are a variety
of types of articles. There’s the essay, the bulleted piece, the
interview article (such as this one), the profile piece and the article
in which experts are quoted, for example. Some articles are written
how-to style and others are more conversational. The type of article
generally depends on the magazine. While some articles are written right
off the top of your head, others take various amounts of research to
produce. So, while I can write a 1,200-word essay-type article or how-to
in just a matter of a few hours, it might take a week or longer to
complete one that needs extensive research and expert quotes—depending
on how much time it takes to contact experts and locate, evaluate and
write the information.
How does one prospect for non-fiction markets? Any suggestions for our
writers that could help them crack non-fiction markets? Is there a good
place to start? Did you start with a strategy in mind? If so, did it work?
I suggest starting by
writing about what you know and pitching the magazines that you are
familiar with. That’s what I did and, yes, it definitely worked. Then I
began writing about things I wanted to know about, things I observed,
etc. I recommend using the “Writer’s Market” to find magazine listings
and contact information for editors. These listings also include their
pay scale, suggested word count, types of stories/articles they are
looking for and so forth. “Writer’s Market” is available at most
libraries in the reference section and for sale in most bookstores. It
sells for around $30. Another strategy (and one that I have used, as
well) is to study what’s current in the news, in other magazines, in
your community, in your child’s schools, in the workplace, and come up
with a unique way of presenting it. Pitch your idea to appropriate
I can’t stress enough the
importance of really understanding the magazine for which you want to
write. What type of articles do they publish? You must conform. What do
they advertise? (This gives you a clue into their audience.) Adhere to
their word count. I see far too many would be article-writers who write
a personal essay of 3,000-words when the editor asked for a 1,000-word
how-to piece, for example.
How often do you write? Do you set aside time daily? If so, how long do you
write? What is your average day like?
I get up every morning at
5 and I write until around 8. I do my household chores (clean out litter
boxes, make beds, etc.) then I go for a walk. If I have a workshop or
speech coming up, I will rehearse the speech while I’m walking.
Otherwise, I use this time to meditate. I go back to work around 10 and
write until noon. I take a break to run errands (generally including
delivering and shipping books, picking up supplies, etc.). Then I work
all afternoon from about 1:00 until 5:00. I generally work at least 10
hours on weekends, as well.
Evenings are often spent
working on an index for an upcoming book, proofing a
soon-to-be-published book, searching for an appropriate magazine for an
article idea I have or doing bookwork, for example.
the writing business changed since you started? Is it better or
Yes, the business has
changed—as has the publishing industry. We have more magazines
launching, but more magazines folding. There’s more competition for
writing work. A sense of loyalty is harder to detect among magazine
editors toward their writers. There seems to be a greater turnover of
staff on magazines from the top publishers and editors on down. This can
be a good thing or a bad thing. If you’ve been writing for a magazine
for years and the editor changes, you will probably also be replaced.
But if you have not been able to infiltrate the magazine, a new editor
might mean a great opportunity for you.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Has your career progressed the
way you thought it would?
I didn’t know that I wanted to be a writer until I was married with
kids. My husband and I didn’t have money to participate in holiday
giving the way we would like, so I wrote poems and created Christmas and
birthday cards using construction paper as gifts for our family. I found
that I also enjoyed writing letters and, as I said, stories for my
children. When my children were still babies, I began to dream of being
a career writer. It wasn’t until my daughters were young teenagers that
I actually began to live that dream.
I’m not sure that my
career has progressed the way I thought it would. I didn’t see myself
being the author of 24 books (and counting). I did not imagine that I
would be helping other writers and authors with their writing projects.
Nor did I consider that I would be traveling around speaking to
freelance writers, authors and independent publishers. So in response to
this question, my career has become more than I expected. I’ve actually
become more deeply imbedded in the world of writing than I ever thought
have you changed since you started writing? Has writing changed who you are
or how you see the world? Are there article subjects that matter most to
you? Are they the same ones as when you started writing?
When you’ve been involved
in something as intense as a writing career for 3 decades, it’s hard to
know whether it was the writing that contributed to the changes or just
the act of living life itself. I’m sure that the accolades I’ve received
over the years for my various writing-related activities have helped to
build my sense of self.
Ten years ago, I became
involved with a fledgling organization called, SPAWN. That’s Small
Publishers Artists and Writers Network (www.spawn.org).
I helped to develop this networking organization locally. At one time,
we had 3 chapters and I attended 3 meetings every month in 3 different
counties where I almost always spoke. SPAWN is now online only. We have
a membership of 200 plus 2,000 subscribers. My affiliation with SPAWN
and my book promotion activities have certainly put me in the limelight
more than I expected and this has served to help build my level of self
As for the type of
articles I currently write, I think I mentioned earlier that they are
mostly all writing/publishing-related now. I write an 8 to 11-page
monthly “Market Update” which is posted at the member area of the SPAWN
Web site. I keep up with my publishing blog (www.matilijapress.com/publishingblog),
I review books and write articles for “SPAWNews” (our free monthly
newsletter) and I also write articles and constantly send out reprints
mainly on writing/publishing topics (in order to promote my
writing/publishing books and SPAWN), but also occasionally on other
subjects. “Catholic Digest” just gave me an assignment out of the blue.
A recent article of mine will appear in The “Toastmaster Magazine” this
month. I have a piece pending with “Cat Fancy.” And I’m working on one
for “New Age Journal.”
Your writing appears to have turned heavily toward non-fiction books on
writing, or on the business of writing? Do the books now take
precedence over articles? Do their sales augment the income, or are they the
I do a lot of book
promotion. And I promote my work as a consultant/editor. Currently, the
work with clients and book sales are probably earning more money for me
right now than are magazine articles. But that’s because I’m not pushing
the articles as much as I used to. It takes an incredible amount of time
to come up with article ideas, flesh them out and then locate the right
magazine. I just don’t have the time for that these days. I think I’m a
little burned out on that whole process, too.
Who has influenced your writing?
My bill collectors.
Are there common mistakes you see new writers making? What suggestions would
you give them?
Not studying the market—diving right in with their great ideas without
researching the viability of their article of book. My
suggestion—research, research, research. Keep in mind that publishing is
a business. Once your desire shifts from pleasure writer to published
writer, you must transition from heart mode to business mode.
Do you see the Internet as a good tool for upcoming writers? How should they
be using it, if it is?
Absolutely it is an
excellent tool in many ways. But it can be a dangerous place for unaware
writers. Stay involved. Participate. Pay attention. And always
double-check anything that doesn’t ring true. Use the Internet to learn
about the writing field, writing techniques and writing opportunities.
Use it to conduct research, but always validate the information you
glean. Most of all, use the Internet to connect with other writers. I
have made some wonderful friends by getting involved in
writers/publishers forums. And I learn a lot this way, as well.
What do you have coming out that we should look for? What sort of things do
you plan, or hope, to write in the future?
I hope everyone will take
a look at my Web site. I’m sure I have a book for every writer. My
“Successful Writer’s Handbook” is a great collection of tips and ideas
for the freelance writer. “A Writer’s Guide to Magazine Articles” is a
great book to help you get started in this field. And, of course, my
latest, Greatest book, “The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your
Book” is perfect for the hopeful and the struggling author.
As for the future, I hope
to continue traveling around to various conferences throughout the U.S.
and beyond and speaking to writers and authors. I’ve just published my
first book for another author through my 20-year-old publishing company,
Matilija Press. “Johanna’s Journey” is a true story of love, loss and
faith. It’s actually the story of a friend of mine. Rick McGrath is a
very talented first-time author.
www.matilijapress.com/johanna.html. I may be producing books for
other authors. And I am coming out with a small book in December (number
25 for me) on my experiences in Dubai earlier this year.
Thank you for
taking this time for this interview.
Patricia Fry is a
full-time freelance writer and the author of 24 books (and counting).
Her articles have appeared in about 250 magazines including, Writer’s
Digest, Writer’s Journal, Canadian Author, Pages, Cat Fancy, Woman’s
Own, Entrepreneur Magazine and many others. While several of her books
are published by traditional publishers, she established her own
publishing company, Matilija Press, in 1983, before self-publishing was
fashionable. Patricia is the president of SPAWN (Small Publishers,
Artists and Writers Network)