By Freelance Writer, Roy Barnes

Every publication has guidelines that answer the questions freelancers like you have about things like article length… departments… style… and so on.

Last week, we talked about where to find these guidelines. (

This week, let’s take a look at some of the terms you’ll typically find in Writer’s Guidelines…

  • Learn to Read Guidelines Like a Pro

1) On spec: Submitting on speculation (or “on spec”) means that you submit your article in its entirety to a publication, without any prior promise of acceptance or pay. Publications will often work with new writers on spec. And many newspapers and smaller print or online media work on spec with all their writers, as a rule, whether they’ve written for that publication before or not.

Some publications, however, prefer that you send a query first, rather than submit a full article.

2) A query: This is, really, just a proposal for an article. It’s a letter you send to an editor in which you “pitch” the article you’d like to write. It’s in this letter that you sell your idea to the editor. If he likes it, he’ll then tell you to go ahead and write the piece on spec or he’ll give you a firm assignment for it. In that case, he’ll likely forward a contract for you to sign.

You’ll sometimes see on guidelines: “Query with published clips.”

3) Clips: These are examples of your own published articles. You needn’t send many — two or three is fine.

Use MLA (Modern Language Association) bibliography format to show where the article appeared. One of the best sites for free MLA formatting references is:

My essay on the opening line of Jeff Shaara’s Civil War novel called The Last Full Measure was just published in a Texas-based periodical called The First Line ( Here’s the entry I include on the top of this clip:

Barnes, Roy A. “Favorite First Lines: The Last Full Measure”. The First Line. 7.2 (Summer 2005). 62-63.

Examples of your articles published online are just as relevant as those that appear in print publications. So don’t hesitate to include them.

But if you do, consider introducing the clip with a brief summary of its subject matter. For example:

My article about strange three-letter airport codes can be found at the travel website called Here is the archived link:

Make sure the online link is typed out perfectly, or the link will not work and the editor won’t be able to read it.

Sometimes, even when you’re submitting a query by email, the publication will ask for clips by post. Continental Airlines’ magazine is like this. Its guidelines state: “send hard copies of clips — avoid sending clips as internet links or attachments.”

Bottom line: Do what the guidelines tell you to do.

If you don’t have any travel-related clips, it’s OK to use non-travel pieces. The editor will still get a feel for your style and ability.

And if you don’t yet have any clips, don’t fret. Many publications are happy to work with first-time writers. As such, you’ll have the most luck breaking in with publications that accept pieces on spec. If you send in a full manuscript that they love, the editors aren’t going to care if you’ve been published before or not.

4) Tearsheets/Cuttings: These are two more terms for clips. They are published samples of your articles, which are cut from periodicals and included with your query at an editor’s request. (And yes, it’s just fine to send a good photocopy. You needn’t keep hundreds of originals on hand.)

5) Sidebars: These are boxed pieces that appear within or at the end of a full-length article. Different publications make different use of sidebars. In some they contain the how-to information a reader needs — like hotel names and numbers, tour operator recommendations, etc. In other publications, a sidebar might include a bit of tangentially related commentary. (For instance, in a Conde Nast Traveler article about Budapest there’s a sidebar on local etiquette and manners.) Editors like to receive sidebars that serve the purpose they want sidebars to serve… so read back issues of the publication you’re writing for to get feel for how the sidebars function. When you’re submitting a sidebar with your story, include it at the bottom of your main article under the subhead, “Sidebar.”

6) Fillers: These are short items that help an editor fill a page. Many publications’ guidelines advise writers to break into print by writing these, since they are much easier to craft than full-length feature articles. (Jen Stevens advocates this as well in her Ultimate Travel Writer’s Course and explains exactly how to write them.)

7) Byline Given: This means that your article will appear with your name before or after it.

8) Kill Fee: This is the fee you’ll receive if a publication first accepts your article and then decides not to publish it after all, for any reason. The kill fee is most often a percentage of what you would have received had your article appeared. For instance, if an editor first accepted your article and agreed to pay you $300 with a 50% kill fee, then he would pay you $150 if he decided to “kill” your piece and not to publish it. In this case, you’re free to sell it elsewhere.

9) Simultaneous Submissions: When you offer an article to more than one publication at a time, you’ve “simultaneously submitted” it. Many publications allow for this, but as soon as your piece is accepted in one place, you need to tell the other publications to which you’ve offered it. Here are some examples of various publications’ policies on simultaneous submissions: says under their Rights heading: “Simultaneous submissions should be clearly noted.” In other words: Tell us if you have your piece on offer elsewhere.

The Christian Science Monitor takes a different stand: “We….can’t use articles that…are simultaneous submissions.”

Keep in mind, it probably isn’t wise to submit your piece for consideration in a second publication when the first one you submitted it to expressly forbids simultaneous submissions. If the second publication accepts your article, then you could ruin any potential relationship with the first one.

10) Editorial Lead Time: This is the time between when you submit your completed article to an editor and when that article actually appears in print. Editors give assignments based on a publication’s editorial lead time. If they know the December 2005 issue needs to go to print at the end of October 2005, for instance, then they might gather all the articles for the December issue in September. In that case, there’s a three-month editorial lead time. In fact, for many publications, it’s much longer than that. Some set their calendars a full year in advance.

11) Pays on Publication: This means that once your article is published, that’s when you’ll be paid. Expect to wait several weeks beyond the publication date for your check, though, as a publication may issue all its writers checks at the end of the month, for example, even if the publication actually appears on the newsstands in the beginning of the month. This is simply a function of a publication’s Accounts Payable procedures.

12) Pays on Acceptance: This means that the publication will cut you a check once the editor has accepted your piece — even if it isn’t slated to appear in that publication for several months.

13) Biography/Bio: Like any bio, this bit of text offers information about the author of an article. Each publication that features writers’ bios is likely to do so in a slightly different way. (Yet another reason to read through back issues so you know what to send.) Bios can include all sorts of tidbits: where the author lives, what he or she does principally for a living, a listing of other publications that have featured the writer’s work, etc. Some bios even contain contact information for the writer.

  • A Quick Guide to Rights Writer’s Guidelines also include information about the types of rights a publication will buy from you. These rights are the key to reselling your articles. You might see…

14) All Rights: This means the publication buys your work outright. You can no longer sell it, as-is, anywhere else.

15) First Rights: This means the publication wants to be the first to publish your piece anywhere, period. Sometimes this right is more specific, like First Worldwide Electronic Rights, which means that the publication wants to be the first to publish your piece electronically (online, most often).

16) Electronic Rights: These rights include any electronic medium — online as well as CD-ROM, etc. More and more, print magazines are asking for electronic rights so they are able to showcase online articles that have appeared in their print editions.

17) First North American Serial Rights: In this case, a newspaper or magazine wants the right to be the first periodical on the continent of North America to publish your piece. Selling your article simultaneously to a print publication in Europe, then, would be fine — as long as that particular publication doesn’t ask for First Worldwide Serial Rights or First North American Serial Rights!

18) Second (Reprint) Rights: These rights give a publication permission to publish an article that has already appeared elsewhere. Most Writer’s Guidelines will specify whether the publication ever buys Second (Reprint) Rights or not.

19) One-Time Rights: A publication that buys One-Time Rights isn’t asking to be the first one to publish your work. It wants, simply, to publish it one time. It can appear simultaneously elsewhere.

20) Exclusive Rights: This is the period of time a publication wants to have exclusive use of your article. (Sometimes, for example, a publication will buy three months of Exclusive Rights to ensure that your piece doesn’t appear elsewhere during that period.) The term “Non-Exclusive Rights” means that once published, you needn’t wait at all before you resell your piece.

21) Archive Rights: This is most applicable for internet sites. It’s the right a publication retains to keep a writer’s work at its internet site archived for whatever time it specifies or negotiates with you.

22) Work for Hire: In this case, a publisher owns all the rights to an article and can do with it what he likes. Often a Work for Hire appears without a by-line, and sometimes it might even appear under somebody else’s name. (You’d know that going in, however…)

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This