Friday, September 16, 2016


            While I was trying to compile the ten issues of a magazine we called The Journal of the Ozarks over a couple of years, I had contact with different types of contributors.  Some of them were hilarious.  There was one lady whom I had went to college with that considered herself a great writer and tried to help with one of my magazines for awhile. I had to brag on her a lot, but she was awful.  I didn’t tell her, but she quit, and really lambasted me and the way we were doing things.
            I decided a long time ago I would never discourage anyone, but always offer optimistic evaluations to everyone who asks me, if I can.  But what the heck do I know.  It is the absolute truth that I don’t know any of the technology of writing.  I don’t know the difference between a predicate and a participle.  That is the truth!  But then, what difference does it make.  
            In all my life I never wrote a thing I didn’t sell somewhere, eventually.  It just takes some resubmissions.  Once years ago, Sports Afield magazine asked me to send a story with photos about Midwest quail hunting.   When he received it, the editor really ripped it apart and said, “after reading this I can’t help but wonder if you ever really go quail hunting!” 
            At the time, Sports Afield paid around 1200 dollars for a feature article with good color photos.  I never touched the manuscript, just sent it to Outdoor Life.  The editor bought it and thanked me for sending it.  Outdoor Life paid 1500 for that article and used several of the photos I sent.  Good advice for anyone who wants to sell their writing… take some good photos to go with everything you write, if possible.  Photos often sell marginal articles.
            Speaking on occasion to a writing group or some high school kids, I tell them that anyone can be a writer.  All it takes is a pen and a tablet and a tree to lean against somewhere.  But truthfully if you are going to call yourself a writer, you have to make a living at it. Otherwise, writing is a hobby.
            One lady called me to say she could do some great work for my magazine and I asked her if she had been published.  She answered smugly that she had been published since she was six-years old.  She sent me a couple of manuscripts flawlessly put together that put me to sleep.  Boring as a soap opera.  But then, someone who loves those soap operas might have loved her work.  And that is a good point.  Just because I don’t like it, or can’t use that doesn’t mean a thing.  Someone else might… just resend it.
            I tell the story often about getting into one journalism class at the University of Missouri’s prestigious Journalism School. At the time I was majoring in wildlife management and the instructor didn’t like the idea of me being in his class.  At the time I was writing a weekly outdoor column for the Missouri Tribune or the Columbia Missourian, I can’t remember which.  One of my assignments received a D, and it was one I had just sold to a Texas Magazine called “All Outdoors” for a whopping sum of 35 dollars.  I dropped the course and kept writing.  I just wasn’t journalism material.

            In past years I was an editor for several magazines, Fins and Feathers, Gun Dog, Wildfowl and Game and Fish Publications.  What a joke that was!  I never knew a thing about editing!  I also never knew a thing about writing, but I have made a decent living as a free-lance outdoor writer for 50 years.  But you won’t make a living as a writer joining writers groups. 
            Those groups are a good thing if you enjoy the social part of getting together with folks who like to write.  It is the kind of setting where folks read something they have written and all the members sit around critiquing it. But should you be in such a group, be smart enough to brag on everything anyone writes.  That way when it is your turn, everyone will brag on what you have penned.
            I once spoke to a large group of outdoor writers known as the Southeastern Outoor Press Association.  One of the members of that group is Jim Spencer, whom I think is the very best outdoor writer in the U.S. today.  Some of  those hundreds of members make good money as writers and others in the group are would-be’ers and hobbyists. 
            I was really amused to find out about their writers awards program.  Each writer sends in his best articles for several divisions, and he pays 25 dollars to do so. You will never catch me paying for an award!  I don’t have money to throw away.  Brother, could a someone make a fortune here in the Ozarks by contacting all the writers groups and charging them to apply for various writing awards!
            If you are a writer, forget the awards and spend your time selling articles. You can sell one to my magazine, The Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal if you have a good story.  I am now concentrating on finding articles for February, March, April and May.  The best stories I have ever received are written by folks who never wrote before, and just had one story of an experience in the outdoors.
            I do not care to mess with some cover sheet telling me what and where you have been published, or what your writing background is.  It is just not important.  If you want to sell me an article, send me something I can’t put down when I start reading it.  All I need with it is name address and phone number.  Whatever your writing group tells you isn’t of any value with me.  What I am looking for is hunting and fishing STORIES.
            It is funny to me that all the outdoor magazines I have written for in years past say that they aren’t interested in “me and joe” stories.  But I have sold them a hundred just such stories.  What they mean is, don’t send something boring! I couldn’t care less about a duck story telling me what chokes are best and what size shot to use.  It is stuff that  average writers have written for decades. Paint me a picture of a duck hunt with your words and I will buy it in a minute.  Convince me you have been there and done that.
            Here’s parting advice for someone who wants to write.  Go find some experienced older person who has a million stories from the good ol’ days and write about them and what they have done and who they are.  If you can’t sell a story on that kind of person, try painting scenery, or something of that sort.  The very best of magazine articles are interviews with colorful, unforgettable people.  Often they are also good book material.
            Some more advice, don’t be so determined to have a book published that you pay through the nose to do it.   Publishing companies lie at times.  They will often publish awful books if you have some money to give them.  I helped an old man get a book of poetry published once that was absolutely awful… as bad as you can imagine.  We saved him a ton of money by steering him to a printer, but he has no chance of breaking even on that awful book. 
            I tried to tell him that, but I take pride in knowing I kept him from spending about twice what he had to spend with one of those shyster publishing companies.  I am proud to say that Lightnin’ Ridge publishing company has published eight of my own books and dozens of others for really, really good writers and mediocre writers as well.  But I try to be honest and encouraging as I can be.  If you feel that a writer will never sell enough to pay publishing costs, you should tell them, and I do.  But it is a waste of time, always.
            Only a very few books in this day and time actually make money for the writer.  They ALL make money for the publisher.  Remember those two sentences.  And remember too that the term ‘writer’ is really overused, sort of like the word ‘professional’.  Try this experiment… write four good articles and start sending them to “paying” magazines. DO NOT SEND MULTIPLE SUBMISSIONS!  If any or all send them back, send them out again and again and in time you should sell them all.
            No one can really teach you to be a writer, you have something in you that makes you want to write and write and write,   That’s All you need.  Write like you talk, and write from the heart.  Even if you aren’t a good writer, you might do good at it if you know more about the subject than most anyone else.
             If you do good at it, then you can call yourself a writer, but really, I would just as soon be known as a top notch boat paddler or a great duck hunter, or a great Labrador breeder.  I have made a fair living writing stuff for more than fifty years, magazine articles, weekly newspaper columns and books.  I’ve done good at it.  But to tell the truth, I ain’t never considered myself a writer neither!  But who would know?

PS.  You can join our Lightnin’ Ridge Writers Group, forming soon with no membership charges.  In fact you can make a little money at it, because we will meet at my place one night a week and shoot pool and snooker and bet a dime on each game.  We will also drink coffee and eat donuts and throw darts and play shuffleboards.  Might get a t.v. put in for those who want to watch football.

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