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Freelancing in India 
By Alfred P M

You've probably heard of Arundathi Roy, right? How about V.S. Naipaul? Jhumpa Lahari? Hari Kunzru? Of course you have! They're famous writers, either Indians or have Indian origins. They've been interviewed and featured in magazines and newspapers so many times, we almost feel like we know them.

Have you heard of Manjula Padmanabhan? Anil Dharkar? Dilip D'Souza? You probably have heard of at least one of these persons. They are freelancers, successful ones, whose names you see in magazines like Outlook and newspapers like The Hindu. They may not get the same publicity as their fiction counterparts, but they are pretty good writers in their own right. You'll probably see some other names consistently appearing in different magazines and newspapers, if you pay attention.

An exercise in chaos

Yeah, there are freelance writers in India and they are making a living out of writing! Ever wonder how they broke in? I did and asked one of the more successful ones about it. She said that the Indian market was/is tough. She wasn't discouraging me; she was just being honest. The Indian market is tough. Magazines do not publish proper guidelines for writers. If you subscribe to wonderful newsletters like Absolute Write, Writing World et al, you will notice that the US writing market is streamlined. That is not the case here in India.

In India, magazines seldom have guidelines. There is a paucity of information for writers wanting to start out. So what can a writer either starting out or one who wants to "come out" do? Let's find out!


If you've never been published anywhere, I mean anywhere, you probably wonder if you have what it takes. I used to "feel" like writing all the time. I read articles by some people and thought to myself, "I can do this." However, that was it; I never did anything about it. As you guessed, that did me a whole lot of good in becoming the writer that I am!

I remember the first time I "submitted" something anywhere. It was a letter to India Today and I was responding to an article of theirs. I e-mailed the letter to them and forgot about it, until my Mom (what would we do without them) asked me if I had written to the magazine. I told her that I had and she told me that the letter had been published. My name in print; that was quite a rush!  I was in the US then and my Mom sent me the published letter, which I still have.

When I returned to India, I began writing letters to my local newspaper (Deccan Chronicle) and to Outlook magazine. I started to see my name in print in both the newspaper and the magazine and it was a good feeling. I mean, Outlook is a national magazine and they probably get a lot of letters. If your letter is published, maybe there is someone who thinks that you have something to say and that you're saying it well. I think this is a great way to see your name in print and get some preliminary "clips!"

Losing your virginity

In January 2001, my uncle died in a road accident. I was angry and I wrote about the incident in my writing book. I typed it up on my computer and sent it off to Deccan Chronicle, with a two liner to the editor, asking him to find a place for it somewhere. I sent it and then it was in the back of my mind, but I thought that they wouldn't publish it.

Three or four days later, Deccan Chronicle published my piece in the supplement of their newspaper under the heading, "My Ire." That's not the best part! They published it again in the same week in their Readers Write section and I won a prize for it! I had written an article? Wow!

This encouraged me to submit to the newspaper more often and I did. Another got published (though a few of them didn’t see the light of day) under the Readers Write section.

Through some very unusual circumstances I met a person who worked for the newspaper and she mentioned that they were looking for freelancers. She told me the name of the features editor and asked me to get in touch with her.

When I did meet her (after setting up an appointment), she "knew" who I was because she had wondered who it was that submitted so frequently to her newspaper! I wrote two articles for before I had to move from Hyderabad. If I were still in Hyderabad, I would have still been writing for Deccan Chronicle.

They do it everyday
Newspapers are an easy way to break into the world of writing. Newspaper editors usually use freelancers since they are already overworked and need people to write good articles for them.

There are probably local newspapers in your city or even some national newspapers that have editions in your city. Newspapers like The Hindu (http://www.hinduonnet.com), The Times of India (http://www.timesofindia.com), The Hindustan Times (http://www.hindustantimes.com/), and The Indian Express (http://www.indian-express.com/) feature articles from freelancers, and there's no reason why you can't write for them.

All you have to do is pick up the telephone directory and find out who the editor or sub-editor is and talk to them. Of course, you should go prepared so that you can give them article ideas or queries. There are some great articles at Absolute Write and Writing-World on how to write queries and how to find ideas for your articles. I would also recommend reading the newspaper and studying what kind of articles they publish. That would give you a better idea of "giving" the editor what they want. So, what's stopping you from getting published?

They do it once a week…

Wouldn't you love to see your name in a magazine? Sure you would. The feel of the glossy paper, the colors, the photographs, your name! Yeah, give me some of that.

Most Indian magazines do not accept e-mail submissions. You have to submit your article (with a letter of course) with a SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope) and then hope to hear from them. You can also query the editor with article ideas and write for the magazines. Most magazines also expect you to surrender all rights to the article you are writing. I have heard that you can re-slant your article and sell it, but I have not tried it, yet.

If you're getting discouraged, don't be. It's not all bad! I have written for a computer magazine called Computers@Home (http://www.computersathome.com). I constantly get e-mail reminders (since I queried them once) to write for New Delhi Press, the group that prints Women's Era and Alive. There are also a couple of magazines that cater to the Indian community in the US that accept contributions from freelance writers. You can find their address and other magazine resources at the end of this article.

The way to go with magazines is to get hold of a copy (or copies) of the magazine. Most magazines publish their contact information in the first few pages of the magazines. You can get the addresses and the name of the editor and write to them. Of course, browse through the magazine first and get a feel for the article before querying or submitting an article.

It's what inside that counts, but…

I once asked a very successful freelancer for advice about what to do to break in. I can't remember her exact words, but here's the gist of what she said -- "Print your manuscript with double line spacing and lots of margin space. If you're meeting the editor, dress well and go prepared."

You know you’ve got to do it but sometimes it helps when someone (usually Mom) tells you. Make sure that you print your articles on standard paper. Give ample margins (some suggest 1.25 inches on all sides). Give double line spacing (until the editors decide that they want to save the trees).

And chick what you sub meat. (Hint -- spell checkers don't work all the time)!

Whatever you do, don't expose yourself
You've probably come across some website that says, "We can't pay you, but we will give you the exposure of being read by fill a number here of people all over the world, who will give you valuable feedback!" Yeah, and I am Ernest Hemingway! Hogwash (not Hogwarts, which is good stuff)! People that promise you exposure are, more often than not, getting you to "work" for them for free. There are a few cases where you might want to write for free, but not for websites that use your content for generating traffic and then don't pay you.

If you wrote an article free for a portal like Rediff (http://www.rediff.com) for instance, that would be worth it, because they feature some good writers and pay those writers to write. If you write for www.iamaduncesinceiwriteforfree.com, what distinguishes you from the other writers that write there for free? Most of these sites publish almost all the stuff that they get, so it's not like they are churning out Pulitzer prizewinning stuff. So get paid for what you write!


There is a scene in the movie The Waterboy where a character keeps shouting, “You can do eet, you can do eet!” There are very few feelings in the world to beat seeing your name in print (and getting paid for it). I hope this article will be the compass that will point you in the right direction. Go for it. It’s not rocket science after all!

Here are a few resources that will help you get started.

-- India as an international market -- A wonderful article by Hasmita Chander with some markets as well. (http://www.writing-world.com/international/india.html)

-- Pioneer Media Directory -- A comprehensive listing of Indian magazines (and some foreign ones). (http://www.dailypioneer.com/media.htm)

-- Women's Era -- The Editor, Woman's era, Delhi Press, E3 Jhandewala Estate, New Delhi 110055, Email: delpress@bol.net.in (does not accept email submissions, submit with SASE)

-- India Currents -- Vandana Kumar, Managing Editor, India Currents, P.O. Box 21285, San Jose, CA 95151, phone: (408) 274-6966, fax: (408) 274-2733, e-mail: mgeditor@indiacurrents.com;  Accepts e-mail submissions, e-mail for guidelines.

-- Parthiv N. Parekh, Khabar Magazine, parthiv@khabar.com, phone: (770) 451-3067, fax: (770) 986-9113. Accepts e-mail submissions, e-mail for guidelines.

-- Cyber Media (http://www.cmil.com) is a print group that prints several computer magazines like Dataquest (http://www.dataquest.com), PCQuest (http://www.pcquest.com), Voice&Data (http://www.voicendata.com/), and Computers@Home  (http://www.computersathome.com)

Alfred P M is a freelance writer living in Bangalore, India. He thinks that he writes good stuff sometimes but his (internal) editor begs to differ. The battle rages on!


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