Phil Philcox's Tips for Writers

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Phil Philcox, a long-time FFWA member, and a longer-time freelance writer and book author, passed away on May 1, 2010. Over the years, he had shared  his vast collection of tips with our members through our newsletter -- and later, through this page. In his memory, we have left this page up in order for other writers to also benefit from Phil's experience. Our community misses him.

(Please keep in mind that some of these are older, so may not apply exactly the same in today's internet age, but most are still useful.)

Got a computer problem? You can call a tech support number or thumb through those thousand-page manuals and maybe you'll find an answer. I've been contacting the computer departments of colleges (any college, just search for a name) and addressing my plea to the tech supervisor, tech assistant, tech genius, whatever. I guess they enjoy the challenge because my response rate has been 83 percent and I almost always get some kind of workable answer.

Need computer help? Got a computer/software question you can't solve after you're checked all possible sources of help? I search for companies that are involved with computers or software (not manufacturers or distributors) and bulk mail them my "Can you help me?" question. Whoever gets the email is probably not set up for answering questions, but I've found they often prove helpful and enjoy the challenge. Don't forget to add a thanks in your request.

Build Your Editors Email List - Got some kids sitting around in front of the computer doing nothing constructive? Have them search the internet for magazine email addresses by subject. Using your word processing program, they can compile a list like this for travel magazines by copying the CONTACT address listed:

Arizona Highways Magazine
Arizona Women's Magazine
Arriving Magazine
Aruba Nights
Asia Traveler

Create a file for each subject you plan to write about (food, business, hobbies, etc.), and when you're ready to submit an article, use the email address.

Check out the reports at - scroll down the page a bit.

Looking for a book publisher for a bizarre subject like insects or embarrassing ailments? Go to and enter the subject under BOOKS. If there are other books on the subject out there, you'll get a list, along with the names of the publishers. Write down the publishers' names, then go to your search engine and find the publishers' web pages. Email or snail mail each of them a query.

How To Sell Everything You Write To Publishers Here and Abroad Using The Internet and EMail

If you've ever considered writing for money, the opportunities have never been better. With access to the Internet you can reach editors around the world and get their reaction. People around the world read newspapers, magazines and books and they're interested in basically what we Americans are interested in: how to have a happy life, how to raise kids, how to buy a house or TV, how to save money or take a vacation and everybody's interested in a good fiction novel. So how come more American writers aren't tackling the foreign markets? One reason might be that foreign publishers are just that....foreign. Before the Internet and e-mail, you had to find their address, print out your letter, query or article, stuff it in an envelope, address it, attach postage (about $1 airmail to Europe per letter) and wait weeks for an answer.

In this day of computers, you can send an article, short story, poem, photograph or book outline to a publisher in Canada, Texas, Scotland, China or France (among many other places). Just open your e-mail program, insert their address, write your message and click on the mouse. Tomorrow they'll open their mailbox and read what you have to offer. That editor might be in Hong Kong, Paris, Chicago, Miami or Sydney. Amazing!

This e-mail thing is the communication tool of the 21st century and something we writers should use to market our material. Considering all the publications in the world, they must require tens of millions of words every week! If the e-mail address you send your material to is personal, all the better. Example: Better Nutrition Magazine in New York is looking for articles on nutrition and health. You can reach the editor, James Gormley, at Written a book on 20th century art? Send your query or outline it as many U.S. book publishers as possible, then send the same material to overseas publishers interested in the subject, publishers like the Librairie Didier Lecointre Dominique Drouet in France at That's one-on-one contact that could pay off.

As a full-time, freelance writer, I've sold over 1200 articles and 46 non-fiction books to publishers here in the United States and around the world. I've written about skin diving for Skin Diver (US), Plunge (France), and Aqua (England), vacationing in California for magazines in Japan and Australia, motorcycle touring for a magazine in Hong Kong, boating articles for boating magazines in Germany and articles on everything from health to self-help to magazines in the United States. My book subjects have ranged from computers to travel. You might not know this but publishers in foreign countries, even those who publish in their native language, are interested in American writers like yourself. If the subject is of interest to their readers, they might buy it, translate it and publish it. Of course, the majority of your sales will be with U.S. magazine and book publishers but if you're interested in selling your writing, don't overlook the overseas market.

And don't overlook online magazines either. There are thousands out there, scattered all over the world and they need material for their online pages. I received an e-mail one day from an online magazine that covered the e-mail marketing of products and services. They asked me to write 2,000 words on the subject and paid me $450.

Buying Tip - If you've got some extra computer stuff around the house or office you want to get rid of, you can sell it with a classified ad in a local paper, on e-bay (, or trade it for something you can use. I went on e-bay, searched for a speaker phone (something I wanted) and checked the listings. To the right of the asking price, you'll see either an amount ($100) or a dash (-). The dash indicates there have been no bids on that item. If the item has only a few days or few hours to go, nobody's interested in buying it. Click on the listing and check out the expiration date and the description. If it's something you're interested in and have something to trade, send the seller an e-mail. I ask them if they can't sell the item listed, would they be interested in trading (in this case an extra scanner I have in the office—a $50 value)? I got a trader on the third try.

Internet Tip - If I had it to do all over again, I would never choose an email address or website address with the lower-case L letter (l) or the number 1. They're too much alike and people trying to access your e-mailbox or web page might have difficulty distinguishing one from the other. You could miss out on something important.

Marketing Tip - Got an article you want to sell and some idle time on your hands? Go online and search for the subject of the article. For an article I wrote on working parents checking someone out before they hired them to work in their home (nannies, babysitters, maids) , I searched for "working woman" and "working parents" and found more than 30 related sites. I sent the article to every editor's e-mail, asking how much they paid for an article like this and informing them this was a multiple submission. Despite what some editors say about multiples, eight responded saying "no thanks," nobody yelled at me, and one bought it for $150.

What do you think? - After many years in the writing business, I've decided to celebrate the 21st century by not sending ideas to publishers who will not accept a brief (one-two paragraphs, no more) email outlining an article or book. Many publishers explain on their website they will not accept email submissions, and I can understand that if it's 300 pages jammed into an emailbox. But if it's a brief query that explains the project as simply as possible, what's the objection? If I (or you) were to send a query/outline by regular mail and it's something they're definitely not interested in, why waste our time, their time, the expense of postage, the burden on the post office?

I've found there are enough magazine/book publishers out there willing to look at a short e-mails so they can decide if they want to see more or not. I even add "...if you're not interested, no need to reply" in all my e-mails. What could be easier and more efficient? If they're not interested, they can just move on to their next e-mail or close their mailbox. If they insist on regular mail and dealing with stamps, SASEs, paper cuts, and such, then it's their loss. Using regular mail, I've waited as much as 14 months for a rejection and ten years for no replies at all. I've got better things to do with my time than to deal with this old method of trying to sell a book. If I lose out on a publisher because of this, then it's my loss. If they lose out because it's a great book idea, then it's their loss. To date, I've sold lots of articles and several books by e-mail and it's such a quick process, I have to ask (again)...what's the objection?

If you have one of those keyboard trays that slide in and out, and you find you still don't have enough room, do what I did. I had a woodworking friend make me a shelf measuring 24X32, covered with white Formica. I now leave the sliding tray in the out position, keep the new shelf on top and have room for the keyboard, a mouse and even a cup of coffee.

How to Use the Internet to Write a Whole Nonfiction Book in a Month or So

Writing a nonfiction book is no big deal. If you can talk about a subject, you can probably write about it. You just have to choose your words with more care and, of course, find a publisher who thinks you do it well enough to get paid. If you work out a plan and think "strategy," you can compile the information for almost any non-fiction subject (well, almost) in a month or so.

Once you have the book's subject in mind and a rough idea of the content, it's time to start putting the project together. During the researching of your book you can hop back and forth between the library and the bookstores, but the Internet is your best source of material. There are tens of thousands of sites out there with information on every subject imaginable. No need to decide on all of the subjects to include in your book at this point. You'll get some good ideas browsing the Internet. Here you'll find not only the subject ideas (what to cover) and the information (the facts and figures) but often the almost-exact words. When I was writing a legal book for a major publisher, I searched the Internet for information and found lots of subjects I never thought of. Since this was a woman's legal guide, that included sexual harassment, divorce, child custody, alimony, credit as a single woman, and all of the subjects that effect both males and females (buying a house or car, suing someone, signing a lease, etc.) Many of the sources offered to give me the words as well.

Question: Why do attorneys in, say, Chicago or Houston (among other places), put up Web pages with information on how to deal with a messy divorce or how to file a grievance in small claims court, then give that information away free of charge to people like you and me? Egos aside, it's because they want to lure you to their Web pages and hopefully add you to their list of clients. Nothing wrong with that. That's what advertising is all about. Along with the how-to information, they probably include a link to their e-mailbox so viewers can keep in touch. Another question: Would these attorneys let someone use that information if they were mentioned in a book as a contributor, along with their website address? Some will, some won't but from my experience, most will if approached correctly. If the purpose of having a Web page in the first place is to draw attention to their business, then getting their name and Web page address in front of the public through a book published on the subject is something they might find interesting.

If all of this is true (and it probably is), I decided there are attorneys all over the Internet waiting to be mentioned in my legal book. Take a hundred attorneys with a hundred different things to say about legal stuff and you have a whole book. You can use the information verbatim (some attorneys will insist on that) or you can rewrite it in your style. I searched legal sites all over the Internet, including State Bar Associations and compiled enough material to fill two books. Of the 50 bar associations in the U.S., only two declined my offer and all of them had consumer information on legal-related subjects.

Let's say there are 75,000 words in your proposed book. 75,000 divided by four weeks (30 days) is about 2,500 words a day. You can easily write that many words in one day if you plan on rewriting at a later date and have some reference material to work with. With my word processing programs (WordPerfect 6.1 and MS Word), I can put about 500-600 words on a computer-screen, single-spaced page in 12 point type with one-inch borders all around, so I need only 4-5 computer-screen pages daily to reach my goal.  If I use the material I downloaded from the Internet and did a little rewriting, I can do that easily.

Now, pick a subject you think might sell as a nonfiction book and search the Internet for information. When you see something you like, download it into your word processing program. Click on the e-mail address of the Wb page owner and send them a note explaining the project and your offer to list them as a contributor along with their web page address. If they say yes, print out a copy of the letter and save it. If they so no, delete the material from your word processing program and go back to the hunt. Eventually, you'll have a directory filled with downloaded files and a folder filled with approval e-mails. These e-mail OKs are important so you don't get sued sometime in the future.

Government sites are good sources of information on many subjects. There are hundreds of consumer pamphlets and booklets online that would fit into books called The Consumer's Survival Guide, The Senior's Survival Guide, How To Apply For A Government Loan, Government Scholarships, How To Save Money When You File Your Income Tax, etc. If there isn't enough information for a whole book, consider the material to write articles. Most of this information is in public domain, so just rewrite it so it doesn't sound so government-like. You can collect information on any subject by just listing a few words in the search block and before you know it, you'll have compiled enough words (yours or theirs) to fill a book.

I'm using this Internet technique to write (actually compile) books like The Potato Cookbook...How People Around The World Cook America's Favorite Vegetable; The Off-Season Travel Guide; The Florida Meeting Planner's Guide, etc. I'm contacting potato lovers, travel agents, and Florida-based cities over the Internet and word by word (mostly their words), paragraph by paragraph, these books are coming together.

My publisher asked me to add a Suggested Reading section to a law book I wrote. I prefer over Barnes and Noble as a book search source because Amazon lists 29 of my book, B&N only 9.

I minimized my browser, opened a wp file, minimized it, then opened On my taskbar at the bottom of the screen I had icons for AltaVista (my browser), WORDP (WordPerfect - my wp program) and AMAZON. I went to AMAZON, BOOKS and entered LEGAL in the search block. Amazon said they had over 20,000 books relating to legal, listed alphabetically. One by one I scanned the list and when I found something like "The Internet Fact Find For Lawyers," I entered the author's name and title in the wp program. The format the publisher preferred was this:

Blackman, Josh, and David Jank. The Internet Fact Finder for Lawyers: How To Find Anything on the Net. Chicago IL: American Bar Association, 1998

Because they required me to list the location of the publisher and Amazon doesn't have that information, I clicked on my AltaVista browser and entered the name of the publisher in the SEARCH block. If it came up, I checked for an address and if there was one, I enter all of the information into the Suggested Reading section. If not, I searched for another book and repeated the process. When I found an appropriate title AND a publisher's location, I entered it. In a few hours, I had 54 entries in the Suggested Reading section.

Outlines and Sample Chapters On Web Pages

You have a book proposal. You can print it out on paper and mail it to all of the editors listed in Writer's Market interested in that subject, sit back and see what happens. If you have access to the Internet, you can put your proposal, an outline, photos for the book, and some sample chapters on a Web page and direct any editors interested to that site. You can contact them by telephone, e-mail, postcards or letters saying (in so many words)...

"I have a book idea at (or whatever). Would you take a quick look and let me know what you think? Thanks."

Some editors will look; others won't, but those who do look will see your project and make a decision one way or the other.

If you're in the market for a laptop and you're on a budget, you can buy a used laptop from a variety of sources on the Internet and they'll guarantee they'll work as good as new. Most are laptops that have been returned for one reason of the other, including lease returns.  Hopefully, that reason is minor (a stuck key or two) and not major (a smashed motherboard) but since you get a guarantee, anything probably goes. I've purchased refurbished office products over the Internet and have had no problems to date.

Personally, I would only buy a used laptop with a factory warranty from the manufacturer. Warranties range from 30-90 days, and you can usually buy extended coverage for a full year, which includes parts and labor. If something happens, you'll have to send it back to the factory.

When you buy a used computer, put it through the will-it-work? test starting from Day One. Plug it in, turn it on and leave it on for a few days. Load and run the programs you're going to use. How long does the computer run on battery? Do any of the keys stick? Put it in a case, throw it (gently) on the back seat of your car the next time you're out, drive around, then take it inside when you get home and see if it still works. If you discover something wrong, call the company immediately. Everybody I've seen has some kind of return policy. Occasionally you'll run into a restocking fee ($20 or so to return the computer). I wouldn't buy from a company asking for restocking fees. They should offer a full refund.

There are hundreds of sources of used laptops on the Internet ranging from large companies to individuals. You can find the companies' current sites by searching on Google for "used laptops" or "Dell used laptops" or something similar.  E-Bay has used laptops for sale by individuals, but that's a little too risky for me. Stick with companies that have an assortment of used laptops and that offer a good warranty and some kind of money-back offer.

Enroute to writing the Great American Novel or How-to Book, you might be interested in working on some projects that can earn some money. If the projects are related to words, all the better — like Crossword Puzzles and Word Games.

Local newspapers and magazines might be interested in having you design crossword puzzles and word games that have a local theme. Most puzzles used by newspapers come from a syndicate and are general in nature, so a local theme puzzle might be in demand. Your crossword puzzles would contain words of interest to people in your area. You can compile a puzzle with the names of famous state people, towns, street names, businesses, schools, parks, beaches, mountains, attractions, etc. or a combination of all. The possibilities are endless.

Using the software listed below, submit a few examples to a local publication and see what they say. You can ask businesses if they'd like to sponsor a puzzle in a local publication. They pay you to create a puzzle with a theme relating to their business (names of auto parts for a car dealer, food items for a restaurant, foreign cities for a travel agent, etc.) and at the bottom of the puzzle is their business name, address and short sales pitch. With the completed puzzle in hand, there are several options. The business can submit the puzzle to publications as a freebie or buy space for the puzzle as an advertisment or you can sell the puzzle to publications and charge your business clients for the exposure.

Check out all of the local publications in your area. In addition to the obvious (daily and weekly newspapers and magazines), you might find newsletters or special-interest group publications that could use a crossword puzzle relating to their cause. Chambers of Commerce, banks, organizations and shopper newspapers might be interested.

Anyone can design a crossword or word game using the following software.  They all work basically the same. For a crossword, you choose a grid format and number of squares, enter words into a word list and the puzzle puts the words in place. You can search for across and down words using the other features of the program. Across Lite ( offers several crossword puzzle creation options. Crossword Challenge ( offers a free download of their software program for evaluation. Crossword Compiler ( can create puzzles in seconds from a list of words. A free demo is available online you can download. The demo version is limited to 10X10 squares. The full version can create puzzles as large as 50X50 squares and includes WordWebPro, a thesaurus and dictionary and word lists.

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