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March 11, 2002
Expanding Your Freelance Writing Career To Global Markets
By Tad Hulse

Expanding to global markets should be an essential part of every freelancer writer's career. One of the first steps, however, a writer must take in order to assure international success is familiarizing his or herself with the markets targeted. I'm sure it's a statement heard time and time again. But when I say, "know" the markets, I am not merely referring to the age, sex and economic state of the readers. In the worldwide marketplace, you must take heed to their habits, their religion, their environment, the television programs they watch, the languages they speak, the movies they see, the food they eat, the papers they read and any other aspects of daily life and leisure. North American freelancers particularly, need give at least a little concern when deciding to tackle this arena because, as strange as it may seem, life outside the US is like chalk and cheese.

International marketing calls for the acknowledgement of various social, political and cultural habits of the country in which you hope to sell your work in. Lack of such insight can sometimes be the difference between a deposit in your bank account or a rejection e-mail. A single cultural or political blunder in your query letter, article, or image can get you a hardy "no thanks, please try again" from editors, as well as plant enough doubt in their minds, which in turn may harm your credibility for future sales. In most cases, people living outside North America do not think like Americans or Canadians, or likewise for that matter. It's well worth taking that extra time to find out who exactly will read your article.

As an international freelance writer, language differences are only one aspect you must keep in mind as your work travels abroad. More importantly are the cultural barriers. It is a very good idea, in fact, to avoid using brand names, products, or images in your articles if at all possible. Colors, too, have different meanings in different countries. In Brazil, purple is the color of death, while in Hong Kong, white is a typical funeral dress. In Mexico, death is emblematically associated with yellow flowers and in France, the same flowers suggest infidelity. White lilies, though they look beautiful, are never given in England unless you desire to present a death wish. Red is popular in all Chinese speaking areas, as well as in Italy and Norway. In the latter country, red roses signify passion when given to someone of the opposite sex. And that's only one of the myriad intricacies of another culture. Think about the rest?

Other influences that you should be somewhat aware of are those brought about by educational and social environments. You've heard about the writer who sent an article to a French magazine informing readers that they could purchase all the materials mentioned at their local K-Mart or Wal-Mart stores? It's an urban myth worth paying attention too.

The editor rejected the story, stating that "there are no K-Marts or Wal-Marts in France." In many parts of the world, in fact, 'one-stop shopping' is unheard of. In much of Western Europe, it doesn't exist either. People who do their weekly or daily shopping typically go to four or five different places; one for fish, one for vegetables, one for bread, so on and so forth. It's also a way of socializing; they mingle with friends and neighbors and take the opportunity to catch up on local chitchat.

Moral of the myth: had the writer done the necessary market research, he would have known better than to include this popular American franchise and might have not made only the sale, but developed a long-term working relationship with the editor.

As you can see, understanding the habits and cultures of various countries can take some effort. Being aware of the surroundings, in which editors and art directors work and live, nonetheless, can make a difference in your international attainment. Obviously, the best way to begin is selecting a few principal countries for the work you hope to sell, and study the lifestyles of those nations. Acquiring general background information of a country is quite effortless nowadays, with the Internet at your fingertips. Just click on a search engine and away you go. Websites and links of every country in the world with demographics, currency exchange rates, histories, political issues and more will come up. The key is to find the most current information possible.

The foreign market place is huge, exciting and often overwhelming, to say the least. It's like being in a maze of unique and unfamiliar people and places. Though, at first, you may not understand everyone and everything you encounter try to understand the cultures from which they've come. You will find the least bit of effort put forth makes a world of difference in your international freelance success.

Tad Hulse is an American freelance writer who has covered topics from small business ventures to world travel. Currently he is based in Oslo, the capital of Norway. Email: hulsetad@yahoo.com.

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