Case Study: How I Broke into the Smart Mouth Newsletter and Earned $1 per Word


by Tatiana Claudy

“You can, you should, and if you’re

brave enough to start, you will.”

                                                                                                                      Steven King


For about five years I was writing for Christian and writers’ magazines and websites. I became a regular contributor to several publications and developed good working relationships with their editors. Then I went back to college and, overwhelmed with writing assignments, had to put on hold my freelancing. When six years later, after receiving my diploma, I wanted to resume my writing avocation, I learned that ten of my “bread and butter” publications ceased to exist.

While writing for a few remaining familiar markets, I decided to pursue my dream of becoming a food and travel writer. During my six years in college, I studied abroad in Europe and Asia. Later this personal experience of local food and tourists’ attractions helped me to break into several online travel publications. I even published two food articles, one on Korean cuisine, and another on Russian holiday salad.

To develop writing skills necessary for my new niche, I took a food writing class. Upon the completion of this program, I had written five personal essays on different food topics. Next, I set the goal of selling them to prove that I am really a food writer. In one of these essays, I described my longing for rye bread while working in the desert in Turkmenistan (a former Soviet republic). Being especially passionate about rye bread, I was determined to market this manuscript first.

I looked for writing markets in the “Food & Nutrition” section of The Paid Publishing Guidebook (2020 edition). The Smart Mouth E-newsletter, whose editor was interested in essays on food and culture topics, looked like the right market (say nothing about $400 for a 400-word piece!). I visited the newsletter’s website to find out whether this publication is still in business; then I read editorial guidelines to make sure that the editor still accepts pitches from freelancers.

Let me share with you all other steps that I took to break into this market:

1) Checking whether my proposed topic has been covered

One nightmare is pitching an editor a story that has already been published. To avoid this, I put into the Google search engine the following: site: + [rye bread/Russia]. There were no matches for the search, so I started to work on my query.

2) Studying the publication

In the Archive I found plenty of articles. I chose several stories which had historical and cultural aspects similar to my proposed piece. I read them carefully to understand the tone, the style, and the depth of research.

3) Finding courage to pitch

According to Mediabistro, the Smart Mouth is not an easy market to break into: the editor accepts only 3% of freelancers’ queries. I was not an established writer with clips from national publications, nor did I have any work experience in the food industry, or a degree in Culinary Arts. How would I dare to pitch this prestigious market?

“Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude,” said Zig Ziglar (American author and motivational speaker). Inspired by his words, I reminded myself that we writers are important as content providers. Then I remembered kind words written to me by editors with whom I worked in the past. I also realized that my biography could be used as a marketing tool. Born and raised in Russia, I am knowledgeable about Russian cuisine and qualified to write an essay on the significance of rye bread in Russian culture. So, hoping for a positive outcome, I pitched my personal essay, “Dreaming in the Desert of Rye Bread,” to the Smart Mouth editor.

4) Being ready to change the original slant

The editor responded in about a month and suggested writing an essay on a more general topic about Russians and their love for rye bread. Sure, I agreed to change the slant of my piece, although it meant that I would have to spend more time looking for relevant data.

5) Researching the topic and writing footnotes

It took me several hours to gather historical and cultural material. Most information I found on Russian sites, and I also had to do the translation. The editor requires writers to provide references in footnotes, but there was no explanation in editorial guidelines about footnotes’ format. I looked into several published articles for tips on footnotes’ style. Finally, I decided to put footnotes’ numbers in brackets and place them after relevant sentences. At the end of my article, I presented the Bibliography section with numbered footnotes.

6) Being patient

On November 3, 2020, I submitted my essay. And now I faced the hardest part of my writing adventure – waiting for the editor’s reaction! In her editorial guidelines Katherine Spiers discourages follow-ups. However, after waiting for 2,5 months I dared to inquire about the status of my submission. The editor responded the same day and explained that due to numerous submissions she did not read my piece yet, but it was “on the short list.” And on February 25, 2021, my essay “Russians and Their Rye” was published! The editor even sent me the link to the newsletter.

7) Getting paid

To be paid, contributors to the Smart Mouth newsletter need to invoice the editor after publication of their articles. Having chosen to be paid by a check, I had to create an invoice and send it by email. I used Invoice Home ( that offers free invoice templates. In about three weeks I received the check for $400. For the first time during my freelancing, I was paid $1 per word!

Yet the most important result of this journey – I became more confident in my marketing and writing skills. I made a list of 30 publications to pitch next month, and a half of them are glossy national magazines. Of course, there is no guarantee that I will break into any of them with my first query. But I will pitch them till I succeed! “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” (Walt Disney).


Tatiana Claudy is a freelance writer. She has been published in Smart Mouth, Freedom With Writing, and The Paid Publishing Guidebook, Women on Writing, and FundsForWriters, among many other publications.


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