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Reader Question: When English Isn’t Your First Language

Read Time: 3 min

Today I'd like to tackle a reader question from Evgeni Puzankov related to selling writing to English-language publications when English isn't your first language. Can you do so successfully?

"The question that plagues me throughout my adult life is whether one can actually make it in anglophone writing biz, while not being a native.

I'm Russian and still live here. My mother sent me to English classes when I was about 4 and it was the beginning of my downfall. Now I'm 25 and have this dream to get at least one short story written in English published.

Is there any chance for me despite my nationality?"

The Short Answer

Yes! You can absolutely succeed in English-language markets even if English isn't your first language, no matter where you live. Writers do it all the time. I know successful writers from Pakistan, India, Italy, and numerous other countries who work with English-language markets. And if you read their work, you probably wouldn't even know English wasn't their first language.

That's the key. If you're targeting publications that cater to English-speaking readers, your work needs to be on par with what they're used to.

Tips on Succeeding in English-language Markets

While you can certainly succeed writing in English (or in any language you might be fluent in, even if it's not your first language), that doesn't mean it will always be easy. Here are a few tips that might help:

1. Read as much as possible in the language you plan to write in.

Better yet, read as much as you can from past issues of the publications you plan to target. Compare the style of your writing to the stories they've already published. You'll have a better chance of landing a contract if your styles are a good fit for each other.

2. Make sure you can accept payments from your target publication's country.

For example, make sure your bank can process a check in their local currency, and find out if the transaction fees are reasonable enough compared to the pay rate to be worth it. You can also look into online payment processors available in your country, like PayPal. Most of my work comes from overseas clients, and this is the route we usually take. It shouldn't be a problem for most online publications, but it might be more difficult to get offline publications to pay you through these kinds of services.

3. Join a writing group with native English speakers.

There are some common giveaways when a writer isn't a native English speaker. In the worst cases, the writing is barely readable to English-speaking readers. But sometimes those giveaways are more subtle, such as using very formal language in markets where people are used to stories written in a more conversational tone.

Sometimes these issues won't be clear to you because you know what your words meant. By joining a writing group you get feedback from others before pitching your stories to publications. That can help you sort out problems, big and small, before your work is reviewed by an editor. The better your first impression is, the less likely an editor should be to care about your location.

This doesn't mean you can be published by all publications in your target country. Some hire only local or regional writers. And others will only hire writers from their own country or a small group of countries for tax or payment reasons.

Now, a question for the All Freelance Writing community: Have any of you been through this, pitching work in a language other than your first? If you've done so successfully, what tips would you offer Evgeni?

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