Whether you're looking to sell your words to publishers or simply improve your communication skills, there are some simple pointers you can follow that yield impressive results:

* Start by 'giving it away.’  Many would-be writers find themselves frustrated at a vicious cycle in the publishing industry: that is, a significant number of editors won't consider work from unpublished writers, but getting that first byline is impossible if no one will even look at your work. You can side-step this frustration and build a solid reputation for yourself by volunteering to write for your local school newsletter, business blog, church bulletin, etc. Offer your services in exchange for a byline credit, then use these clips to fill in your portfolio. The organization will appreciate your contribution, and you will end up with valuable hardcopy to show editors next time you're pitching a story.

* Take a photography course. Having basic photography skills can make you even more marketable to editors and publishers. Photo-journalists provide a '2 for 1' to their employers, who see real cost-savings in not having to hire a second person to illustrate the articles you write. And even if you don' t intend to become a professional photographer, good pictures can help sell your ideas to decision makers, whether that's an editor, your boss, family, members of your civic group, etc. Studying photography has the added benefit of teaching you to 'think visually' which will help focus and clarify your written work.

* Pinpoint your goal. Is the point of your writing to sell the work, or to make an artistic statement? If you see yourself as a 'poet at heart' and infuse your works with flair and experimentation, don't be surprised if no one's buying. Elegant prose is fine if you're just looking to express yourself on paper for your own enjoyment, but the market for such pieces is very limited. In order to sell your writing, you'll need to follow standard industry guidelines, accept criticism, be prepared to revise your work (perhaps significantly) and see rejection as a temporary set-back rather than a repudiation of your talent. So before you approach an editor you need to decide what you really want to achieve --- and be willing to live with the results of that decision.

* Recycling isn’t just for tin cans. Once you’ve developed an idea into an article or story, see if you can re-work it for another market. For example, if you’ve written a piece on how to get the best yield from your garden, consider using the same basic research to turn it into a ‘how-to’ piece on saving money by growing your own produce, or an environmental article about adding ‘green space’ to your yard via a vegetable garden. This will help open new opportunities for your writing while making the most of your time.

* Don't throw anything away. If your 'great idea' yields nothing more than a flurry of rejection notices, don't despair. There could be many reasons why an article or story doesn't find a publisher right now, but that same piece might be perfect for publication next spring or the following year or sometime in the future. Keep an "already pitched" idea file, and review it every few weeks. That piece on the cultural importance of the Three Stooges might have been declined last year, but next summer when the new movie comes out, it will be a hot commodity. With a little polish, yesterday's trash could be tomorrow's editorial treasure!

* Don't burn bridges. Always remember that writing is a business, and keep personal feelings out of it. Respond to every rejection with grace. Accept criticism willingly. Send 'thank you' notes to editors with whom you've corresponded --  even if they ultimately say 'no' to your project -- thanking them for their time. This will help you build a reputation as a professional and set you apart from petty wanna-be's who become indignant when their work is not embraced and lauded. Editors talk, and word of nasty altercations with snitty writers could poison the well for you far beyond the publication house that rejected your work. Conduct yourself with honor, dignity and good humor at all times, because you never know where and when the next opportunity will come!

* Keep at it. Never forget: Professionals are just amateurs who never quit! Be persistent, believe in yourself and in your work, and you will one day join their ranks!