So you’re ready to make the leap and get published in something besides your blog or church newsletter. You’re probably excited, anxious and slightly confused at the same time, overwhelmed by all of the possibilities and wondering where to begin. Having been one of those excited, anxious and slightly confused writers, I have lots of advice to offer. While I’ll save the mechanics of writing a pitch for another post, I do want to give you some general advice on getting published and building a thriving freelance writing career.
For starters, I’d suggest you buy Jenna Glatzer’s book “Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer.” It covers all the basics of building a freelance writing business and has some excellent info on pitching.
(Note: I have no financial interest whatsoever in you buying this book and do not receive a commission. I’m recommending this book to you because someone recommended it to me and it’s helped my career tremendously.)
I’d also recommend you check out Linda Formichelli’s Renegade Writer blog and sign up for her mailing list. When you do, you get a packet of real query letters that were successful in getting writers the assignments they pitched. Linda’s site has lots of great info and the query letters are a nice bonus.
Choose a publication to pitch and study it front to back
Now…as far as getting hooked up with publications. The first step is to choose a particular publication you want to pitch and figure out the right editor for the section you want to pitch, which is usually possible with a clever Google search or by tracking down staff contact info on the publication’s website.
And then you study the publication front to back and top to bottom. Notice the subjects they cover, the way they cover them, their tone and style, how the articles are arranged, the length of articles, etc. Most if not all publications have writer’s guidelines as well, which will explicitly say what they’re looking for and give instructions on how writers should pitch.
So between studying the magazine and the writer’s guidelines, you should have a solid idea of what they’re looking for, and then your pitch is a chance to introduce yourself and show them that you have what it takes to write for them.
There’s lots of info out there on how a pitch should be structured, but the basic purpose is to clearly communicate your idea and totally sell your editor on it — to show them why the story would be a great fit for their publication and why you’re the best person to write it.
Pitching without any clips
If you don’t have any clips (published articles), that isn’t necessarily an obstacle, it just means your pitch/query has to totally sell them on your story idea and show what a great writer you are because you can’t “fall back” on your past glory. You need to really pinpoint what the publication wants, then reflect everything they want back to them in your pitch while demonstrating your writing ability. If you do this, there’s no reason you shouldn’t get the assignment, even though you aren’t widely published…yet!
Which publications to pitch
In terms of which publications to pitch, it really depends on the subject matter you want to write about, but I would suggest pitching a variety of publications, from small, local ones to regional and national ones. Consider both print and digital publications.
Competition for national publications can be fierce, so it’s good to also pitch smaller publications where the competition won’t be so stiff and you’ll have a better chance of landing an assignment and getting some published clips under your belt.
I started out at a local paper, which helped me land a gig at a major city newspaper, which helped me get gigs at national magazines and major digital publications. I’ve heard of some people who have landed gigs at national publications at the beginning of their career, so I know it’s possible, but I also think it’s a smart strategy to get experience where you can and use that experience to help propel you to the next level. For tips on pitching a paper, click out my article on how to get a gig writing for a newspaper.
The bottom line is that if you’re a good writer who is passionate and driven, you will succeed.