The Business of Clips
This article belongs to The Writing Life—The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly column.
The Business of Clips
The idea of clips seems like a Catch-22. You need them to get a pitch picked up, but how can you get them if no one gives you a chance to write an article? So, what does one do? This is the question I get asked most often. The situation, however, is not as impossible as it appears.
Use the Web
Search for websites that may be interested in your area of expertise. These days there are many start-up sites that are looking for bloggers on a variety of subjects - from health and relationship issues to global warming and the teen scene. Many of these don't pay, but it's a great way to get a few clips (three would suffice) and to get your name out there. Or, you can create your own site. Just don't put your name as part of the URL. Write a few articles with expert quotes, and you have usable clips.
Help the Locals
I know someone who got an assignment from a big name parenting magazine because one of the editors - another congregant - liked the article she wrote for a synagogue newsletter. Churches and synagogues love to have members of the congregation contribute to the monthly bulletins. Ask if you can write an article for the next issue. Religion not your thing? No problem. Check out newsletters or promotional magazines from local eateries and organizations and see if they'll let you write something for an upcoming installment. They will probably not pay, but you just want a few clips to show the bigger mags that you have writing flair. Plus, you never know who might read your words and contact you.
Hit on the Little Mags
I know I've said this before, but it bears repeating. When we start out freelancing, our sights are often set on the huge glossies. While it's fantastic to have something to aspire to, don't overlook local publications. Often, these editors move on to bigger and better things and if they like you, they'll keep you in mind for assignments. And, you now have someone to pitch at the Big Mag. The other good thing about the local papers is that they often don't require clips. Just show them that you can write and meet deadlines and you're in. Ask if they are looking for freelancers in a certain area. If they're open, be prepared to pitch a fun and quirky idea that could become your niche.
Ask the Charities
Another clip angle is the charity venue. Many non-profits, even if they already have writers, look for additional people who can help promote their cause. Contact charities of interest and ask if they need someone to write up promotional materials. If the event is local, you can pitch the idea to the local paper as well and get paid for the article. Make sure to choose an organization that somehow relates to the writing specialty you want to develop (e.g., an AIDS foundation if you want to specialize in health writing, food function if you want to write restaurant reviews or nutrition items, etc.). Many people see these newsletters so in addition to clips and doing something good, you're getting your name out there. Also, if you impress the organization, there may be a permanent and paid writing position in it for you.
Bug Your Friends
What's better than word of mouth? I wrote a few articles for a local paper because a friend's sister was an editor there. Ask your friends if they know of places that need your services. Maybe they have a website they're trying to get started and could use someone to write weekly articles. Perhaps, their businesses need additional advertising or someone to write quick pieces about the company. Many of my friends and acquaintances are trying to get independent ventures off the ground. Perhaps you can do a write-up about such things as well - a scratch my back, I'll scratch yours kind of thing.
Remember Those College Days
The college magazine may be one of the most overlooked publications when it comes to clips. But, it's a great place to be published. First, you never know which alumni can be a great contact. Second, it's read by thousands and thousands of people. While you may not have the opportunity to pick a topic of your choice to write about, you can still have fine, glossy clips and the opportunity to showcase your reporting skills.