Does freelance writing seem like a closed club, and you can’t find the clubhouse door?
One writer told me this week:
The biggest problem is you can’t break into magazines unless you already have clips.
You can’t get clips without experience, and you can’t get experience without clips.
I know that’s the conventional wisdom. But it just ain’t true.
Yes, it is more difficult to get an assignment without any clips.
But you can do it.
Every single freelance writer working today once had no clips. And yet, they somehow managed to start their career.
I did it — without a j-school degree (or any college degree actually), or any inside connections or media contacts.
Here are seven ideas for how to jump-start your freelance writing career and get those first few clips:
- Believe you can do it. As long as you think it’s an impossible task, you’re going nowhere.
- Volunteer. When I first moved to the Seattle area, I wanted some local clips so I could start pitching publications based here — so I wrote a few pieces gratis for my regional library’s newsletter. Somewhere near you is a nonprofit that would love your help, give you a byline, recommend you, refer you, and give you a testimonial. Find them.
- Enter contests. I got my first two steady clients by entering writing contests the publications held. Those essays led to offers to do reported stories. I’m not a fan of contests where you pay an entry fee, but keep your eyes peeled for contests in the publications you read.
- Create your own samples. Your blog posts are samples — so write them like they are $1-a-word magazine assignments, and you can use them to get gigs. You want to write white papers? Write a white paper about how hiring a freelance writer can help grow a company’s customer base. Find a local, small business that needs web content and help them out. Presto! Samples.
- Try the alternative press. I find alt papers (such as the Village Voice) are pretty open to new writers. Are you going to a concert, or maybe a protest? Call them up and ask if they have anyone covering it. If not, they might just give you a shot.
- Take a class. You don’t need a degree, but take a magazine-writing or copywriting course. You’ll improve your skills, and my experience is professors can be a good connection for referrals.
- Just go for it. I know writers who have sent query letters to the major national women’s magazines with no clips — and gotten an assignment. Learn how to write query letters, pitch your knowledge of your topic rather than offering clips, and get the gig. Or make cold calls until you line up business clients.
Yes, those first paying clients may not be for the big bucks. But they get you a few samples. Soon, you’re not a writer without clips. And you’re on your way.
Homework: If you don’t have any clips yet (or many clips), use the tips above to come up with a game plan for landing some new clients. Then, take action on your strategy.