Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Start With the Locals

Publications, that is. I've received e-mails recently from women in my area who are hoping to break into freelancing. I could write a book on how to I guess, but a few other writers already have and they did a good job of it. Right off the bat I'd have to recommend "How To Make A Real Living As a Freelance Writer" by Jenna Glatzer and "Writer Mama: How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids" by Christina Katz. I have an article that Christina wrote that I'd like to share with you:

Build Up Your Clips Writing For Local Publications
By Christina Katz

When I decided to start writing articles, all I had in my clip file was articles I’d published in student publications. So when a local writing teacher, who was also the editor of a local business journal, invited me to write for her publication, I jumped at the chance. The result was “Hollywood Rx for the Holidays,” an article I have reprinted several times and continue to submit today.

A common mistake beginning writers make is to overlook local markets as a source of publication. Maybe this is because we dream of seeing our byline in The New Yorker, Sports Illustrated or, one of my secret fantasies, O magazine. While there is nothing wrong with setting lofty goals, the path to getting from unpublished status to a glossy national publication is most often right in front of our very noses… in other words right where we live.

Writing for local publications is a good idea for several reasons:

1) It’s often easier to get an assignment from a local publication, than a national publication.

2) Contact with a local editor can lead to future writing assignments.

3) You can compile clips more quickly writing locally than you can pitching publications with larger audiences and longer lead times.

Well, that’s fine advice, you may be thinking, but how should I go about contacting local editors? The answer is the same way you contact any editor. First, familiarize yourself with their publication. Then generate a list of story ideas you can pitch. Then pick your best idea and write the actual article or draft a query letter to the appropriate editor.

If you are wondering if you should send your inquiry by mail or by email, I suggest you send it by mail with any clips you already have, as well as a resume, if you have a writing background. If you don’t have a writing background, skip the resume, unless your professional experience is pertinent to the idea you are proposing. Be sure to let the editor know that you are open for assignments, if that is the case.

An initial contact by “snail mail” will make a stronger impression than email, but email works well once the editor knows who you are. If you don’t hear back in two weeks, a polite phone follow-up is the logical next step. Don’t be too nervous, you’re simply letting this local editor know that you are available to serve them. Without groveling, this is pretty much the appropriate attitude, if you want to get an assignment.

When I assigned writers articles for American Northwest Vintage Homes online magazine, I was generally looking for a few important qualities. I want to know that the writer would work conscientiously, get the assignment done on time and write with enough of a unique style to set our magazine apart from competing publications. So don’t make the mistake of thinking that an article for a local publication will be any less work than an article for a national publication. Besides, you want to write an article strong enough to appeal to a national audience, so it will serve you well as a clip later.

Whether you are a beginning writer who needs to build up a portfolio of clips, or an experienced writer who wants to develop new clips in different genres – what are you waiting for? Contact those local editors and get writing!

Christina Katz is the author of Writer Mama, How To Raise A Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (February, 2007, Writer’s Digest Books). She has been doing just that for the past five years and has published over 200 articles in magazines, newspapers, and online publications. She teaches eight nonfiction-writing classes a year and is publisher and editor of the online monthly zine, Writers On The Rise, voted by Writer’s Digest as one of the “101 Top Web Sites” for writers. Christina is a graduate of Dartmouth College and has an MFA in Fiction from Columbia College, Chicago. Visit or or for the latest about Christina.

Copyright © 2003 Christina Katz
Article originally appeared in Writers On The Rise.

I completely agree with Christina. I think a lot of times aspiring writers are quick to jump the gun and submit queries straight to national magazines. I have been guilty of that myself. But I can honestly say that while I have yet to have an idea accepted by a national publication, I write regularly for local publications that have become my "bread and butter" so to speak. I have a consistent stream of income from them and have the opportunity to write on a variety of topics, which I hope will one day catapult me into one of those women's service magazines. I'm very grateful for my local editors who are comfortable doling out big assignments to me, and I hope to maintain those relationships for a long time.


Amanda Nicole said...

Thanks so much for sharing this article, Renee. I've read from numerous sources that starting with local publications is a good way to build your portfolio, but none of them really expanded on how to do this.

Also, it cleared up a question I've had for a while and which had been holding me back from taking that step: whether the best way to initially contact a local editor is through mail or email. Thanks!

Renee Roberson said...

I have to add that these days e-querying (is that even a word?)is accepted more than it used to be. I have sent queries via e-mail to both Parenting and Southern Living magazines and they both responded back within an hour.I didn't get any assignments, but they personally e-mailed me with feedback and tips. Just be sure to make sure you are e-mailing the proper editor directly after studying the different sections of the magazine. It felt much better than the photocopied stock rejection letter I got from American Baby a few years ago. Ouch, that hurt!

Amanda Nicole said...

Ya, I'd kind of been thinking that emailing the right editor--with the right email--is not a bad way to go.

The generic rejection letters were enough to get me to make the move from print publication to online. That, and having to wait 6 months to receive it!