You may be dreaming of being published in The New Yorker or National Geographic, but your writing résumé hasn’t grown since high school. One of the questions beginning writers ask is, “How can I get published when everywhere I check tells me to query with published clips?”
There’s no easy answer. It’s not safe to assume that the editors will be so overwhelmed by your insight and snappy prose that they’ll overlook the lack of experience. Editors aren’t heartless, though, and they understand that it’s tough to break into the business. They’re just too busy to spend much time trying to work with a not-so-experienced writer.
When you find yourself in this situation it’s time to—forgive the cliché—think outside the box. It’s great to have big dreams, but be prepared to take small steps to reach them.
- Start local. This can be your local newspaper, local lifestyle magazine or school or church newsletter. Most of these places are continually in the market for new ideas and fresh perspective, so approach them with something they may not have thought of—a feature idea, a jazzy column or offer to do grunt work. Editors will often do anything—even hire a newbie—to not have to cover the school board meeting. It may not be Pulitzer-prizewinning material (though you never know), but it will get your foot in the door. Show the editor you’re responsible and can pick out the meat of a story and produce quality content and they’ll probably keep you in mind for more—and ideally, better—stories.
- Look to the past. Check out your alma mater. Does it publish an alumni magazine? Does the department or college you graduated from have a special magazine or newsletter? Does it put out a literary review? Though these may not pay big (though sometimes they might), you already have the inside track because you went to school there. Emphasize that in your query or submission letter.
- Join the club. A writing club can be a place to network, hone your skills and get feedback on your writing. Sometimes these clubs publish anthologies, or other publications may publish collections from writing groups. Even if it doesn’t result in publication, being part of the group may get you a connection that opens doors.
- Self-promote. Shamelessly. Send an email to anyone you may think might be interested—your kindergarten teacher, your second cousin or your dentist—letting them know that you’re available to write. You can offer to pitch articles, write press releases, brochure copy, web copy, and polish up those Christmas letters.
- Self-evaluate. Figure out what really interests you. Are you already part of a group that reflects those interests? Whether it’s model airplanes or organic cooking, chances are words are required in some part of the industry. Offer to write press releases for upcoming events, or pitch articles to specific publications about events or news in an organization. If you aren’t part of such a group, find publications or businesses that feature those interests. Though it doesn’t feel like it when you’re trying to get into the freelance writing business, not everyone in the world likes to write or writes well. If you can offer a business or publication your writing skills and specialized knowledge, you offer a unique and valuable combination.
Have you ever had an unusual experience getting some experience in the writing world? Let us know in the comments!