MAKING THE MOST OF A CHANCE ENCOUNTER By Cynthia Bombach Helzel

A few years ago, I decided to get back into serious freelancing after a five-year hiatus. One of my first goals was to write for the newspaper that had kept me busy with regular assignments throughout the 1990’s. I assembled a resume package with an upbeat cover letter and some of my best clips. Then I mailed off the packet and waited for my phone to ring. And waited.

And waited.

Several months later I saw that the newspaper had a new features editor. I put together another package and sent it to her, not feeling so confident this time. Which was just as well, because after three months I had no response from her, either.

That summer I was at a birthday party when one of the other guests asked me what I did for a living. I told her that I was a freelance writer. Then I began to complain that I was having trouble getting a response from the new editor of our local newspaper. The woman abruptly held up her hand and said, “Before you go any further, I’m that editor.”

I felt my face turning red. When I recovered my composure, the editor said she would look over my clips when she returned to work on Monday, and then she changed the subject.

To my surprise, she called a week later to ask if I would cover a local house tour. I accepted with enthusiasm. Since then she’s assigned me frequent stories about house and garden tours, regional festivals and the like.

However, I didn’t stop there. I used my newspaper clips to get work at regional and national magazines. Most importantly, I’ve learned that if I listen rather than talk, I might find a story idea or a publishing connection as well as making a new friend.

Cynthia Bombach Helzel is a freelancer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review newspaper and a regular contributor to Pennsylvania Magazine. Her articles and essays have also been published in EQUUS, Guideposts, Highlights for Children and other magazines. Visit her blog at homesteadplanner.blogspot.com.

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