No Clips? No Problem. How One Writer Avoided the Write for Free Trap By Michele Blandino

It’s probably no surprise that the question of whether a writer should write for free in order to acquire clips is the subject of intense – and often heated – debate in the freelance writing community.

It really is a sticky problem, especially for new writers. Let’s face it, most editors will not take a chance on an unproven writer so, in order to win an assignment, you need clips. But, you can’t get the clips if the editor won’t take a chance on you.

So, what’s a struggling novice writer to do?

That’s where the debate begins. Many writers feel they need to write for free to get those coveted clips. The more unscrupulous editors know this and, unfortunately, prey on our desperation by offering ‘fantastic’ opportunities to give your work ‘widespread exposure’ in exchange for a by-line. What’s the harm, we ask ourselves. If I do it just this once, maybe some doors will finally open.

Maybe they will, but I believe there is a way to get assignments without giving your work away. Here’s what I did.

When I entered the wonderful world of freelance writing a little more than a year ago, I didn’t even know what a clip was, much less own one. I didn’t take me long, however, to figure out what a clip was – and just how important those little buggers were.

I spent my first weeks perusing various freelance Internet sites and was thrilled to find so many writing opportunities posted. I applied for whatever interested me and was very upfront about my lack of publishing experience. If I can write a terrific cover letter, I reasoned, the editor will see that I can write – certainly I don’t need clips to prove my ability.

Boy, was I wrong.

After responding to at least 100 advertisements for freelance writers and not receiving one reply, I began to have some serious doubts about my strategy and realized that perhaps I had underestimated the importance of clips. It was right about then that I started to take a second look at the ‘write for free’ ads.

Fortunately, I soon came to my senses and decided it was time to take matters into my own hands; if I didn’t have any published clips, there was nothing stopping me from having as many unpublished clips as I wanted. So, I got to work.

Within a week’s time, I churned out a few articles appropriate for the market I wanted to target – parenting – and sent them off as to the editors of some websites I had identified along with a letter offering the articles for publication in return for monetary remuneration. In my letter, I downplayed my lack of experience and instead focused on the articles I was sending. Guess what? Within a week of sending off my first ‘improved’ query, I had an assignment. While the editor wasn’t interested in any of my sample articles, she gave me an assignment that led to four others. It was paying work and even more importantly, it was enough to get the ball rolling. That assignment led to other paying assignments for other parenting sites. As I gained confidence – and clips – I began to widen the scope of my search and before long, landed a regular assignment with a trade publication. That led to a monthly newsletter assignment.

A year has passed since I had my first taste of success and while I certainly can’t say that I have more work than I can handle, I am busy. I can’t say for sure that my decision to create my own clips is the reason for my success, but I do think it played a large part. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I written for free during those early days, but in the end, I’m glad I won’t have to find out!

Michele Blandino is a freelance writer living in central New Jersey. She primarily writes for parenting markets, but has known to dabble in other areas as well. Michele can be reached at mblandin at optonline.net.