Eight years ago I left university armed with a degree in politics, a handful of short stories and very little else. I knew I wanted to be a writer but I had nothing to write about. So I decided to forget about writing for a while and went traveling instead.
The weeks turned into months and then into years and I realized that I now knew a lot more about my new home – the Czech Republic – than most of my friends did.
I’d found my specialty…
I started my writing career with a news review for an online journal – reading the Czech national dailies and writing up a summary of main news stories in English. Meeting other foreign journalists, and even a British diplomat based in the Czech capital, Prague, who all read and relied on my weekly update, gave me the confidence to try widening my horizons. So I began pitching ideas to as many publications as I could.
I spent hours researching potential markets online and, when I was back home in the UK, I wandered into newsagents in search of magazines that might be interested in an article on the Czech Republic.
For the first six months, I made it my aim to beam off at least three query letters a month, all based on the theory: tell the story, sell the story, sell myself.
Sometimes, I received no reply. Other times, the standard “thanks but no thanks” came along. But, every so often, an editor wrote back asking to see a piece.
During the next three years, I wrote about Czech teenagers, Czech politics, traveling in Czech, Czech food, walking in Czech, Czech nightlife and Czech art – to name just a few! I returned to England two years ago to take a full-time job for a newspaper based in Cumbria near the Lake District National Park.
I still freelance – for a U.S. publisher based in London that provides material for the US teen market – and I’ve started writing to many of the journals and magazines I sold to while in the Czech Republic. The pitch is the same, but this time I’m promoting myself as an expert on all things to do with the Lake District.
My advice to people thinking of freelancing is simple: get a specialty and have the confidence to beam off as many query letters tailored to your particular market as you can. Don’t be afraid to experiment. With a little research and the right sources, I wrote articles about subjects I never dreamed of – and got paid for it.
Mark Preskett, a journalist working for Cumbrian Newspapers, has published hundreds of articles about the Czech Republic and more recently about Cumbria and the Lake District National Park in the UK. His credits include the Guardian, Easyjet inflight magazine, Teenwire and Central Europe Review. He can be contacted at: mpreskett (at) cngroup.co.uk.