April 16, 2003
How to Add Newsletters to Your Writing Repertoire By Victoria Groves | printable version
As embarrassing as it is to admit, my first paid newsletter assignment was for a dormitory at the University of Massachusetts. The Stall Street Journal was proudly posted on the inside of every bathroom stall in the building. Despite it being read while dorm residents were busy doing other things, or that my writers received story assignments as punishment by the residence director, I loved the job.
Since college, I've written newsletters for a variety of clients, including a local governmental agency, a community development organization, and a southern California company that teaches economic independence to girls and young women. As a freelance writer, I relish freedom as well as consistency, and steady newsletter assignments fit the bill. I can plan issues months in advance while still indulging my creativity.
If you're organized and a bit of a go-getter, it won't be long before you land a paying newsletter client. Start with organizations you're familiar with - either they're local and you've interacted with them before, or they involve a topic in which you have some expertise. For example, you may notice your health club has no organized way to announce upcoming events to members (or potential members). Or, perhaps you specialize in financial writing and a new bank just opened in town. Perfect!
1. Introduce Yourself - First, write a query letter to the organization. Don't include actual article titles or topics, but do include information regarding your writing background and interests, along with your experience in this particular institution or field. For example:
As a long time customer of XYZ, I've noticed that your patrons do not receive a publication covering your upcoming events or company news. I am a freelance writer with experience covering similar topics and would be happy to meet with you regarding a possible partnership to create XYZ's newsletter.
If the organization already has an external newsletter available to customers, it's possible your skills could be used to benefit employees, stockholders or suppliers through an internal newsletter. (And don't forget that they may be able to use some articles for their existing newsletter!)
2. Meet Your Client - Once a potential client has expressed interest, schedule an introductory meeting. Determine how the newsletter will be distributed (email, mail, on site) and for which tasks you will be responsible. In some cases, I've been assigned both the copy and the layout, and in others I've simply written the text.
Tell your client you will create a template- either a skeleton graphic format, which is very easy to create in software programs like PageMaker or DreamWeaver, or a text or word processing document including potential topics and headings.
3. It's a Go - Now that you know what your client wants, it's time to be creative and develop a newsletter that reflects the organization's tone. The best way to brainstorm is to gather newsletters you receive in the mail or at places you frequently visit. Also, consider reading up on the "craft" of newslettering. The following books are great starting points:
Design It Yourself Newsletters: A Step-by-Step Guide
Chuck Green - Rockport Publishers, 2002 - ISBN 1564967670
Newsletter Design: A Step-by-Step Guide to Creative Publications
Edward Hamilton - John Wiley & Sons, 1997 - ISBN 0471285927
Pbs Home-Based Newsletter Pub
William J. Bond - McGraw-Hill, 1992 - ISBN 0070065578
4. Money Business - I invoice my clients as I do for magazine articles. Determine whether you will charge a flat fee or a per hour fee for each newsletter. Because it is hard to predict how long a newsletter will take before I begin, I usually charge a flat fee for the first newsletter with the understanding that we will renegotiate once I can estimate the time commitment required for each issue. I also discuss with the client whether I will invoice monthly, quarterly or even yearly based on the frequency of publication.
5. Keep in Touch - It's important, especially for the first few issues of your client's newsletter, that you touch base frequently. The more you talk to your client, the more ideas and topics will be generated, making the actual writing of the newsletter easier. Additionally, the more you get to know each other, the more clearly you'll capture the image and agenda of your client.
Once you have a few newsletters under your belt, you can include copies with future query letters and start approaching organizations outside your realm of expertise. By nature, newsletters "snowball". In other words, each project you complete has the potential to lead you to numerous other writing assignments. In a recent newsletter, I profiled the winners of an organization's annual writing competition. This snippet resulted in a feature article assignment on past winners. Likewise, a member of your gym may own a business that needs a newsletter. And after she reads your latest edition while on the treadmill, she might call you.
Five Quick Tips on Preparation
1. Make a list of potential clients and keep it in your car or by your computer. When you drive by a business or click on a site, you can record information and prepare a query.
2. If a friend or family member owns a business, consider using them as a trial client. You can add the sample to your portfolio and get any beginner mistakes out of the way. Even your daughter's Girl Scout troop or soccer team can serve as a newsletter guinea pig.
3. Make sure your name and contact information are available somewhere on the newsletter so potential clients know how to reach you.
4. If you have a website, include links to any e-newsletters, or scan one of your print newsletters so companies outside your local area can view your skills and hire you long distance. Soon, you should be spending more time writing newsletters and negotiating with clients than writing query letters.
5. Get familiar with software that will help you create a variety of different newsletters. You may start by writing newsletter text for a website, but eventually you may want to advance to more involved newsletter projects. A restaurant newsletter I wrote became an assignment to recreate its menu. I was able to adapt my newsletter skills to fit this project, even though I had never created a menu before.
Top paying magazines may receive hundreds of query letters a day, but companies and organizations receive far fewer offers to write newsletters. And whether you start with the Fortune 500 or college kids in dorm bathrooms, this market is easier to break into than you think.
Victoria Groves is a freelance writer living outside Washington, D.C. She can be reached at vmgroves at yahoo.com.