Whether you write magazine features, flash fiction or articles for the web, freelance writing has its ups and downs. It’s never boring, but late payments and heavy handed editors can sometimes take the wind out of our literary sails. I write because I enjoy it, but it’s also work for me and the money I make doing it comprises a substantial amount of my income.
For every writer out there, there is an abundant and largely untapped market out there as well. Deadlines and publication come quick and, in most cases, payment does as well. The local newspaper and magazine markets in all of your communities are almost always understaffed, and looking for writers who can turn around a story in few days. Once you join the ranks of writers that these editors trust, the assignments will start rolling in.
Interested in getting started? Keep these tips in mind:
Don’t query – If you have a great feature story for a city glossy, take a chance and send the editor a query letter. But if you’re looking for steady assignments from an editor of a daily or weekly newspaper, or a magazine with lower circulation, don’t bother sending them a story idea. They are looking for writers who can be “on call”. When a staffer can’t attend a meeting or cover a weekend feature, you want to be the one they call. Introducing yourself and explaining your experience and availability are the key points to get across.
Don’t worry about clips – If you’ve never written for a local publication, don’t sweat it. An editor will want to know that you have some experience, but in most cases, a daily or weekly newspaper editor will give you an assignment to test you out. You won’t be cracking Watergate, but it will give him or her a sense of your writing style, and whether you can turn articles in by a set deadline.
Do make yourself available – Some of the longest running relationships I’ve had with editors have been the result of being available to cover stories in the evenings and on weekends. I’ve covered pig kissing contests, little league championships and restaurant openings for a variety of publications. These stories are important to communities and you can bet your byline will be up on someone’s refrigerator or in their scrapbook for years to come.
Do become a spelling enthusiast – No matter what publication we’re writing for, spelling errors are obviously something to be avoided at all costs. But this is even more critical when you’re writing for a local publication. Little Peter’s parents are buying 10 copies of the issue that features your article on the spelling bee to send to his grandparents, aunts and uncles. But if Peter spells his name Peder, and you made this error because you didn’t confirm the spelling of his name, your editor will hear about it. Even in the most obvious cases, I always double-check name spellings, and I never assume that the same last name applies to an entire family.
Do explore your community – Not only is this a way to find out what publications are out there, but it’s also a great way to attend some community events you might not have otherwise known about. You’ll meet people you might never have run into otherwise. This type of writing can increase your clips and your income, and it just might broaden your social circle as well.
Victoria Groves is a freelancer and writing instructor living in Boston. Over the past 10 years, she has written for over 15 newspapers and local publications. Victoria teaches a variety of online courses at Writers Weekly, including the brand new course: Local newspaper and magazine markets: Tap into yours!”