What should I send? That’s the question so many writers ponder when asked to “send clips” or “writing samples.” At first it seems as if the answer should be quite simple, a few of your best samples that fit the topic. But then you stop and wonder what else they may be looking for, especially in such a niche based, competitive publishing world.
Emily McIntyre, a freelance magazine writer from Kansas City says; “I tend to send samples, preferably published, in a similar style to the magazine at which I’m hoping to make an impression. So if I want to write a profile for “Rails and Trails”, I have no problem sending a published profile from “Missouri Life”, even if the subject and foci are widely different. If I don’t have applicable samples I just send a couple of my best ones and indicate my willingness to work on assignment. So far that’s worked well for me.”
In most cases, if you believe you should be able to get the assignment or write for the magazine, blog, website, etc., I have also found it important to try matching up your strengths to theirs. Aside from sending the closest samples from a topic perspective, I look to see if the site or publication is humorous, academic, homey, snarky, etc. and try to find a sample that matches the style or “personality” of the site or publication. In some cases, in the e-mail or letter, I will even comment on what I am sending and why – in one short sentence (i.e. I’m sending the second clip because it shows a humorous slant on a topic of interest).
(Unofficial) Rule of Three
I’ve found that people don’t want to read more than three samples, so I’ve tried to send one that is on the topic or as close to the topic as possible, one that may be somewhat close, but is in the style of the publication and perhaps one in the same medium (a blog for a blogging job, feature for a publication looking for feature writers, etc.) that is a recent example of a piece of work that I am most proud of. If possible, I recommend making this something that has appeared in the highest profile magazine or on the most well-known website for which you have written. Name value goes a long way. For business sites, for example, I will send something I’ve written for Entrepeneur.com, since it is respected in the business community. For parenting publications I used to send something from American Baby or something from Disney. However, the clips are now dated. Always try to send samples written within the past three years.
I never recommend doing an original sample just for the purpose of sending it to someone unless there is the potential of great rewards, and even then I would be skeptical. Keep in mind that anyone asking for original examples is very likely looking for something for nothing.
How to Send?
The other question often asked is “how” to send material, as in what form. While it is always preferable to send a published version of your sample, if you only have your word version or something has yet to be published, you might send it as one sample if it is very pertinent to the client’s needs.
Elizabeth Schoch, a creative communications professional from Portland, Maine, whom I’ve known for years, mentions that she typically send samples as Word docs, but sometimes puts them all together as a PDF. “I have also used links to an online portfolio,” adds Schoch, who will vary the approach depending on the source. I’ve heard other writers also comment that they will send samples via a more high tech version to a high tech website or publication, while sticking to a word document in most other situations.
If it is a publishing house that wants you to send a sample or two regarding a book project, it’s hard to package a bunch of books and send them. You can use on-topic articles and/or blogs as samples. If you have a previous book published in the same or a similar genre, you can always direct the client to the “Look Inside” section of your book on Amazon where they can see excerpts. You can also put a few chapters into a pdf file and send them along (or in word if necessary). I only send an actual book to someone once the client has shown an interest in working with me and we are communicating.
And finally, don’t be afraid to follow up. Check in after a couple of weeks have gone by and see if they’ve had a chance to take a look at what you have sent.
Rich Mintzer is a published author of many non-fiction books and a web content writer with a current weekly blog. He has also recently opened a ghostwriting service called Your Book Your Way to help companies and individuals tell their stories.