An idea to get your writer’s foot in the door

January 24, 2011 · 7 comments

Writers who don’t have many published clips often ask me how they can get their foot in the door. By this point, they usually have decent writing skills, but don’t know which publications to approach to get their first few stories published.

Here’s what I tell them: Try your alumni publication.

What's that old saying? Oh right. Practice makes perfect.

Alumni magazines are often (but not always) high quality, and they tend to need freelancers — or at least dependable ones who can write. They usually pay decently. Because you’re an alum, they’ll choose you over a non-alum competitor (so long as you’re good). And it doubles as networking, because you’re usually writing about people who went to your college or university or graduate school. In other words, you’re connecting with smart, well-connected people, who might want to help you down the road because of that fabulous piece you wrote about their business or volunteer organization or invention.

To convince the publication to bring you on board, come up with a stellar story idea, figure out who to pitch it to, and send that person a brief e-mail introducing yourself and your story idea.

To come up with the story idea, read the last six issues of the magazine, newsletter or whatever publication they produce, to get familiar with the type of articles they print. Then troll online groups like Facebook or LinkedIn, looking for interesting alumni. Or find a trend and see how it’s affecting alumni, or vise versa, how alumni are affecting the trend. Or simply ask your friends from those schools whether they’re heard of any alumni doing anything awesome.

All you have to do is convince the editor to pay you to write one story. Because after they see what a great job you did, how little editing you need (because you had a writer friend help you edit the story before you turned it in), and that you not only met your deadline, but turned the story in early, they will pay you to write another.

Once you have some fabulous clips from your alumni magazine, you can use those clips to convince editors at other outlets to pay you to write, too.

Where else might writers look to get their foot in the door?

Photo credit: Flickr’s PalFest

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Katie January 24, 2011 at 9:36 am

Totally agree. I’ve written lots of stories for my alumni mag (both as a staff writer and a freelancer), and those clips have been a great addition to my portfolio.
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Peggy Frezon January 24, 2011 at 9:56 am

Submit for the back-matter of magazines. Usually you’ll see a short essay or opinion piece there, often with a call out on the bottom how to submit. It’s easier to break in there, because much of the rest of magazines is contributed on assignment or by staff writers.
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John Soares January 24, 2011 at 10:39 am

I actually started my writing career with a trade paperback book, but I continued it by initially writing a monthly hiking column for several northern California newspapers, which eventually led to pieces in magazines.

I like the idea of writing for the alumni mag, though. Alumni magazines are also a good way to get publicity for your business because they like to feature accomplishments of school graduates.
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Andi January 24, 2011 at 10:51 am

Do you have any suggestion for travel writers in particular?
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Alexis Grant January 24, 2011 at 11:22 am

Andi — I’ll do a separate post on this!!

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Jennifer January 25, 2011 at 6:02 am

For writers of poetry and short fiction, new literary magazines publishing their first or second issues are good places to look. They haven’t been discovered, so they are not drowning in subs already, and they *need* a certain number of pieces for their first few issues. Send your best work and you stand a decent chance of getting in.
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Lynette Benton February 20, 2011 at 9:53 am

Inexperienced writers can volunteer to write for local community organizations, such as The Friends of their local library, where they might work on a newsletter or promotions for an event.
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