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.
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