Some Things Remain the Same …
June 27, 2009 | Written by admin
Sandra Blogs …
Back in the dark ages when Led Zeppelin was still my favorite band (but as a new Christian I believed it wasn't okay to admit it) and decided I wanted to make a living writing for print magazines, I started with a big idea and worked hard to tailor a specific pitch for each editor I hoped to meet at my first conference that summer.
I left the conference with several nods of possible interest and a lot of encouragement to keep writing … but only one solid request for my article. It was from an editor who was looking to create a spin-off their current publication into a new magazine and needed a strong feature piece for their premier issue. This was not at all what I had planned, but I was thrilled that she liked my writing and offered to give me a chance so I went for it.
Before I sat down to begin working on the piece, I typed the editor a letter (dark ages, remember… no computer) thanking her for the opportunity and promising I'd deliver. Along with my letter I included a rough outline of the article and a brief description of who I perceived their audience to be. And I asked her to call or write me if she saw something I'd missed or that she didn't think I needed to include.
She called me a few days later to say I was on track and that she was looking forward to receiving my article, and she reminded me she was looking at it on speculation.
I thanked her again, and worked as hard as I could to make sure I wrote the strongest, tightest, most interesting, and perfectly punctuated & formatted article I knew how to write.
And I immediately enrolled in a community college writing class so I could have access to a computer and the writing center (I knew nothing yet of critique groups) and also so I could meet with the attending English teacher to get his input as my article progressed.
He made several recommendations. I thanked him, applied most of his ideas, then asked him to take one last look.
A few days later, when I was satisfied that I'd done the best possible job I could do, I dropped my article and accompanying requested floppy disk in the mail and started researching topics right away for my next article.
A couple weeks later I came home from work and my roommate told me that some editor had left a message on our recorder.
"She said something about it being really good and exactly what she'd been hoping for," she told me.
I'll never forget the look on her face when she asked, "does this mean you're gonna be rich?"
I was ecstatic, of course. And not because of the "gonna be rich" part (I was too ignorant yet to know how far this was from the truth) but because of the "really good" and "exactly what we're looking for" parts.
My hard work had paid off.
I really hate to admit that was over twenty years ago, but it was. I made lots of mistakes and missed a few opportunities here and there while I built my career as a freelance writer. But, I often look back on this first assignment and marvel at all the things I did right without yet knowing what I was doing. I could easily chalk it up the strong work ethic and discipline that had been ingrained in me by the not-yet-too-removed influence of the Marine Corps. But, honestly, I think it was just a lucky combination of common sense and enthusiasm that helped me land the assignment.
Here's what I did then and what I still recommend people do when they want to freelance – with or without the aid of floppy discs:
Figure out what you want to write about – preferably a topic that is personally interesting and timely
Find someone whose needs match that interest
Form a specific pitch which is certain to meet the needs of their readers
Invest in getting in front of the people you need to meet
Keep their needs in mind
Be open to feedback
Do your best work
Ask for feedback from QUALIFIED sources
Receive their input and apply that which you agree with
Edit, edit, and edit again
Know when to stop asking for opinions
Pay attention to the details (punctuation, formatting, delivery preferences)
Deliver as promised
Hope for the best, but prepare for rejection
Say thank you
And then it starts all over again.
Figure out what you want to write about …
Floppy discs (or was it disks?) or not, the process of writing articles for pay — whether for magazines, trade publications, books, newspapers, websites, or whatever is still very much as it always was.
The sources and delivery methods have changed and will continue to do so, but the process pretty much remains the same.
Hey, that reminds me of a song…