Monday, July 11, 2011

Type A Conference Recap - Getting Freelance Writing Gigs

As I keep going through my notes, I keep realizing that there is more and more from the Type A Conference that I learned. And since I tend to cement things in my brain by sharing them... here is the next session up. Only a couple to go!

This session was hosted by Dianna Brodine (@mamainpajamas) from Mama in Pajamas and Ellen Seidman (@lovethatmax) from Love That Max.

How To Get A Freelance Gig

First of all, you need a good, fresh idea to pitch to a magazine. One of the biggest pet peeves most editors have is when people have ideas but no specific angle. A topic could be how to prevent colds. The angle would be seven unique ways to prevent colds. Also, you want to find what's new - a new way to present it and hook people in. There are only so many topics out there, so it's about repackaging the information.

With magazines, the lead time is significantly longer than with a website. Major publications may be 6-9 months out. Smaller publications may be 1-2 months. Magazines at the very least are thinking of their ideas 4-5 months out. If there is something spectacular, they may be able to accommodate it, but think of the lead time.

People have sent in a list of ideas - a page with ideas and short snippets. Pick your one best idea and flesh it out and submit it. Once you get to know an editor and have a relationship, you can pitch a few ideas at a time. Until then, focus on just one thing. The moderator probably talks to 5-10 PR firms each day where she's getting pitches from small manufacturing firms. You can imagine what larger audience magazines are being bombarded with. The editor won't remember when someone calls to follow up on the idea, so you really have to focus what you're pitching on that one idea.

It does help to know what your writing strengths are. Most of us who have blogs could do essays for magazines. If you're not a reporter and don't have reporter chops, don't bother pitching something that requires reporting. They have people who have been writing for years and years. For an essay, you can just go ahead and submit the essay itself. If you're not happy interviewing sources, don't pitch an article that requires that. The same goes with research and backing up their resources - don't get into those if you aren't strong with this and comfortable. Some travel publications will see pieces about the top ten spots in a city to go visit. If you don't have the ability to research this or have the contacts, don't bother to submit it.

Once you have an idea, you need to figure out where it fits. Go to a magazine stand and flip to see where it would fit. Good Housekeeping for example has a column where they reprint blog posts and RedBook has a Things My Kids Taught Me where they're looking for bloggy voices. Sometimes magazines are looking for something to put into a bigger package, so they may not use it right away but may later.

Magazines may not look at something for their print editions, but they are also looking to stay relevant by having online content. They may use it on the web, and in most cases there is a slightly different angle to what goes online versus in print. Look at what is in both to see what they're doing - what the voice and tone are like. It's usually two slightly different audiences.

Targeted publications are what most of us do. Travel guides, injection molding magazines, local publications, etc. Just because Real Simple isn't right for you or you don't have the time or energy to develop those relationships doesn't mean you can't find something to do. enews is huge right now - always looking for enews content because writers for magazines like to write four page articles, which isn't going to work in this space. This is a great place for us as bloggers to develop. You don't have to think big in terms of what you're pitching.

Consider specialty publications. What are you into - adoption, running, reptiles, HR. The good news about smaller publications is that they're smaller, so when something comes across their desks, they can respond very quickly. Bigger magazines have a larger lead time and more bureaucracy.

When you do online sites, make sure they know that you are a blogger and know how to write for online and how to promote the stuff online. That means you can be more valuable since they don't have to bring a staff person up to speed on this type of marketing.

You can actually resell blog content on local parenting publications.

Go read some back issues of the magazine to get the tone of it. You want to make sure that you have the right voice when you're pitching. Search the site to see if your idea has been done on the site - if it's been done, how are you going to do it differently?

Request editorial calendars for magazines so you can get an idea of what they're working on. They can often be very general, but they can help. You can also request the editorial guidelines to get the Ps and Qs of writing for them, but nothing beats reading the back issues.

One really good way to get your foot in the door is through columns. Often columns are done freelance. They don't get bylines but they do get tag lines. It's a good way to get a relationship in with editors. Writing short (150 words) is harder than writing the longer pieces. If you can do that, you can show that you can do more.

How Do You Submit

When you see magazine clips, you have no idea how much something has been edited, so look for repeat clips for one entity. Your blog is great because it is the purest form of our writing - we know it hasn't been edited. Submit blog posts as clips. Pick your three favorite posts as your clips - make sure the topic is relevant and that the tone fits.

You want your byline on the clips you're submitting. If you ghost wrote something, don't include it. Don't include something where you have the tagline but no byline. Choose clips that are relevant to the topic so that they know what you write like in that format. Take a really good look at what you submit to ensure that it is edited well, that critical facts and key sentences to flow haven't been taken out. You don't want to submit poorly edited clips.

Keep duplicate copies of every single thing you write. Keep all the issues no matter what. You never want to send out the last one and then be stuck in the future. When it's online, get screen prints of everything, too. Before you submit everything, make sure the links work.

How do you find the right person to pitch? For national magazines you want to not pitch the editor listed on the magazine. It's too high. Start low and work your way up. Look at the mastheads and pitch the junior editors. It's part of their responsibilities to look through the pitches that come through. If you can't tell from a masthead, pick up the phone and call and try to find a human to help you find who covers what. You can also google it to find information. - a site where people share who to pitch

Make sure that you're networking with people in the right niches you want to focus on. If it's local, keep in touch with the chambers of commerce, etc. Keep in touch with the people who know about the topic so they can recommend you.

Write your clip conversationally, and ensure there are no typos. It's the first impression on the editor, so you want to go good. If you're not good with titles, just skip that part. The editors can come up with the title. Include the other angles you'll have - from sidebar suggestions or polls. Those are huge for editors who don't have time to think these through. You show that you have a good feel for the topic and have done the work of the editor who will be more likely to call you for work again. Don't let it get longer than a page - two at the most. Don't write "Dear Sir or Madam."

In general, magazines love lists - websites even more so. Think of the packaging - if you want to write on how not to look tired, then show that you'd do what to do and what not to do. Submit maybe 3-4 good lines, but don't do the whole list. It depends on the site and the editor, as well as your comfort level, as to whether you submit the whole thing or just a portion of it / the idea. For some magazines, the editor wants to see it fully formed. You'll have to use a judgement call, but as you get to know the editors, you'll learn what they're looking for. If you are getting burned after submitting whole articles, there are things you can do - not to get paid for it, but to ensure companies don't do that again.

Especially with smaller publications, have a small bit at the beginning of the email that makes people want to know more. Then have the whole pitch in an attachment. If you include photos, make sure that it fits the demographic - don't send a mature woman in a photo to a magazine focusing on a young demographic, for example.

Magazine editors get excited about Twitter and Facebook. If you can share that you'll be publicizing the article for them, they'll get excited about it.

When you're submitting an idea or article, you first need to set a deadline. Don't say it in the pitch (e.g., don't say that you need to hear back by X), but say that you'll follow up either in writing or over the phone in two weeks - do email though unless it's a super great pitch. State that you're pitching solely to that source. If they haven't gotten back to you, when you follow up - let them know that you are looking to hear about the status of your pitch and if they don't hear back within two weeks, you're going to pitch it elsewhere.

If you've gotten a lot of rejections from one magazine, maybe you should try another. It may just not be a good fit. If you've been rejected, take a look at what you could have done differently. Can you change the angle? Can you make the pitch fresher? Can you pitch it to someone else? There is so much rejection in magazines, but there is also so much need for content. It's all about timing and what's going on with the publication you're working with. There is an X factor.

When writing the piece itself, know what the editor wants. You can ask - do they want surnames? If you're interviewing a lot of people, do they want it from around the country. Try to stick within the word count - within reason. 1200 is ok for a 1000 count piece. If you are doing interviews, write the transcripts and keep them for verification.

Have a niche in your writing, and that will help with getting sponsored posts. Have a niche and own it. Who is a sponsor that you'd be interested in working with who has programs? Find the person to contact and talk to them about doing sponsored posts. These conferences and meeting with brands are amazing for getting recognition for your blog. Talk. A lot. It's just a start though, as they'll meet hundreds of people. Make sure you follow up and how you pitch them later is by mentioning that you met them here and talked about X, then that you had a great idea that you thought might fit them.

What Do Freelance Gigs Pay

Magazines are standard $1/word and up to $2 once they know you. If last minute and great writers, $4 max. For specialized magazines, it's easier to provide a quote for what want to pay rather than by the word. $20 and up for a sponsored post is standard. Website features are typically $75 and up. Sponsored posts are $50 and up - they can be a lot more though.

Whew! There's so much to think about in this vein. What other bits of advice do you have about getting or writing freelance?

Win Chicken in the Car and the Car Won't Go, a Chicago Travel Guide


Maria July 12, 2011 at 9:29 PM  

Love this! Thanks for posting it. :)

Michelle July 31, 2011 at 9:52 PM  

Maria - You're on the right track already. Hope this helps you!

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