I thought I’d pick a non-fiction question this time and this one was e-mailed to me from Lee.
Hi Susan, I’m trying to become a freelance writer but every time I approach a market they ask to see samples of my previous work but I don’t have any. I feel like writing is the ultimate Catch 22 situation, help, what can I do?
This is a great question and a problem we all face at some point (and not just writers).
Starting out in freelance writing is tough when you don’t have those all important clips to send with your query. Or the all important line to add to your pitch… my work has appeared in… Yes, the sort of magazines that makes editors sit up and take notice.
When I began my freelance writing career, I did have some clips from my days of working in public relations. Based on those, a local business publication took a chance on me and gave me work which became the foundation of my portfolio.
So first thing I’d do is go with a local publication and/or newspaper and try and pitch some local interest story to them. Maybe a profile of someone from your town who’s done something extraordinary. Profiles are a great way to break in.
Failing that, and this is a great way for you to get clips while helping other people, be a volunteer writer for a charity. Try http://www.volunteermatch.org. Lots of volunteer jobs you can do at home so you could get matched with a charity of the other side of the country or world. You’ll be helping them while you’re helping yourself and you should have some great clips to start adding to your portfolio.
If that doesn’t work out for you, then give yourself an assignment and write up a sample article. Something that shows an editor you can take a topic, narrow it down, research it and write it so you pull a reader in and keep them reading. I think an editor would also be impressed that you’ve taken these steps to build your portfolio.