Tuesday, March 15, 2011

No Experience

You're trying to write for magazines, guest blog or provide online articles. But you have no writing experience. Completely unpublished. How do you find work?

But I have no experience. Seriously? You've lived in a bubble since you turned 18? I doubt it. You have experience. You have strengths. You just don't see them.

New writers wring their hands when it comes time to write a query letter. They get down to that third paragraph, the one where you list your experience, and they freeze. Some don't even submit for fear of bringing nothing to the table.

I once received a $450 article gig and another $750 gig because I had an agriculture degree. I never had to prove I could write. Frankly, I pitched the first piece solely on the basis that I understood plants and agronomy. Another magazine accepted my pitch because I had experienced a unique situation when I put in an irrigation system.

I landed an anthology opportunity based upon the fact I'd been divorced. Obtained another because I had an experience with a snake. Yet another simply for being a mother.

Teen and college magazines purchased eight articles - all about how to get into college, behave in college, find assistance once in college. These assignments came my way because I happened to have kids in college and had means to interviewing students.

How do you get around the fact you aren't widely published and don't have clips?

Write a query letter that brings tears to someone's eyes. Well, maybe not that dramatic, but if your query sings, you've proven you can write. Editors want good writing, and most don't care about your experience - not if you can write quality material.

Focus on the topic, not your ability to write it. Show in that remarkable query that you are an expert or have serious knowledge of a subject, a twist, an experience, a location. Editors want what's marketable first and foremost.

Present a unique spin on a common topic. This is simple charisma and charm, people. Your query already reads like a bestseller, right? Snare an editor with a sparkling idea, and he won't care if you've never written for a magazine before.

Start small. That doesn't mean content mills. That means pitch magazines that pay ten cents/word instead of fifty or seventy-five. Again, assuming you have average writing skills, you'll land a clip in no time.

Go trade. Trade magazines are the most overlooked goldmine in the freelance industry. They are the most open-minded when it comes to no experience. Funny, huh? You might think they are the opposite - that since they represent a very niche topic, they want experts. With trades you can offer: general business advice, profile interviews, or journalistic coverage of an event that falls in line with the publication. Journalists are notorious for being able to write about everything and anything.

If you pitch a great story, a superb topic, a phenomenal twist of a subject, you do not need the experience. You just need the ability to tell the story...starting with your query.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Your reminder--that we ALL have expertise in areas we don't always think about--is well needed. Also, a good writer is someone who can write about ordinary things in an extraordinary way. Your nudging us to write about our everyday experiences, flavoring it with our unique twist, certainly helps us find markets/story ideas that we would have otherwise overlooked.


Karen Lange said...

Wonderful advice. Encouraging, too, even though I've been writing for a while. I get intimidated sometimes by a query or a new market. Thanks, Hope! :)

Unknown said...

Hope, your suggestions for querying when you have little or no publications record are right on target. It's so easy to forget to call upon our life experiences and how we can use them as our "credentials" for the articles we're proposing. Thanks for this great reminder.

Maribeth Hickman

widdershins said...

I feel like a kid about the one liners you oh-so-casually drop into your conversations.... What happened with the snake?

...And yes, we all have experiences that are write-worthy... that's probably the greatest thing I've got out of writing my blog regularly.
Even the robin in my chestnut tree at this moment has a story I can tell.

Hope Clark said...

LOL - the snake story wound up in Chicken Soup - about blended families. My stepson's mother gave him a snake as a pet, and then he decided to come live with us permanently - along with George the snake. Talk about having to be patient!

Patricia Singleton said...

Thanks for the encouragement. I am new to the community of writers.

I plan to write a memoir about growing up in a dysfunctional family with incest and alcoholism. Because of wanting to write my memoir, I recently joined a small writers' group and one of them introduced me to your newsletter.

I have been writing a blog for the last 3 1/2 years about my experiences as an incest survivor and as an adult child of an alcoholic. Many of my readers keep suggesting that I write a book about my experiences.

I appreciate the information that your blog provides. I always feel encouraged by what I learn here. Thank you.