THE BUSINESS OF BEING A PROFESSIONAL JOURNALIST
When an editor or publisher posts a call for writers online, it's almost a given that they'll be swamped with submissions. We writers are always looking for work, and a "writers wanted" posting sends most of us into a drooling tizzy. So, when responding to these ads, you know the odds are stacked against you-- the competition is going to be fierce. However, there are ways to stand out in the crowd.
I've found that the more work you're willing to do up-front, the better your chances are of landing the job. I fully realize that what I'm about to tell you goes against the preachings of many who argue that writers should never work on spec, or do any work before a contract is established. However, as I've gotten more successful, I've discovered that taking my chances, sticking my neck out, and going above and beyond has often resulted in good contracts and good payment.
I offer these examples:
As you may know, I'm co-authoring the book "Internet Freebies" for Publications International. That job was posted all over the Web, and I know the publishers got a ton of applications. So why did I get the job?
They were rather demanding in the beginning. First, they wanted 3 writing samples and a resume. I sent those, and I also sent a detailed cover letter explaining not just why I was a qualified writer, but how I would make their lives easier and how I was right for THAT particular book. Among my selling points: "I turn in clean copy on time every time," "I have a penchant for finding little-known freebies, and count freebie-hunting among my favorite hobbies," "I enjoy working with editors," and "I'm detail-oriented and am careful to double-check information and URLs."
They wrote back to request three more writing samples-- they wanted samples that related to the Internet. I sent five. I even went back and re-edited and expanded old articles to better fit this topic.
Then they wanted a custom writing sample. Along with several other "finalists," I was supposed to research some Internet freebie offers, and write up summaries of five offers, plus find urls for five more offers. Instead of stopping at ten, I did twelve. And instead of waiting for the deadline, I turned it in a week early. The last line of my letter said, "If there's anything else I can do to show you I'm the perfect writer for this job, just say the word."
Now, if I hadn't gotten the job, yes, it might have been some wasted time. But I also knew I could take that research and turn it into an article for a local newspaper. Luckily, though, I did get the job-- and I'm sure that's because many of the "finalists" never bothered to complete their custom samples.
My willingness to work with ridiculous deadlines also landed me a regular freelancing position for Paradise Greetings. When she sent me my first assignment, I'm sure the editor didn't expect me to complete it overnight. But I did, so she sent more right away. Soon enough, she had discovered that I was an immensely reliable writer who was willing to take on these "overnighter" deadlines whenever necessary. As a result, I write about 70% of all of their cards now.
While I was still building up my clips, I wrote for a disabilities-related Web site that couldn't afford to pay much ($50 per article). Rather than taking the easy route and writing simple articles for them, I pretended they were paying me $1/word and put in the amount of effort I would have for Good Housekeeping. I did dozens of interviews for every article, and had writer-friends critique my work before I edited it and turned it in. The result? I have reslanted and resold the articles I wrote for that site more often than any other articles I've ever written. They've earned me thousands of dollars, even if the initial pay was dismal.
I once read that a writer's job is to make the editor's job easier. That mantra hit home with me, and I've used it time and again to secure assignments and build ongoing relationships. After I sold a profile to a women's magazine, I offered to help them find a photographer in my subject's area. I also regularly suggest sidebars and pull quotes.
When I pitch my services as an editor, I always give a free estimate, and often a few free suggestions before the author makes a commitment to me. I put myself in the client's shoes-- would I want to spend hundreds of dollars to let someone edit my work if I didn't know if the editor and I were on the same track about my manuscript? I'm willing to give a taste for free to help the client feel more comfortable about hiring me.
And that's why going above and beyond helps writers land jobs-- it's all about instilling confidence in your abilities. When you put in extra time and effort, you show the editor or publisher that you're not just another person who responded to every single call for writers on the Internet with the same form letter, hoping to land something-- ANYthing-- just because of sheer volume. You're proving that you have a passion for the subject, that you really want the job, and that you're willing to put in the extra time to ensure the job is done right.
When I'm ending a cover letter, I often use phrases like, "If there's anything I can do to help you reach a decision, let me know," or "I'd be happy to work with you to ensure your complete satisfaction," or "I'd love to hear more about your needs for this project."
It won't work every time; there will be times when another writer outdoes you in terms of qualifications or writing sample. But putting forth your best effort and showing off your go-getter attitude can make all the difference between landing in the slush pile and landing the assignment.
Jenna Glatzer is the editor-in-chief of http://www.absolutewrite.com/. Sign up for the FREE weekly e-zine and get a free list of more than 180 agents who are open to new writers! She is also the author of OUTWITTING WRITER'S BLOCK AND OTHER PROBLEMS OF THE PEN (Lyons Press, 2003). Find out why people LOVE this book! Read all about it at http://www.absolutewrite.com/outwitting.htm.