Tips For Successful Clips

What are your clips worth? Do they mean enough to you to keep them around and organized?

When I was just starting out in this business as a cub college reporter with just a few published pieces in my clutches, every byline was a keeper. I visited the local art supply store and purchased a large black portfolio.

I diligently snipped my clips and affixed them to the portfolio’s black, plastic-sleeved pages. With each new article, my portfolio grew. And each job interviewer thereafter for the first few years out of college was invited to sneak a peek at my array of past work.

Today, while the presentation is different, clips of past work remain an important part of my career development.

A powerful tool
Let’s assume for a moment you’re a professional writer who has made a career writing on select issues. Let’s also assume that you prefer to keep clips or tear sheets on some of your best work, so you can review them as reference materials in the future or just enjoy some of your writing from the past.

Here are quick tips you can use to organize your clips, print or electronic:

  • File articles that are designed well or that can be used for future reference.
  • Create an organized index of past clips using Excel or a simple Word document.
  • Organize your clips in sheet protectors, and store them in a color-coded three-ring binder.
  • Post articles written for online publications on your own Web site.
  • Keep a file folder with a dozen copies of your best clips to send to editors.
  • How, then, do you organize those clips? Do you shove them into a vast and general “clips” file, only to then waste time fetching torn and yellowed tear sheets from a bulging file folder? What’s worse, when you tear other clips as reference material, does the file become a black hole of dated articles that are now useless?

    A few fellow writers I know have different reasons and methods for keeping their clips the way they do. One stashes her clips as reference materials for future articles. Along with the article she’ll keep her interview and research notes in specific computer or paper files for about two years. This way, she can refer back to them if a similar topic arises again.

    Another writer I know clips and couples others’ articles with his own to build a reference desk on a variety of topics. When the file swells to unmanageable proportions, he’ll divide it into related subjects and smaller files. Once a year, he tries to cull dated and useless clips from the file.

    Organization made easy
    Here are some tips to keeping your clips:

  • Decide what to save. Not every clip is a keeper in its paper form. Busy professional writers know that to save each article would result in a flood of documents to be archived. As a guideline, I file articles that have been designed with nice art and an attractive layout that might impress a hiring editor or those on a topical area that I might reference later.
  • Index your clips. By using Excel or even a simple table in Word, you can create an index of past articles so you can scan contents or subject headings easily. Create categories for your work, and then list the topic, date, subject and publication across the top. This also will help you track future resale of your work.
  • Use binders and sleeves to stash the clips. Three-ring binders and clear, three-hole punched sheet protectors can help organize your clip files.

    They also can create an easy reference system for filing and retrieval. For example, articles I’ve written are torn from the publications, slipped into the protectors and clipped into in a red 1 1/2-inch binder (the measurement is of the width of the spine). While it has a plastic slot on the spine into which I can insert a label, the color connotes the content.

    Also, any research or articles I come across are slipped into the sleeves and put into a blue binder. Clips, articles or research, are entered from the front of the binder, so the most dated work is toward the back.

  • Print and save from Web sites and electronic magazines. Once an article has been published online, print the Web page and enter it into your clips binder.

    Then, request that your client publication maintain a link to the article online indefinitely. You can steer other editors to that site when referring to past work, and you also can link to it from your Web site and create your own online portfolio.

  • Post the articles online. Assuming you own the rights to your past work, copy them onto your own Web site. Again, it can be an impressive display of your work&#151and technological prowess.
  • Photocopy and file. If you receive a call from&#151or reach out to&#151the editor of a publication you’d like to be writing for, and you need to ship some clips out quickly, could you? Having a half-dozen of your latest clips on hand can help. Create a series of file folders to hold a dozen copies of each of your best clips. Remember that legally, you’ll have to get the publication’s permission&#151possibly in writing&#151to reproduce the work for distribution.
  • Revisit your clips. Topics and content get dated. Old clips need to be replaced with newer examples of your best work. Every year or so, cull through your clip files and ditch the old. If you don’t want to throw them away, relegate them to an “archived clips” file. Remember to update your index so you know where they are.

    Keeping clips and electronic files of your work also is a matter of practicality. Quite often, we interview people who would make valuable resources for future articles. Having to find those names and contact information again could be difficult. Regularly scanning our past files and clips can remind us of contacts we’ve already made&#151and could use in the future.

    Clips are more than reference materials and job-interview fodder. They’re glimpses into our past. So ask yourself, what are your clips worth?

    Does the writing business perplex you? Let Jeffery D. Zbar seek the solutions in his monthly Business column. E-mail your ideas or questions to

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