The Secret to Paid Writing Gigs

Don't be afraid to get personal and use your connections to get writing assignments. by Chad Gervich
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Sick of getting freelance queries rejected? Frustrated with never seeing your byline? Tired of generating great articles that don’t sell? Well, I’m here to tell you …

That’s because you’re doing it wrong.

I know what you’re thinking: You’ve followed every tip in this magazine. You’ve perfected your queries. Your ideas are solid and well researched. But the key to selling isn’t just nailing queries or writing irresistible stories—it’s networking.

Given the choice, most editors will hire someone they’ve met or worked with over a random contributor. This isn’t nepotism; it’s human nature. And it works both ways: A relationship also means you, as a seller, can get the scoop on buyers’ ever-changing needs.

I had wanted to write for WD ever since I first subscribed in junior high. So years ago, when I was working for a TV company, I e-mailed the editor and asked to read that year’s screenwriting contest winners. The editor was excited because it would get WD winners in front of producers and execs; I was excited because it would be the beginning of a relationship with the magazine. We e-mailed, talked on the phone, discussed scripts and she eventually asked if I’d judge the next contest. Only then did I feel I had a strong enough relationship to pitch an idea. That subsequent article led to others and, eventually, a 10-year writing relationship. But it all started with a simple e-mail.

Of course, forming relationships can be daunting, so here are suggestions to make it fun and productive.

THINK OF WAYS TO “HELP” EDITORS AND PUBLISHERS. Before pitching ideas, provide helpful nonwriting services. Use a magazine’s masthead or website to find low-level employees, then introduce yourself by offering something they’ll find valuable. If you work somewhere that uses ads, coordinate “swaps” or discounts. If you host charity events, ask the publication to be a sponsor. If you work in the food business, offer to cater the magazine’s next office party. Basically, think of ways to become valuable without pitching.

DON’T NETWORK TOO HIGH. People often think they should network with folks at the top of the food chain. In actuality, it’s more helpful to network with people lower on the chain (low-level execs or assistants). This is because: a) They have more time to network; b) they have a greater need to network; and c) finding talented new writers and articles is part of how they get recognition.

INVITE PEOPLE TO LUNCH OR DRINKS. Track down the e-mail addresses of low-level employees. Then send friendly notes, explaining you’re a writer and a fan of their magazines, and you’d love to take them to lunch or coffee to learn about their work, how they interact with writers, etc. You’re not taking them to pitch; this makes them more amenable to going, because they don’t feel pressured. Plus, everyone likes to be asked for advice … especially over a free meal.

NURTURE THE RELATIONSHIP. After meeting someone, grow the relationship by doing little “favors.” Let her know about local happenings. Introduce her to contacts. Once you sense a good rapport, then e-mail saying you have an idea that “may be right” for her publication. These words are key—they create a no-pressure situation—e.g., “I thought you might be interested in this, so I asked you first. If it’s not right, no worries. I just wanted to give you the courtesy of a first look.”

There are many ways of reaching out to buyers without actually pitching, so get creative. Many cities have industry-specific associations that host networking mixers and parties. You also can meet colleagues on Facebook and other social networks, or through churches, writing groups and other organizations.

As your network grows, people will soon see you as someone likable, competent and trustworthy, and that’s when you strike—because at that point, you’re no longer a stranger
with an idea. You’re a friend.


This article appeared in the March/April issue of Writer's Digest.Click here to order your copy in print. Click here to a digital download of the issue, click here.

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