When you’re just getting started, it’s hard to get clips. Especially if the only assignments you ask for are 1,500-word feature articles or $3,000 white papers.
While some writers do seem able to go straight for the big score, most of us work our way up.
There’s an easy way to build your portfolio up from nothing to the level where you can get the juicy gigs.
It’s to start with entry-level assignments. There are quite a few simple assignments that are pretty easy to get, and a breeze to execute. Kind of un-f*k-up-able.
If you’re a new writer, those are the kind you want. I built my whole early portfolio out of these babies.
Which worked great, since I knew about spit-all about how to be a journalist at that point.
Where to pitch your early article ideas
When you start out, you’ll pitch these to some lower-rung markets: alternative papers, nonprofit and association newsletters, small community daily or weekly papers. These places are always short of staff and thrilled for any help they can get.
You can move up from there to writing these for glossy magazines.
They may not pay great, but they result in some nice-looking clips. I used to get $50-$75 writing some of these.
But they can help you get an editor’s ear to pitch those big, fat features you’re hot to write.
Here are ten easy, entry-level writing gigs.
- Charity or organization news. At one point, I wrote short pieces on what was new in my regional library system, for instance. Our libraries put out a pretty nice quarterly newspaper, and it was a great way to get my name around. I know another writer who got started writing for her condo association newsletter.
- Business profile. If a local business is doing something exceptional — for instance, landing their product in Walmart or appearing on Shark Tank — it’s always worth a quick write-up in a small-town paper. Chat up the owner and you’re set.
- Author/artist profile. If a noted author is visiting or lives in your town and has a new book out, or an artist is having an interesting show, line up an interview and you’ve got a good shortie.
- Restaurant reviews and openings. Most alternative papers have regular restaurant columns and are constantly doing dining stories. Their staff reviewer can’t stay on top of every new eatery that opens their doors, so pitch them the one you want to visit.
- Book, play or movie reviews. See #4 — same deal here. Their regular critic can’t see every new play or read every book that comes out.
- Civic event coverage. From angry protests to staid city council meetings, small papers never have enough people to cover all the doings in their town. If you’re willing to sit through that citizen charrette about the proposed redevelopment of Main Street and can take notes and write up who said what, maybe grab a quick interview at the end, then bang — you’ve got a story.
- New store opening. In any small town, nearly every new shop that opens is worthy of a short piece in the local paper. Everybody wants to know who the owner is and how and why they came to open this retail establishment. Volunteer to go chat with the owner, and you’re in.
- Web bios. Any business website that doesn’t have a page that tells the story of the founders needs one. Grab their resumes, ask them a few questions about their background, and you’ve added a great story to their site that humanizes their brand.
- Brochures. Most small companies desperately need their brochures updated (whether virtual or physical). To learn how to write them, go down to your local Chamber of Commerce and take a copy of all the brochures there. Go home and read them. You’ll see there isn’t a lot of copy on brochures, and it won’t be hard to write something better than average. Ask your client a few questions about the business and you’re done.
- News briefs. Nearly every paper and magazine has a “front of the book” section where they include short pieces about interesting news that broke too close to deadline to flesh out into bigger stories. If you’re a news junkie, you can probably find an idea or two to whip up.
These assignments are also great because they give you a little taste of the skills you’ll need for bigger projects. You talk to editors or business managers, you do interviews, ask questions, and learn to tell a little story.
From there, it’s not much of a leap to telling a big one.
What were your first entry-level assignments? Leave a comment and let us know.