How I Got Good-Paying Article Assignments — With NO Clips

By David LaMartina

I’ve been “freelance writing” for about a year, but I only recently broke out of the content mills and into the world of well-paying gigs. In two weeks – and without a single clip to my name – I landed my first three assignments with print trade magazines.

They paid $125, $300, and $500, with the last clocking in at 50 cents a word.

How did I do it? As luck would have it, I happened upon this blog just as spots were opening up in the Freelance Writers’ Den.

I joined, read every tutorial, listened to every podcast, and scoured the forums for juicy tips on how to market my fledgling business. Then I set to work.

Lower-competition markets

I read a few stories about new writers breaking into glossy consumer mags, but it seemed like a long shot.

To increase my chances and save time, I put all my efforts into querying trade magazines. They’re not that glamorous, and most don’t get many pitches – but they do pay well.

Writing what you know

I also realized I wasn’t going to build a portfolio very quickly by dedicating hours of research to every pitch.

In the name of efficiency, I focused only on popular topics I know best: food and fitness. I went to tradepub.com and made a giant list of relevant magazines.

Still, I didn’t just choose pubs that narrowly focus on my specialties. My first “yes” actually came from a chiropractic magazine, and I ended up writing an article on the need for bodywork among weightlifters.

Crafting killer queries

Most freelancers pitch the trades with letters of introduction, but I was doubtful that would work without any clips.

I knew I needed some way to demonstrate my expertise, so I opted for full-fledged queries. Most were only a couple of paragraphs long, but they contained detailed ideas that showcased my industry experience.

The extra effort paid off big time. Rather than assign some other stories they’d already planned, all three magazines approved the exact ideas I pitched.

If I had just sent LOIs, those editors would have been taking far more of a gamble on my knowledge and writing ability. In fact, I may never have gotten past the usual “do you have any samples?” question.

The value of multi-pitch

I wanted to leave no doubt in editors’ minds that I was familiar with their industries, so I sent three ideas in every email. I always had a favorite, but I made sure each one was as fleshed-out as the others.

On a similar note, I also sent most of my queries to multiple magazines. If a writer as experienced as Linda Formichelli has only received simultaneous approvals once in her career, I didn’t think it’d be an issue for me.

Knowing your audience

Trade magazines may not market to consumers, but they still depend on ad revenue. In all of my queries, I explained to the editors why my ideas were relevant to their professional readers. For instance, I landed that chiropractic gig by explaining how my tips could help the audience gain new clients and add value to their clinics.

Taking action

Ultimately, I still spent too much time overloading myself with information. It’s easy to justify procrastination when you’re “still learning,” but you only need to know so much before you take action.

To those of you who are still rereading every manual and listening to podcasts on repeat (like I was) – start sending your query letters today. You’ll learn more through experience, and you’ll be a lot closer to landing that first gig.

David LaMartina is a Kansas City-based freelance writer who specializes in health, fitness, and food. He can be reached at davidlamartina.com or through email at david@davidlamartina.com.

How did you get your first clips? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

 

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32 comments on “How I Got Good-Paying Article Assignments — With NO Clips
  1. Kristen says:

    Thanks, David!

    It’s my plan to spend the next 2-3 weeks researching businesses and publications, brainstorming article ideas and reviewing the writers’ den’s content on pitching and then start aggressively sending pitches around the beginning of August.

    I don’t think I’d encountered the suggestion to send multiple pitches in one e-mail yet, so thanks for the idea!

    If you haven’t yet, would you consider posting an example of one of your successful pitch letters to the forum in the den to help offer inspiration to those of us a few steps behind you?

  2. Max says:

    Wonderful post, David–thanks for sharing! I’m a Denizen, too.
    I have a question for you…I’m curious–when you pitched the trades did you have your website up? Or did you create it after you had the clips to actually put on it?

    Thanks again for the inspirational and informative post!

    See you around the Den,
    Max

    • Max, I actually did not have my site up at that point, but I would still encourage everyone to get one ASAP. My good clips aren’t published yet, but it still looks more professional to have a site with a decent photo and some well-written “About Me” copy. Like Carol and Linda have said, just go ahead and put your mill clips up if that’s all you have.

  3. An interesting and extremely valuable article. I find myself in a similar situation and am not always sure where to from here. There is the knowledge that somewhere in that tunnel there is some light.

    One of my calls to action was to try and get a portfolio out there and have embarked on an ezinearticles campaign.

    I would like to here others opinions about using ezine as a way of building credibility.

    The article mills take up some real precious time, and my portfolio takes the punch. But there is also the need to have some source of income. Not close to be enough, but seem to be caught in that trap,

    I will take the advice and take the call to action. Maybe I will be able to return with some positive response as well.

    Really enjoyed this one and have taken some heart and inspiration from it.

    Thanks for a great article.

    • Maybe others will chime in with differing opinions, but I haven’t heard anything positive about Ezinearticles, at least not when it comes to building a portfolio and getting good writing gigs. Some people do use it as a way of getting their content out to wider audiences, but most of the articles on the site are low quality. I’d think anything on Ezine would be kind of like mill clips – better than nothing, but unimpressive due to the low barrier to entry. You might even be better off just posting to your own site or blog.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I once interviewed someone who said she was ‘very successful’ with the 100 ezines articles she’d written. It was very educational for me — I learned that the people who do best there have some other, lucrative line of work besides writing — they’re trying to get attention for their consulting business of some kind.

      As people whose main product IS writing, giving that much of it away I think isn’t usually a good idea.

  4. Jawad says:

    David,
    Great post indeed!
    Although, I hold a full-time job, freelance writing (in my area of expertise) has now a second as well as a lucrative source of ‘additional’ income!
    I gain so much from Carol’s blog that even if it does not apply to my specific industry/area-of-expertise (SAP), I ends up making a great use of her tips and ideas most of the time.
    Some of these tips which helped me a great deal are to routinely ask for new writing projects from existing clients, stay away from content mills or freelance websites (though, I admit to being a part of it once), pitching several ideas ( and providing more than just a few lines of LOI) and most of all ‘personalizing’ the queries to show how it will benefit the potential client’s business or increase readership and asking existing clients to refer my writing services in their professional network.
    I am still trying to break into other writing avenues (but not dedicatedly or aggressively), but am happy to put Carol’s or her guest bloggers’ advices to work.
    Ohh… and I do often promote Carol’s blog in my personal and professional networks.
    Thanks… 🙂

    • Yup, “personalizing” the queries is definitely important. There were a few times when the appeal of my idea seemed pretty obvious, but I always stated it anyway. If nothing else, it lets editors know that you understand their industry and audience.
      Glad you liked the post!

  5. Shannon says:

    It’s great to hear you’ve had such success! I saw a few of your posts in the Den as well. Trade magazines are something I’d really like to try for as well (I write in health/fitness/nutrition also). I’m just wondering, when sending your queries and ideas, how did you know which sections of the magazine you could pitch for? I’m going on the Tradepub.com website, finding some magazines of potential areas of my interest, browsing their site, but then I’m a little lost on where to go from there.

    • I usually just skimmed several digital issues to make sure my query ideas were relevant and hadn’t been used (at least not in the last couple of years). If you’ve got an idea that’s a good fit for the pub, the section / category / subsection into which it fits will probably be clear. If you’re sending out more general LOIs, then I’m not sure that it even matters much. In that case, you’d just want to highlight your relevant experience and perhaps point to a couple of areas of the magazine for which you’d be a particularly good fit.
      Does that answer your question, or were you more concerned with querying the right editor(s)? I usually emailed the managing editor, although I’ve since learned that it might be better to contact senior editors when possible.

      • Shannon says:

        Yes – that’s perfect. 🙂 That’s what I was looking to know…thanks for the help! I’ll try it and see how it goes.

  6. I was thrilled that you added the Tradepub link, it was a big help. Your positive attitude is inspirational and you have a great approach to getting started. I don’t feel so frazzled that this might not be for me.
    Thank you for the great insight!
    ~Amanda
    Amanda J Keys recently posted…What’s Your Passion When it Comes to Fiction?My Profile

    • No problem, Amanda. Now that I think about it, I should have also included this link:

      http://www.webwire.com/IndustryList.asp

      There are definitely some custom pubs and consumer mags mixed into that list, but it’s HUGE, even bigger than tradepub.com. It can save you a lot of time if you want to pitch the same or similar ideas to multiple publications.

      As for getting frazzled – I did too! Just have to push through those feelings when they happen and keep sending out pitches. I’ll probably have to deal with that all over again in a few weeks, as I’m trying to get some more commercial writing clients.

      Thanks for reading!

  7. J. Delancy says:

    I am both impressed and encouraged. I look forward to your next post David.
    J. Delancy recently posted…Skydiving: 4 Things You Won’t Learn From A MovieMy Profile

    • Thanks, J. That’s a cool blog you’ve got, by the way. One of my longer-term goals (once I’ve gotten more steady writing gigs) is to get my own fitness-related blog going.

  8. Mark Hermann says:

    Great post, David. I especially like the part about taking action: sending your query letters out today, as opposed to some time after you’ve absorbed every single lesson, course and podcast out there on how to do it.

    I learned this early on in my music production career when we were doing cutting edge mobile digital recording before most people were. I knew we needed publicity so I just contacted the best magazine in the biz, Mix and asked to speak with the editor. Surprisingly, he got on the phone and after hearing that my idea was truly beneficial to his audience, he asked if I would write it. First professional writing gig. First query.

    READY. FIRE. AIM. It’s always a good approach.
    Mark Hermann recently posted…The Number One Inspiration For Learning How To Be A Great ProducerMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      That’s so right on, Mark.

      On one of my first assignments, I called up my alternative paper and asked if they had anyone going out to cover a protest I planned to be at. And they were like, “No — could you give us 500 words on it?”

      Thanks to David for a great guest post!

    • That’s awesome to hear, Mark. And it sounds like that editor was thinking along the same lines as the ones I’ve talked to. Clips or not, they mainly cared about their audiences, and how my ideas would help them. In fact, they didn’t even ASK to see samples.

  9. Anne says:

    Congratulations on your brilliant findings and your great jobs. I hope these are just stepping stones to even more work.

    I’m taking steps to do exactly what you’ve done. I hope I’m as successful as you. I’m always taking breaks because of book launches etc, but I’m getting there. Thanks for sharing your story.
    Anne recently posted…How Your Blog Can Extend Your Freelance Writing BusinessMy Profile

    • Happy to share, Anne. I often found myself wanting to take breaks, as well, though it was usually for less important reasons…like lunch 🙂 I just forced myself to write up at least one good query per day, or to send five cold emails to companies. Those numbers seem almost negligibly small, but I know that I WILL get bogged down and avoid it altogether if I don’t just take some small action every day.

  10. Sarah says:

    Great post David, it’s really interesting to see what steps you took to land those projects. Thanks for the info!
    Sarah recently posted…How to make your blog posts stand out from the crowdMy Profile

  11. Lisa Gilbert says:

    Loved your post. Very inspirational. I am trying the same thing. I joined Freelance Writers Den and I am reading and studying every day. I need the kick in the pants to start querying. Hopefully your post will do it. Thanks.

    • Start sending pitches today! If you’re nervous about sending your first one out, there’s that sub-forum specifically for query and LOI critiques. I created threads and got tons of good feedback for the first three or four I sent.

      On that note, you might try starting with letters of interest to relevant trade pubs and companies. I actually got a blogging gig with a local gym from a simple, three-sentence LOI. Of course there were several conversations between that email and the final contract, but it was a great way to get things going. Cold emails may not be quite as effective as full-fledged pitches, but they’re low-stress and don’t require much time.

  12. Glori Surban says:

    Wow! Great tips David!

    This reiterates what I’ve been trying to convince myself to do: DO SOMETHING. A person can only spend so much time learning. Experience will teach us more.

    Thank you!
    Glori Surban recently posted…The Pros and Cons of Guest Blogging for Freelance Writers and Small Business OwnersMy Profile

    • Go for it! One thing that helped me to just take action was to set a limit on how long my queries would be. I’m usually verbose, and I tend to over-research, but those habits aren’t so great for queries. Based on what Carol and Linda have said in the Den, it seems like most editors prefer short, to-the-point pitches, anyway.

  13. Nice post, David. And you’re right, you have to start somewhere. Nice to start with some higher paying gigs too. But over time, you’ll start building up a nice portfolio as well and can really start branching out. Just getting the queries out there is the best thing you can do whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been doing this for years.
    Andrew Kardon recently posted…I Wish Only Death to the Serial CommaMy Profile

    • Yep, I think the big change in my thinking and actions occurred when I realized that this really is my business, and that it’s not going to go anywhere if I don’t market myself. It can seem kind of risky to work on queries that may not get you anywhere, but it’s a lot riskier to do nothing!

      • Carol Tice says:

        Eureka! You discovered the secret so many writers want to hide from…if you want to do this for a living, it’s a business! And as soon as you start treating it like one, you’ll have income like a business too.

  14. Nice work, David! When you want better-paid jobs, nothing works quite so well as simply asking for them.

    I hope to see you back here within the year, explaining how you got your first dollar-a-word writing gig!

    • Thanks Sophie, I hope so too! And asking is definitely key…the editor at the chiropractic pub was very happy with my first article, but it wasn’t until I just asked for another assignment that I got one.

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