When you want to be a published writer and you don’t have a lot of writing to show an editor or publisher, choose a small publication and become a contributing writer for them.
Contributing usually does mean you aren’t getting paid in cash money. There might be some kind of trade of services or goods. You may get a percent of ad revenue for instance. Don’t deal with promises for future payment and avoid publications which have not begun yet. Too often those promises don’t come true. A publication should have a few issues in print or online so you can see what they are doing. Also, if the publication never gets off the ground you will have done all that writing work and not have any writing credit to show for it.
Getting paid is one thing to look at when you choose a publication. The other important thing to know is, do you keep all rights to your work? Those two things are the first things I want to know when I look at a publication which I am considering. You should always have the rights to your work – especially any work you have not been paid for. Never write for a publication which wants all rights to your work and does not pay for your work and those rights to using and keeping it.
Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation
Take time to brush up on your language basics: spelling, punctuation and grammar. Never underestimate the power of a few good words. If you want to sell your skills as a writer, make sure you have them.
Get second opinions. Ask editors to read your work and give feedback. If someone points out an error, learn from it. Make a note of it, a real physical note which you can keep right on your computer to remind you. As you work on fixing each error you will learn and become better. Never assume you aren’t making some kind of mistakes.
Treat yourself to a book about writing. Not character development but how to write. I mean those old rules we were taught in school and have forgotten since then. It may not seem like a real treat to work on your grammar, spelling and punctuation. But, it is nice to know you’re doing it right. Especially, when you contact publishers and you want to put your best foot forward.
Know the Publication
Pick a publication you would like to write for. If you’re just getting started aim a little low, give yourself a good chance of getting the job. Not because you want to sell yourself short, but think ahead. Getting this experience will give you a writing credit and a lot of experience which you can use to help sell yourself to the bigger, fancier and better known publications.
Before you contact a publication find out who the editor is. Get their name and make sure it’s current information. Then read the submission guidelines on the site. Even if you want to apply as a staff writer you should know the guidelines, know what they are looking for and what they expect. Writers guidelines can tell you a lot if you take the time to read through them.
Read all the back issues or online copies you can. Develop a feel for the publication the tone and voice the writers use. What kind of advertising do they run? As much as you want to write for your readers, publications will cater to their advertisers too.
Find out what you get as a byline. For an online publication you should get an author resource box, or a profile. However they work out the details, you should be getting your name and contact information in the publication when you write for them.
Writers Need a Portfolio
Give yourself a web presence, an online portfolio to show your past work, your skills and give some information about yourself. Keep it professional, an extension of your resume.
Add social media links, if they are safe to add. If your usual Twitter posts have been personal, start a fresh account for your business as a writer. Keep them sorted out, don’t merge them and take the chance on having something sneak out which you can’t control and may not want to explain.
If you can, print up business cards for yourself. Then when you send in a letter to the publication you can include your card. This gives them something they can keep with all your contact information. A business card may get kept even when they add a resume and cover letter to the recycling bin.
Last of All, Ask for What you Want
Once you have studied the publication, written your resume and cover letter, and sent them by snail mail or email… don’t forget to follow up. Actually talk to someone and ask them for the job. Remind them who you are, give them all your contact information and thank they for taking time to talk with you.
If they ask you for a query letter with an actual idea they want written, great! Get to work on it. Do the research, find the sources of information and put together a package showing what you can offer them on that topic. Meet their needs.
Don’t stop asking and applying with publishers and editors. Instead of dwelling on a negative reply get to work on your next query letter for someone else who could say ‘yes’.
Good luck and best wishes.