They reason that writing for free will allow them to get their foot in the door with paying publications, many of which want to see samples of your published writing (called clips) before offering you an assignment. If you don’t have clips, you might feel like you are caught in a vicious circle. If you don’t have clips, you can’t get an assignment…and if you can’t get an assignment, you can’t get clips.
On the face of it, this may seem logical…except for the fact that it is not true.
While some magazines specify that they want to see clips, many others do not. Even when they do, this requirement is not necessarily set in stone, especially if you are able to demonstrate to the editor that you have what it takes to write a quality article for the particular publication you are targeting.
Many of the author guidelines listed in my new e-book for writers, 50 Markets that Pay Freelance Writers 10 Cents per Word, clearly state that the editors are willing to work with new writers. Some of them even go so far as to state that your knowledge of the subject matter is more important than whether you are a published writer. But that doesn’t mean the editors want to see dull, uninspired writing.
So, what can you do to convince an editor to publish your work?
First, read the guidelines carefully. The guidelines tell you almost everything you need to know about submitting to a particular publication. Then spend some time reading articles that have already been published in the magazine. This will help you understand the preferred tone and style of writing being used. If you can emulate this tone and style in your own writing, you are already one step ahead of the game.
But what about clips?
Several possibilities exist:
1. The guidelines don’t mention them. Great! Neither should you. Simply follow the guidelines, and submit your query or article. You don’t need to state that you are a “new” writer.
2. The guidelines ask for clips. Send samples of your writing instead. Ideally, the samples should be both well-written and relevant to the magazine you are approaching. One or two samples should be sufficient. Note that some magazines clearly understand the clips dilemma and ask new writers for samples in lieu of clips.
3. The magazine accepts articles “on spec.” This means that you can write a finished article and send it to the editor. Although potentially time-consuming, this is an excellent way for the editor to judge whether your writing is a good fit for the magazine. If your article is rejected for any reason, you will at least have a writing sample on hand for next time.
4. The magazine only accepts queries. In this case, you do not write the finished article but “query” the editor with a specific idea for the magazine. I will cover queries more in future posts, but basically the advantage of queries is that you do not waste time writing entire articles “on spec” that may or may not get published. Writing your query in the same tone and style used in the magazine subtly shows the editor that you understand the target audience and won’t botch an assignment.
So, should you write for free if you don’t have clips?
In my opinion, no.
There are plenty of publications out there that pay at least 10 cents per word, so why work for free when you can get paid and even make a decent income if you put sufficient effort into your articles and queries?