Credit where it’s due: A few days Jodee Redmond wrote: “Will Taking a Low Paying Hurt Your Career.” Jodee’s post is the inspiration for this one.
Disclaimer: This post isn’t encouraging writers to accept low pay, it’s merely a discussion of whether or not your low paying past will hurt you when you apply for other gigs.This discussion isn’t about low pay or whether or not writers should accept entry level opportunities. It’s whether or not these opportunities will cause you to lose work.
When I was younger it was my dream to become a newspaper columnist. I couldn’t wait to see my little picture and byline at the top of a column. Several years ago I found my chance when a new newspaper opening in a nearby major city, advertised for journalists and editors. Even though they weren’t hiring columnists, I didn’t think it could hurt to query. Taking a deep breath, I pitched anyway, for a column about saving money. All I had to show my style were a bunch of clips from entry level freelance writing jobs. I sent them, pitched and landed a regular gig as newspaper columnist. No one ever came back and said, “Sorry. You wrote for low pay. We don’t want you or your stinking clips.”
Good Writing Matters More Than Pay…or Even Experience
When a potential client asks for clips, they want to get an idea of your writing style.They want to know you can handle the material. Many times clips that are related to the potential client’s niche are fine, even if they come from a low paying market. Many times your client has no idea what the other places pay. I often recommend writers who have no experience write up a few articles and use these to apply for jobs, and more than a few have been able to land jobs using unpublished clips. Good writing stands out. You can be the most experienced writer in the world but if you send in bad clips you won’t get the gig.
To be fair, if you’re applying for a high paying journalism job and only have certain types of clips, an editor might be inclined to pass you over in favor of someone who has actual journalism experience or has written for well-known magazines. However, those same clips might land you a higher paying gig in a niche topic, if this is something you write about often.
Every career has entry level openings and positions and none of these positions hurt, they only lead to valuable experience. I believe this to be the case with low paying opportunities as well. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set your goals higher, but taking entry level gigs for the experience isn’t a terrible thing.
Who is Really Looking Down On You?
There’s a lot of speculation on the web that writers who accept entry level gigs are seen as “laughingstocks” or have “no self respect.” However, I don’t see many hiring editors say this. It’s only from anonymous commenters and freelance bloggers who don’t approve of entry level opportunities. Again, when I was first freelancing, not a single editor or client told me I couldn’t have the job because I wrote for low pay in the past. When I worked in publishing, we never looked a writer’s past pay, or even experience when considering freelancers for our magazines. We put more value into the pitch and the clips. We didn’t look down on anyone who wrote for free or earned very little money. One more time because people tend to misquote: I don’t believe every writer should only work for low payers and not aspire to do better, and that’s not what this piece is about. My point is that entry level opportunities won’t hurt your career.
Many schools won’t accept certain content sites as sources for reports and articles. However, this has nothing to do with freelance writing jobs. In my experience, it doesn’t necessarily matter where you have worked in the past as long as you put forth a good effort. It’s sort of like an audition for a television show or movie. Sure, big names have a better chance of getting the job, but that doesn’t mean the C-list or Indy star won’t land a role in a major movie. Always put forth your best effort no matter who you write for and soon the sky will be the limit.
What is your experience? Has using clips from entry level opportunities helped or hurt your career?