My first actual published piece of writing was a band interview 1993 or 1994. I wrote the piece for the music and tattoo magazine I worked for. I wasn’t originally scheduled to do the interview but the assigned reporter called in with a last minute illness and I was the only one who could get to Bryant Park for the concert and help out. The interview was well received, but the magazine wasn’t. It ceased publication right after that issue due to lack of sales.
My one and only copy of this magazine has an extra place in my heart because the band KISS adorned the front cover and after joint promotion, they all autographed my copy of the issue. There was no way I was tearing apart my one and only copy of this now rare, autographed issue of Rock & Roll Tattoos for a clip. I put my copy in a protective bag and packed it away…and haven’t seen it since. Yes, this aspiring writer lost her one and only writing clip.
At the time, I wasn’t looking to freelance so it didn’t occur to me to make copies of my first published clip (beyond the school newspaper). I showed the magazine to friends and family for a few weeks and then tucked it away for safe keeping. When I began freelancing in 2000, I had a dilemma. Every single gig required clips and I couldn’t find mine. What do I do?
Draw on experience
When I began looking for freelance writing work I realized I had something that might set me apart from some other candidates; experience within the publishing industry as an editorial assistant. This in itself didn’t give the potential client an idea of my writing style, but it did let him know I knew a thing or two about writing. It wasn’t a deal maker by any means but maybe it would keep my query from the “rejection” pile. I described my experience in my pitch to potential clients. Some weren’t impressed, but some wanted to learn more.
As I became a more experienced freelance writer I realized having expertise in a particular niche or industry is sometimes more attractive than having a long laundry list of published clips. If a writer is knowledgeable about the subject matter and can prove he’s a good writer, he can land the gig – even without prior experience.
Freelance writing clips don’t necessarily have to be published
Unless the potential client specifically asks for “published” clips, it might not matter. The reason clips are required are because he wants to make sure you can write and, also, to get an idea of your writing style and expertise. When you’re first starting out as a freelance writer, you might have to create your own unpublished clips.
Research the potential client
What is your potential freelance writing client looking for? If you have enough information, you can write up a sample article and tailor it to your client’s needs. Dig a bit deeper and see if you can learn why the client needs a writer. Learn about his business. Is he looking to teach or sell? Knowing as much as you can about the client, his goals and his opportunity can help you craft an unpublished clip that comes close to what he’s looking for.
Audition your writing
Consider your clip an audition. Actors looking for a part in a movie or play don’t show up and go through the motions, they give it their all. In order to compete with the more experienced writers, you’ll have to give your very best effort as well. If needed, ask another writer to look over your sample before submitting it for consideration. It sounds cliche to say, but you’ll never get a second chance to make a first impression.
If inexperience is keeping you from querying for a gig, consider this: I landed the very first freelance writing gig I applied for using an unpublished clip. Granted, I received many rejections throughout the ensuing decade, but that first acceptance did wonders for my confidence and outlook. Don’t let a lack of published bylines keep you from going for the gold, as a freelancer you have to make your own opportunities.
How did you land your first gigs without clips?