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

Carol Tice

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.