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Going Part-Time To Pursue Journalism

Resume Email Template by John Adrin

Going part-time? Expect a lot of time to be spent sending email pitches (Pic: John Adrin)

By Helen Edwards

I’ve had a series of office jobs over the years, but I’ve always wanted to write for a living. Last year I had the opportunity to go part-time, and I grabbed it with both hands so I could devote more time to my writing. Prior to going part-time I’d already had several articles published in magazines, so I was confident I could build upon this.

It’s a good job I didn’t completely give up my day job, because I had just one article published in 2013 – and that was online rather than in a magazine. It wasn’t for lack of trying or ideas, and I followed the standard protocol:

• Research magazines which accept pitches from freelancers
• Pitch appropriately
• Tailor your pitch to the magazine’s style
• Find out the name of the Features Editor or equivalent
• Send an email outlining your idea (mention word-length and photographs)
• Explain why your idea suits their magazine
• Include a short biography

I would then wait a week or two before following this up with a second email – not pushy at all – always remaining professional and polite.

Was the same courtesy extended to me? In the majority of cases I never received a reply – bad manners as far as I’m concerned. I know that editors are busy, but how long does it take to reply and say, ‘Thanks, but it’s not right for us,’ or something to that effect? Not long at all. It would save so much of my time. Once I know a magazine isn’t interested in my idea, I quickly pitch it to another magazine. I’m never going to earn a living from my writing if the response rate is either zero, or if I receive a reply six months later as I did in a few cases.

Of course, a few editors were responsive and replied to me within days, sometimes on the same day. More often than not it was a case of, ‘Thanks, but it’s not right for us.’ Others replied to inform me they’d just commissioned a similar feature. In another case the editor liked my idea and said she would take it to the magazine’s next ideas meeting - although she never got back to me (despite me sending a follow-up email).

I read in Writing Magazine that to approach a certain weekly women’s magazine you should pitch to the appropriate editor (details often can be found on their website), and include the first line of your article in your pitch. The guidance suggested you will always get a response, and this was advice given by the editor herself. I followed this advice to the letter and guess what? I have never received a reply to any of the pitches I sent to that magazine.

The number of pitches I was sending tailed off as the year went on and I was thinking of giving up article writing as I was very dispirited. In desperation I found that adding, ‘Will you take a look?’ to my pitch sometimes elicited a response, although when I sent one article off (it covered Christmas time-saving tips), they said they did something similar last year!

My husband gave me some good advice. He said to try different markets and with this in mind I began sending pitches to websites. I became a YAHOO Contributor, and I have had two articles published by them to date. I have also had another three articles published on other websites. I’ve found that the people I’ve been in touch with via the websites have been much more responsive and helpful, and I’ve built up some new contacts as a result.

My earnings have been negligible as most websites don’t pay, but I’m not overly concerned about that at present because I want to build up my writing portfolio. Payment will be an issue in the future – I don’t want to write for free indefinitely.

Have you struggled to find work after going part-time? Or have you had some success? Get in touch if you’d like to write about your experiences. You can follow Helen on Twitter, @heedw

 

Rejection Letters: You Only Need One Yes

Rejections

Photo: Abhi/Flickr, licensed via Creative Commons

Freelance journalist and Journopreneur founder Danielle Batist explains why aspiring writers shouldn’t fear rejection…

“A clear rejection is always better than a fake promise”, I recently read on a colourful card in a gift shop. My first thought was: who would have bought this card? And secondly: who would have received it?

Clarity might be more helpful than vagueness, but when it’s not the answer you were hoping for, it can hurt. Horrible relationship break-ups aside, I have come to realise that rejection does get easier to deal with the more you experience it. Or rather, that what you experience following a no – or, even worse, silence – is actually not the same as being rejected at all. In freelance journalism, I learned that lesson the hard way.

The first ‘no’ probably wasn’t as tough to deal with because I wasn’t expecting much. I started out my freelance career aged 17 by simply posting letters and sending emails (still a novelty then!) to all the editors and publishers in my local area. As I lived in a small town, there were only five of them. Three didn’t reply, one said ‘no, thanks’ and one asked me to come and have a chat, which inevitably kick-started my journalistic journey.

The ‘no, thanks’ reply had an interesting impact on me, largely because it came after the ‘I’ll give you a chance’ one. Had it come first, I would have just assumed I’d get four more rejections. But because there had been one probable yes letter already, I actually started doubting myself for a minute. What if the yes man was crazy and the no man was right? Then, I imagined a reply which I’d never send: “Dear Editor, Thanks for your rejection. I’m glad about it, because I already got one yes, and your answer saves me from having to wonder ‘what if’.”

Thirteen years, many no’s and some yesses later, one thing has become clear: both replies often seem as random as one another. Once you’ve got your pitch and your audience right, the rest basically depends on the available publication space, airtime, maternity leave of a staffer, leftover commissioning budget, the position of the earth and the moon, or the level of horror on the commute of the editor that morning.

Whether one or all of these things are in sync, you will probably never know. All you have is a yes, a no, or silence. To think that a traffic jam outside Ikea or a bunch of wet leaves on the train track actually might have influenced the outcome of your pitch sounds far-fetched, but it does help to deal with whatever response you get.

Fearing rejection can rapidly result in a lack of energy, creativity and confidence, which will make that next freelance commission even less likely. The most helpful remedy I have found is to limit the amount of no’s by making sure you really understand your audience in order to give the perfect pitch. Both of these things can be taught and learned. Beyond that, the power of a good story and a little bit of luck will get you there. You only need one yes to get started.

On Saturday 31 May, Danielle will host a one-day Journopreneur Workshop in the refurbished Biscuit Factory in London. The workshop is designed to inspire you to launch and grow your freelance career. More info here.

Thump UK – Freelancers

thump

Location: Nationwide

Closing date: Ongoing

VICE started in 1994 as a newsprint monthly in Montreal, and is now a global youth media company that includes print, event, music, online, television, and feature film divisions that operates in over 30 countries.

(more…)

To Blog Or Not To Blog?

blog screenshot

Does your blog’s homepage look something like this?

If you’ve ever set up a blog without knowing what to write about, you’re not alone. Student Alexander Woolley shares the pitfalls of personal blogging…

Lots of money can be made out of advertising revenue on popular blogs and today they commonly employ several people full time. During the 1990s blogs were the preserve of masturbating teenagers; today they’re business.

I was recently asked by someone whether I keep a personal blog. I sheepishly replied that I don’t, and gave some excuses about not having enough time.

I felt I was being judged. I felt inadequate, as if I’d been caught trying to avoid handing in homework. I felt all the more pathetic because, actually, I have a blog.

In fact, I have several blogs. But in each instance when I’ve ‘founded’ a blog (i.e. handed over personal details to some American corporation), I’ve failed to upload any articles.

The furthest I’ve got is to put up a pretty picture for the background – the digital equivalent of re-ordering notes with nicely-coloured dividers in the days before an exam. The more I think about keeping a blog, the more impossible the task seems to be.

Yet I am constantly advised that it would be in my best interests to have one. Why? I’m usually given some generalities about “getting my name out there” or “getting my writing seen”. “Just start a blog, and all the world will be reading it,” I am told.

I would really like to believe that. I’d love to genuinely think that if I begin a blog in earnest, everyone will want to read it. But I am sceptical. The only personal blogs I have ever read are those of friends who would be offended if I didn’t read them.

It isn’t just my cynicism in the ability to build a readership that makes me hesitant. There are other reasons for my reluctance to start blogging. For one, I am terrified of self-editing.

I don’t worry about being able to spell or form coherent sentences (that’s what spell check is for, right?), but I do worry about having no one who can look at an article as a whole and say, “Alex, why did you even bother writing that?  Hell, why did you even get up today?”

There are only so many times you can ask friends to be your editor without employing them; plus, it gets awkward when they say things like that to you.

And then what if you produce something dull and tedious – or, even worse, something unintentionally offensive? Perhaps you’ll get a few facts wrong. Maybe you’ll lose a follower or two. But what if you write about something that others out there are more clued up on than you? And what if it’s a really sensitive issue?

What if, through ignorance, or through misunderstanding, you write something that comes over as nasty and bigoted? Then you get attacked on Twitter for your unfounded or uneducated opinions.

Even if you take down the blog post, those tweets will be public for all to see – and all for the sake of some blog post that you hadn’t researched thoroughly enough before you wrote it.

Okay, so that may seem like an extreme situation – but there are still other issues with writing a blog. Even if I plucked up the courage to edit my own work, I would then have to find something to write about.

Blogs only work if they are regularly updated. That means I would need to find a topic I’d want to write about around fifty-two times a year (roughly once a week). That’s a huge number of articles. There are lots of things I’m interested in, but I really struggle to think of a subject that I could produce fifty-two interesting, original articles on.

I suppose I could revert to the 90s and blog about my everyday existence. I wouldn’t struggle to come up with fifty two articles about that. But I cannot imagine anyone else cares about the details of my life to such an extent that they’d want to read fifty two blog posts about it – I’m not even sure I’d want to read that.

Have you had trouble getting your blog up and running? Or do you feel the importance of having one is something that is exaggerated? Share your thoughts via Twitter @Journograds 

Making The Most Of Your Time At Uni

Working hard at uni

Film and travel writer Amy Labbadia recalls her time at university and explains how aspiring journalists should take advantage of the experience…

Going to university can be one of the most important, rewarding, terrifying and expensive decisions you ever make. That’s why it’s important to make the most of your time there, to make those three years count.

Of course studying hard is the staple to success and should never be underestimated or overlooked, but a healthy social life should not be discounted either.

Although the stereotype of students partying and sleeping every day is somewhat accurate (in certain circles anyway), it does have its merits.

Without socialising and mingling, I would never have landed several journalism opportunities, which only became available to me by meeting other local journalists and writers.

My first interview with a well known novelist came about because I was “a friend of a friend.” Sometimes a stroke of luck is all you need – being in the right place at the right time – but often enough if you put yourself out there and make acquaintances, chances are they’ll eventually do you a favour.

So, that’s my first piece of practical advice: get out there. Make some friends. Secondly, write, and write well. You should aim to write every single day, whether it’s thirty thousand words or one. Doing this will keep you active, keen, and tone your writing muscle.

As you gain experience writing regularly, try and interact with your university’s student newspaper or magazine (most, if not all, have one) and see if they’ll publish one of your articles.

Not only is this a great start, but you’d be surprised at how many people read those student papers. A lot of universities host writing competitions – enter them! Even if you don’t win any, it’s still good experience for receiving and handling rejection.

Trust me, there will be a lot of that before you get your first break.

Thirdly, make use of your university’s resources; the library, the computers, and especially your lecturers and mentors.

They are a well of knowledge, and have years of experience in the industry. They’ll be able to advise and help you along the way, and put you in touch with other writers and journalists.

Since graduating, I’ve kept in touch with most of my lecturers and always go to them when I require advice; if you maintain a healthy relationship with them, they’ll always be there to lend you a helping hand. And, perhaps most importantly, they’ll offer you honesty.

It’s always nice to be told your writing is good, but it’s more important and crucial to be given constructive criticism – and that’s where your lecturers will be most useful.

Amy Labbadia is a freelance writer. She graduated from Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge with a degree in Film and Writing and has since gone on to write for several travel and film websites

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