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If you’ve ever wondered what the first step is in breaking into the field, you’ve probably considered any or all of the following: (a) An internship at somewhere prestigious (The New York Times, Die Zeit, the BBC); (b) A qualification in journalism from a fancy school — hey, Columbia, (c) Getting cracking on your own blog to launch you into the spotlight. These are all great ideas! But maybe not the very, very first thing a person could do to get started.
STEP 1: SELF-REFLECTION
We believe that most people tend to skip over the most essential first step, dismissing it as pointless navel-gazing: considering what sort of writer they want to be. But of course, if you start out writing on fashion because that’s what you’re asked to write on and then five years down the line, realise dissecting the new Vetements collection makes you want to gouge your own eyeballs out, that’s a lot of time wasted. During our workshop, we broke down this one big question into a few dozen smaller ones. We asked participants what sort of writing they wanted to pursue — whether they were looking to break into print publications or websites or if they even wanted to write non-fiction books on topics they were passionate about; what topics they’re interested in; what topics their lives and experiences uniquely qualifies them to write on; if they were interested in writing on “evergreen” (eternally relevant) topics or if they wanted to cover time-sensitive breaking news.
STEP 2: MAKE A FANTASTIC FIRST IMPRESSION
Ready to start pitching? We recommend you craft pitch emails that are too irresistible to say no to. Think: knowing the publication inside out (via reading its pieces for weeks at a time) so your email is written in the tonality of their style; checking that your idea hasn’t already been covered by the publication or other publications; explaining why your idea is a perfect fit for the website/magazine/newspaper you’re pitching specifically (because nobody likes a pitch email that sounds generic enough to have been copied and pasted to at least 20 other places) and why your article idea makes sense for now. The editor should have to do as little work as possible to understand your pitch, so make sure your suggestion is clear and concise, your pitch is in the body of the email, not in an attachment and that any background information or sources are linked.
STEP 3: DON’T UNDERSELL YOURSELF
Since freelancers often set their own prices, cautious beginners can end up demanding much less than they’re worth — at least in America, this is a major issue for women with the World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Gender Gap Report stating that the pay gap between genders becomes even worse for freelance work, with women making 32 percent less than men for the same position in a creative field. So if you’re a woman, please demand enough to make you wince a little as you click send — you’re probably asking for too little.
Don’t just factor in your time researching and writing the piece (and the time transcribing any interviews you’ll have to do for the article), factor in the possibility of multiple rounds of edits. Still, it’s worth being realistic — Who Pays Writers is invaluable in terms of checking how much English-language publications generally pay their freelancers. And of course, don’t forget about the kill fee — if an article gets cut for no fault of your own (for example, you write a glowing review of a film which gets bumped following a scandal surrounding the director), you’re well within your rights to demand a percentage of the final amount you were promised as payment as a worst case scenario (ideally, publications should pay the full amount). Think at least 25-50% of what you were promised.
Intrigued and want to learn more? Feel free to ask.