I remember reading a travel magazine and browsing the list of editors and writers, wondering how I could secure such a sweet gig. I used to picture these writers as a team of handpicked talents, each so sure of their craft, writers who could fly to Myanmar and find themselves a story behind every temple.
I would later land one such job and learn that things weren’t so mystical behind the scenes. The writers had trouble coming up with story ideas, their work often met the chopping block, and the editorial team didn’t function as smoothly as I had thought it would.
This was true in every other place I’d worked in. Nothing was ever perfect, and what that meant was that editors could always use that extra writer on standby.
This is the time
Let’s set one thing straight: I’ve never worked in a company that didn’t hire freelancers. So the market is very much alive. Add in the pandemic and you have an economy that strongly favours independent contractors.
This is because it’s much easier to pay a set amount for a specific job, instead of having to interview, train, and have someone on your payroll, with all the restrictions abound.
What this means for you is that if you’re interested in writing for a specific company, now’s a great time to reach out to them and see what’s out there. But before we get to that, let’s check out a couple of the more interesting examples I’ve seen of outsiders getting the attention of my editors.
During my time as a travel writer for an in-flight magazine, I’ve seen a photojournalist straight up walk into the office to offer his services.
This guy approached my editor, showed her his portfolio, and told her that he’d be leaving for China in a couple of months for a project. He asked if she’d be interested in a couple of stories he had in mind for the magazine. They tried him for one story, after which he became a regular contributor. That was some five years ago, and he still does work for the company.
Another example would be during my time writing for the national newspapers. My editor and I were enjoying coffee when she received a call from a random number. Her dialogue went something like this:
“Hello? Yes, it’s me. Mm hmm. All right. Sure, we’re always looking for writers. Yes. Um, maybe you could read our section to see what we do? No, it doesn’t work that way. No, you pitch your ideas to me and I’ll let you know if it works. My e-mail is in the pullout.”
Different methods, different results, but one thing remains certain, that editors will never turn away potential talents.
The good news here is that you don’t need to be as daring as the examples above. Working off email is perfectly fine. Despite what you may think, editors do read their e-mails. You just have to be mindful that their inboxes are probably filled with thousands of invitations to media events and product launches, so you’ll have that to contend with.
Also, as displayed in the success rate between both examples, you best do your research before reaching out to a company.
How to reach out
It’s suicide to reach out to an editor (or the boss of a company) and ask them if there’s anything you can help with. You’re just giving them more work to do.
Instead, approach them with a solution. All they should have to do is say yes or no. They shouldn’t have to think, or check for a vacant column, or to even wonder about your writing prowess. Make things as easy as possible for them.
You can Google tons of ways to pitch to editors, but what I’ve learned from the Writers Bureau creative writing course (way back in 2005) still stands to this day, and you could do much worse than to follow this format. Here’s how I’d do it.
Dear Nicole [make sure you’ve researched their name],
I’m reaching out to you as an avid reader of Tech Magazine, and I’d love to write for your column titled Game On [the least you could do is to name the specific sections].
I’d like to propose an article titled Don’t Be A Punk, where I create a typical Malaysian character in the recently-launched game Cyberpunk 2077 and try to navigate Night City as your stereotypical ah beng. I believe that this story will draw in the local audience and relate to your magazine’s demographic [offer them a topic instead of asking what you can write for them].
I can get additional ah beng interviews and pictures if needed, and I can complete an 800-word article [make sure you know what the specific column looks like e.g. word count, design, format] within a week.
I’ve been a writer for nine years and have written many game-related articles as well. You can find my portfolio at www.stuartdanker.com/folio [better start building a portfolio if you don’t have one]. I’ve also included a couple of previously-published articles relevant to this piece [it doesn’t need to be published if you can produce any relevant pieces you’ve written].
Thanks for your time and I hope to hear from you soon.
That’s it. There’s no real magic to it. You just approach a company with something you think would contribute to their publication. Just be honest and you’ll be fine most of the time, even in the face of rejection.
From here, you’ll either be accepted, rejected, or ignored. Either way, you’ll learn from the process, as well as make connections along the way. Just keep doing this and you’re bound to receive a favourable response, provided you can demonstrate a certain level of competence.
Can a new writer do it?
We know that editors are always on the lookout for talented writers. But the definition of talent does vary from editor to editor. That means that while you might not need a huge body of work to get started, you will have to present yourself in the best way possible to earn your shot.
So prepare a portfolio at the very least. They shouldn’t have to ask you for your writing samples (though you shouldn’t bombard them with every blog post you’ve written either).
Haven’t published anything before this? No problem. Simply write at least ten pieces of work that emulate your favourite magazines or websites. Make sure they’re original ideas, but follow the tone and style of these publications. If they use lots of factoids in bold, follow that. If they’re picture heavy, do that too.
Not having experience doesn’t mean you can’t pitch. Writing’s a very subjective craft, and all you need—all I’d ever needed, too, as I’ve been professionally writing for nine years without finishing high school—is to prove that you can write. Everything else is secondary.
The new age
Of course, with the rising digitisation of our world, you no longer have to limit yourself to publications. You can also reach out to companies that you believe in. Headphone brands, jiu-jitsu gyms, fountain pen companies—they’re all fair game.
All you need to know is the marketing department’s email address and whether or not they have a blog. Don’t have the latter? Then offer to correct all the typos you found on their website, or on their social media profiles.
Don’t fear reaching out. Even post-pandemic, I still get requests from my friends asking if I know writers who could craft a content campaign for them, so the opportunities are definitely abound.
Always wanted to write for a living? There’s never been a better time to get into it. Though that also means that there’s never been a tougher time, with the added competition and all.
But perhaps one day you’ll read the credits page of a publication, and you’ll see your name there, and you’ll realise that it wasn’t as tough as you thought it’d be.