Freelance Secret #4: Build a Three-Clip Resume
By Calvin Hennick
Editor's note: Learn more about writing for magazines during Hennick's upcoming class, "6 Weeks, 6 Essays: Section C"!
No matter what magazine you want to write for, you’re only three good clips away from landing an assignment.
All right, it’s not quite that simple. You’ll still need an amazing pitch. And some magazines’ editors aren’t known for answering cold queries, no matter how impressive a writer’s credentials. But that’s just it – even if you’re a newbie, you have about as good a chance as a seasoned writer of getting the gig, as long as you can link to three published stories that show what you can do.
That’s because you’re not going to meet the editor for a job interview. You’re not going to bring her your resume. She’s not going grill you about your qualifications. No, you’re just emailing a pitch. Pitches are short, and editors are busy, and if you send them three clips that they love, there’s almost zero chance of them asking for a fourth.
So, instead of saying, “I’m just starting out,” you can say, “I’m a freelance writer who has been published in Magazine A, Magazine B, and Magazine C.” It doesn’t matter if there is no Magazine D. No one needs to know that.
The trick is, you need the right clips for the right publication. Your long investigative pieces about government corruption in Bolivia aren’t going to convince the editors at Men’s Health to let you write about the latest fat-blasting craze, and your short-game tip sheet for Golf Magazine isn’t going to help you land a celebrity interview in Entertainment Weekly.
What you want are bylines in publications that are at least plausibly, tangentially, sort-of-kind-of-maybe related to the magazine you want to write for, or clips that demonstrate your expertise in the topic you’re pitching.
If you’re starting from scratch, don’t sweat it. That’s how everyone starts. My first clips were in my college newspaper. The paper was sometimes packaged with a little financial magazine that hired college freelancers, and so I sent them a pitch. I wrote a few essays and sent them out to small commercial magazine magazines, and a couple were picked up. Then I interned at a daily paper and went off to teach middle school for two years.
At the end of that time, I wanted to try my hand at freelancing, but here was the extent of my resume: The Daily Iowan, the Quad-City Times, Young Money, the Iowa Alumni Magazine, and Inside Texas Running. I wasn’t exactly a world-beater. But I had teaching experience, and so I sent off a query to Teacher magazine. It turned out they needed a short piece turned around quickly, and they let me write it.
Next, I pitched Running Times. Even though Teacher and Young Money didn’t have anything to do with running, they sounded vaguely credible in a query letter – and besides, Inside Texas Running actually did have something to do with running (even though my sole publication was an essay about high-school cross country). I was in.
So I put Running Times on my three-clip resume, and that helped me get an assignment at Runner’s World. It was a magazine I’d wanted to write for since I was a teenager, and I only needed to mention three good publications in my pitch to help me get my foot in the door.
You should change up your three-clip resume constantly – both to make room for newer, bigger publications, and because you want to present yourself differently to different magazines. Although Runner’s World is a nice clip when I’m pitching health and fitness magazines, I don’t mention it if I’m pitching, say, a business or technology publication.
Now that I’ve been at this for a while, I have a bunch of different three-clip resumes that I send out with different pitches. Over time, you will, too.
Calvin Hennick’s travel writing has been published in The Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Club Traveler, Budget Travel, SmarterTravel.com, Yahoo Travel, Northshore, WestJet, Cape Cod Travel Guide, and elsewhere. Recent assignments have taken him to Costa Rica, Tuscany, Iceland, Barbados, and Curacao. He prefers aisle seatsSee other articles by Calvin Hennick