The Renegade Writer

No Clips? Here Are 6 Ways to Convince an Editor to Hire You Anyway

No clips? No problem.Writers often ask me what to do when their clips are 10 years old, or are on topics that don’t relate to what they’re pitching, or are from non-paying publications. And I tell them, “You gotta use what you got.”

But what if you have no clips? As in zero? Zilch? You’re a total writing newbie and have never written for publication, either paid or unpaid?

How can you beat that Catch-22 and land some assignments?

Here are six ways to get around a lack of clips so you can start writing for pay:

1. Write a kick-ass query.

Sometimes, if you send totally amazing query on a great topic, the editor will want to hire you regardless of clips. Yes, this does happen! For example, one of my Write for Magazines e-course students broke into SELF with zero clips. If I remember correctly, she got $1.50/word for that assignment.

Not sure how to write a query that will knock an editor’s socks off? Here’s what you can do:

Writing an amazing query takes practice, so write, write, write — and send, send send.

2. Write an on-spec query.

Thank you to my editor at Writer’s Digest for telling me about the on-spec query. In short, you write an article and then send a quick query letting the editor know you have the article ready to send — and would she like to see it?

The normal practice is to send a query and then write the article once you get an assignment. The upside to this is that the editor can tell you exactly what she wants. The downside to this, for new writers, is that if you have no clips to show the editor, she has no way of telling if you can pull off an assignment. So she’d be taking a HUGE risk in hiring you.

But if you’ve already written the article, this takes a lot of risk off of the editor.

If you don’t know how to write an article, you’ll love this post, aptly titled How to Write an Article.

And, if you join my mailing list, you’ll soon be learning about a class Carol Tice of the Freelance Writers Den and I are developing on this very topic.

3. Use who you know.

So many writers actually know an editor at a magazine, website, or blog, or a marketing director at a business — whether in real life, through a former job, or through a social media site like Twitter or LinkedIn — and are afraid to approach that person about writing for them. Or, they know someone who can introduce them to such a person, but don’t take advantage of it.


One of the best subject lines you can use in a pitch email is “Jane Smith sent me” or “It’s Linda Formichelli from Twitter with an Article Idea.” Having a connection with someone can trump your not having clips.

4. Write for free.

I’m all about getting paid for your writing, but as I wrote in this post, which you should totally read, “I believe it’s better to write for free temporarily, on your own terms, than to write for pennies for a content mill or bidding site client that doesn’t value your skills — and won’t make a good sample anyway.”

Offer your skills pro bono to a nonprofit, local business, or small magazine you love, and voila — you have a clip. And you only need to do this once.

5. Mine your life.

Choose a topic to pitch where you have some credentials — mine your education, career, or hobbies to find article ideas you’re uniquely suited to write, and then tout that in your credentials paragraph.

For example, you may not have any clips, but maybe you are a certified personal trainer pitching a fitness article, or a bakeoff champion who wants to write about gluten free baking, or an MBA who wants to write on business management topics for trade magazines. That experience can help an editor overlook your lack of clips.

6. Pitch guest posts to well-regarded blogs.

Many blogs don’t pay, but are easier to break into than big magazines — and you can definitely use them as clips.

Pitch blogs the same way you’d query magazines except that you don’t need to interview/include experts — YOU are the expert.

Find blogs in the niche you want to write in, read their previous posts, and look around for their guest posting guidelines — then come up with an idea they haven’t done that’s relevant to their readership and pitch away.

So — don’t give up because you have no clips. Be creative and find ways to get that first clip and soon you’ll be pitching like a pro. Happy writing!

Jan 29, 2014 Magazines, Marketing, Query letters

32 Responses

  1. robertfeld says:

    Looks feasible enough.

  2. Just in time when I was thinking of reaching out to my Twitter network to seek writing opportunities. Thank you Linda!

  3. Jean says:

    Hi Linda,

    Lots of great information in this post. I did some freelance seo writing a while back and of course it was just write all these articles, he paid me, and I had zero idea what it was for. I was also doing it all as a ghostwriter (not surprising) but apparently he was outsourcing his work so I couldn’t use it at all for a portfolio or a reference.

    I am just now trying to get back into the scene and signed up for your newsletter yesterday actually and I am very glad I did. I am especially interested in the part about writing for free for clips and about writing a complete article and then pitching in hopes of getting a foot in the door. I will be sure to give these a try.

    thanks so much,

  4. Hi Linda,

    More fantastic tips from you!

    I did what you suggested when I first started out as a freelance writer. I wrote an article for a magazine and didn’t get paid. Even though the publication doesn’t pay writers, I believe in the publication and was happy to offer my ideas. I wanted to write an article featuring the wife of a well-know musician who had made it through a rough patch. I pretty much knew that the readers would relate to the woman’s story. So I got busy. Never before had I contacted a famous person’s agent, but I did that. I was quickly connected with the musician’s wife. Maybe I didn’t get paid, but the whole experience from getting to practically meet someone I admire, all the way to the final edit, was amazing.

    Thank you!


  5. Linda, I like the tip about spec querying. I did that with my local newspaper but made the mistake of telling the editor I’d posted the article on a writer’s site. Is it inconceivable to pitch something that has been posted online?

  6. King says:

    Hey Linda,

    Thanks for the awesome post! I enjoyed it.

    Please I’ll like to know; I have a kind of sales page I wrote for a client but that work is on a free blog and also on their Facebook page.

    Are these clips good enough?

    • Yes, that’s a clip! If you think the sites the sales page was on look less-than-reputable, you can just mention you wrote for Client X in your credentials, and if the editor asks to see it, you can send your Word copy.

  7. Razwana says:

    Awesome tips here, Linda. I’m using the last one (of sorts) to build my copywriting portfolio – pitching new/dream clients to write their sales/about page on their site for free.

    We all gotta start somewhere, right?

  8. Kconan says:

    I’m with you on number 4. Just write something, and if it is good, you will get noticed. Those people that notice will tell other people that take notice…

  9. Silvio says:

    Great tips, Linda! But I’m curious: as freelance writers, is it generally a good practice to pick ONE subject and write about that, i.e. Health, Sports, Writing Tips, Spirituality, etc., always? Or can we write about many different topics that interest us?

    • Karen J says:

      Silvio ~ I don’t know that there’s any *one*, *right* answer to that question!
      From what I’ve read at Linda’s partner Carol Tice’s “Make a Living Writing” site, especially when you’re relatively new at it, you can write about whatever you’re interested in, find an editor who’s also interested, and decide what types and topics you enjoy writing and what to take a pass on as you get more experience.

  10. […] No clips? Linda Formichelli has 6 ways to convince an editor to hire you anyway. […]

  11. Alexandra says:

    I love these kinds of articles. They remind me that anything is possible. I’ve been reading up on freelancing for months and I always shift to these “beginner” types. As I finished this article I realized… Wait a second, I have clips!

    I feel like I’m making progress, slowly but surely, and Renegade Writer has definitely helped me on my way.

  12. Lem says:

    Thank you for these great tips. I’m working my way on crafting the best queries. Back then, I only limit myself looking for work on job boards because I didn’t know that I can expand my gig hunts through pitching blog owners who might be needing my service.

  13. Paolo says:

    These tips are great. I find it helpful with the one writing for a non-profit orgaganization. But I also find some of these still want pitches. Shall these pitches be any different than sendig pitches to trade pubs?

  14. Hi,

    I just wanted to let you know that I included your blog on my top six favorite writing blogs list:

    Keep up the good work!

    All the best,

    Phone: 802-355-3408

  15. Iulian says:

    Awesome tips here, Linda. I’m using the last one to build my copywriting portfolio

  16. tobyo says:

    oh excellent! I just sent in a guest post so I can definitely use that one. I also have another, smaller guest post that I can use. Good to know. I’m just over half way through your ebook “write your way out of the rat race” and have many ideas to pitch and several publications to pitch them to. now I just need to come up with query letters. that’s my next hurdle but I’m getting there and really appreciate your help!! (and Carol’s as hers was the first writer website that I found a couple of months ago)

  17. Anita Diggs says:

    I enjoyed this article. So many authors do not understand the importance of a query letter. They often make mistakes and it can cost them the opportunity. The biggest mistake authors make when writing a query letter is that they give the agent too much information about their personal lives. In the bio section, there should only be information that is related to either the writing that you’ve enclosed or to your education that’s related to being a writer. Once that is covered, the query should be ready to be sent out.

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