No Clips? Here Are 6 Ways to Convince an Editor to Hire You Anyway
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:
- I have 101 posts on query letters here on the Renegade Writer blog. Read them!
- Join my mailing list to get a free copy of 10 Query Letters That Rocked (plus more goodies).
- Got three bucks to spare? Buy a copy of The Renegade Writer’s Query Letters That Rock, which has two dozen successful queries — for magazines like Smithsonian and American Baby — plus comments from their authors and their assigning editors.
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.
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!