What to Do if You Don't Have Clips
by Moira Allen

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Few things evoke as much dread in beginning writers as the request, "Query with clips." No clips doesn't necessarily mean "no assignment," however. You may have something even better: Credentials.

In many cases, editors value "real" experience over "writing" experience. If you want to write for a hiking magazine, for example, your backpacking expertise will interest an editor far more than your ability to put commas in all the right places. Indeed, some editors would rather receive a poorly written article with good content than a brilliantly written piece by a writer who doesn't understand the subject area.

Here are some things editors look for that can be more important than "clips:"

  1. Education. Do you have a degree, or some other form of educational qualifications, in the field you wish to write about? If you wanted to write for a parenting magazine, for example, a degree in child development might be enough to convince an editor to take a chance on you. Educational credits needn't always be formal degrees, but should be sufficient to establish you as an "expert."

  2. Work experience. One of my writing students planned to write an article on gardening from the perspective of avoiding safety hazards (and possible liabilities). His edge: He was a lawyer, and knew exactly what advice to offer do-it-yourself landscapers to help them avoid lawsuits.

  3. Personal expertise. Your hobbies may also give you the edge you need to impress an editor. Another student sold her first article -- a lovely piece on forget-me-nots -- based entirely on her own gardening experience. That piece also gained her a second assignment from the editor.

  4. Personal experience. Don't overlook "what you did on your summer vacation" as a source of article ideas. Experiences from your everyday life can provide the foundation for an assignment-winning query. Sometimes, simply having "been there, done that" is enough to make you an "expert." (Just make sure that your "experience" is sufficient to set you apart from the crowd; offering a parenting article simply on the basis of "being a parent" isn't likely to impress many editors.)

  5. Access to experts. Even if you're not an expert yourself, you may be able to sell an article based on your ability to contact an expert for an interview. Be sure to list the expert's credentials -- and be sure you really can get the interview if you get the assignment!

Whatever your credentials, be sure to present them in a well-crafted query letter that clearly describes the article you want to write -- and gives the editor convincing reasons to buy it. Your letter should indicate a familiarity with the publication and its needs, and should also demonstrate that you have a grasp of grammar, style, and proofreading. Your credentials will then have a better chance of convincing the editor that you can, indeed, "Write what you know."

Copyright © 2001 Moira Allen

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Moira Allen is the editor of Writing-World.com, and has written nearly 400 articles, serving as a columnist and regular contributor for such publications as The Writer, Entrepreneur, Writer's Digest, and Byline. An award-winning writer, Allen is the author of eight books, including Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals, and Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests. In addition to Writing-World.com, Allen hosts VictorianVoices.net, a growing archive of articles from Victorian periodicals, and The Pet Loss Support Page, a resource for grieving pet owners. She lives in Maryland with her husband and the obligatory writer's cat. She can be contacted at editors "at" writing-world.com.

 

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