Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Breaking In

Question of the week: I have some steady work from my former employer and other smaller titles, but I'd like to build relationships with some Conde Nast, Time Inc, etc. titles. What's the best way to begin building these relationships? How do I best make those introductions and let them know I'm available and would like to serve them? Do I need to spend much of my time working on solid queries and sending those out? Or do such editors even regard unsolicited queries? Your thoughts would be appreciated!

I get similar questions a lot, and the first thing I always say is to search the archives of the blog...I offered a lot of advice on breaking in last year when I answered questions daily.

But, because I don't mind repeating myself (just ask my husband!), I'll say this again: there really isn't a secret formula to breaking into the national markets. It sounds like you already have some clips, which should put you on your way, and now, I'd spend some serious time crafting very detailed, well-researched pitches. Those are the only way to break in. Yes, editors read unsolicited pitches all the time, but if you pitch them crap - poorly researched or poorly written - ideas, they'll likely ignore any follow ups or future pitches. I don't mean to imply that you get one shot and you're out because that's certainly not the case, but you know that phrase, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression?" Yeah, well, keep that in mind as you pitch.

I realize that this might make the process sound daunting and fray your already fraying nerves. And I don't mean to at all. But what I'm trying to impart is that good and targeted queries are the only and the best way to break in (barring having worked a magazine previously and/or having really strong connections), so it would be wise to take your time with them. Dig around for new studies or new trends and pack your queries with information that might make an editor take five extra seconds from her already harried day and think, "Oh, wow, this is a writer and an idea that I should give some consideration too."

If she writes you back and says, "Good idea but not for us," take that as now open lines of communication. Keep pitching her. Keep following up with her. The ONLY way that you're going to nudge your way in the door is with persistence. I think I've said this on the blog before, but I once had to follow up to a pitch three times before I heard anything from the editor, and when I finally did, I landed my first feature at SELF.

As far as letters of introduction to the big nationals? Well, unless you have competitive and/or national clips - i.e. unless you write for their competitors - I think this is a waste of time. Too many people are willing to do the upfront work and craft good query letters, and if you were an editor, who would you rather assign to - someone who took the time to put together a query that demonstrated their skills or someone who sent off a generic introduction letter. (I don't mean to say that intro letters never work. They do, and I use them these days, but I do think that you have to be established in the industry for them to garner any attention or weight.)

I
've also said this before (search the archives), but FOBs are a fabulous place to break in. Editors are more willing to take a chance on a new writer when the assignment is only 250 words rather than 2000.

So, that's my breaking in advice. Anyone out there have other tips? Or disagree with me? (Hey, you can!)

2 comments:

rhys said...

I have no clips. Zero. (A couple of pieces have been accepted at a small niche publication, but haven't been published yet.) But I took all the info I learned on your site (especially the post where you asked editor to discuss what they look for, and their pet peeves) and went ahead and pitched a big national pub. I found the right editor to pitch (thanks to your guidance), and figured out her email address (again, thanks to a post of yours where you gave email formulas for different publishers). I wrote a very detailed pitch, as you advised, and I offered to write it on spec since I have no clips...and guess what? The editor was interested! She asked me to send it to her.

So, first of all, THANKS, ALLISON!!! Second of all, I really think that if you have a good idea and the expertise to write about it, that's the main thing.

I sent off the finished piece not long ago...so we'll see. I like how it came out, so even if this editor doesn't take it in the end, I feel pretty confident another pub will.

Anonymous said...

Allison, I read your travel insurance piece in COOKING LIGHT's FOB. 1.Could you post the query you sent for it? 2.When you have experts such as Jeff Greenberg and Pauline Frommer of the Frommer travel books family, do you ever quote from their books or do you always call or email them for a fresh quote? Thanks