To all the laid-off newspaper or magazine writers looking for work – if you’re thinking of freelancing, consider business publications.
While it’s not the perfect time to be hustling for work as an independent writer – more supply, less demand – your status as a former staffer gives you some leverage. I say this not only as a long-time freelancer who’s made writing for trade publications a specialty but also as a former daily newspaper reporter and a one-time trade magazine editor.
When it comes to writing for the trades, ex-staff writers have advantages over freelancers who’ve never worked in-house at a publication before. Here’s why:
Editors can relate to you. Because you’ve been a staffer, you’re perceived as part of the fold. Editors will take it for granted that you know how to research, do interviews and write news or feature stories, but also do things like write story budget lines, suggest heads and decks and hustle after artwork – making them more willing to assign stories to you than to a freelancer without a similar background. This can be a double-edged sword. Since they expect you can do all of those things, you’d better be able to deliver.
You’re responsible. Whether you worked somewhere one year or 10, getting yourself into a newsroom or your home office day after day shows a potential trade magazine client that you have enough self discipline to deliver what you say you can. Make sure you spell this out in a resume or letter of introduction.
You’ve worked a beat. You know how to mine sources and do other research to generate story ideas, something that can come in handy if you to want write for a particular business magazine on a regular basis. Again, be sure to hit on this point in a letter of introduction or query.
You understand deadlines. That is to say, you know that if a story’s due by the end of Monday that’s when you’ll turn it in, if not before. And if you can turn assignments in early, do it – editors love that and will remember you the next time they’ve got extra work to hand out.
You have connections. If you’re planning to continue writing about subjects you covered as a staffer, you have experience and an established network of sources to draw from. That translates into a shorter learning curve for any business magazine editor who’s considering assigning you stories.
Writing for the trades might not be as high profile as writing for national women’s magazines or glossy shelter publications. I have freelance friends who write for both of those, and based on the stories they tell, the high per-word rate doesn’t make up for the equally high pain-in-the-neck factor. Trades may not have the same cache – though some definitely do – but they offer steady, interesting work at competitive rates, and ex-staffers would be smart to use their experience to capitalize on that.
Bonus tip: If you are interested in writing for business publications, check out Magazine Health Watch. The Website is a regularly updated, interactive database of advertising pages and revenue for consumer and business magazines. It’s run by Inquiry Management Systems, a publishing service company. Here’s why I like it: freelancers can examine the listings to find the names of trade titles in specific business categories they might be interested in writing for. It can also be used to track how healthy an individual publication is based on the ad pages run or revenue collected in the most recent quarter – good information to know in these financially precarious times.
Michelle V. Rafter is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore. She has spent more than 20 years covering business and technology for magazines, newspapers, wire services and Websites. She also writes the WordCount blog on freelancing in the digital age.