GAINING WRITING EXPERIENCE
Some Catch-22, huh? In the writing business, you can not get published until you have some experience. If you can not get published until you have experience, how do you get experience? How do you get publishing clips to show all those publishers who want to see "previously published clips"? It's almost as if Lily Tomlin's telephone operator character came up with this: "Is this the party to what I'm speaking? Are you the unpublished writer who has published clips I can look at? (Snort, snort!)"
What's an unpublished writer to do? Get published, of course! I'm not being flippant; I'm serious. Think about your life. There are a number of things you can write about right now (essays and travel articles about that great place you stumbled upon last summer). There is a lot more you can write about if you do a little research (an article concerning something that has been on your mind-your mother's illness? The stringent standards of learning being enforced upon elementary school students?). How about doing an article about the writer's conference you attended?
Now you have your ideas, but where do you get them published? You may start with your local newspaper. If they're like most newspapers, they're in need of fillers from time to time. They may even be in need of freelance reporters during the summer and the holiday seasons. Talk with your newspaper's editor. Be frank. Tell him / her that you need some publishing experience in order build your portfolio. In addition to putting some published clips in your "clip file," you'll also gain valuable experience and hone your craft. Then when you write that novel starring the investigative reporter, you'll know the lingo … and the editor can say, "I knew that author when …"
Op-ed pieces are another way to go; And if you query the right market, you could make some good money while acquiring these published clips. We all have opinions. If you can write about a hot subject and express your opinion on it succinctly and objectively, you're in the position to write an op-ed piece. Let's go back to the standards of learning issue. While you realize little Johnny needs to get a good education, you also realize the importance of playtime and "down time." You do not want Johnny to be a prime candidate for a stress-induced heart attack at age 32. Many other parents feel this way. Some do not. Some would say, "Standards of learning?" Talk with other parents to get conflicting views and write the article.
Although some shudder at the very words "non-paying market," if you're an unpublished writer seeking clips, it's a good alternative. After you get those clips, it's not so great to work for free; But at this point, you need the exposure and experience, and they need the articles. I think it's a fair trade as long as you work for a web site, e-zine, print magazine, newsletter, or even charitable organization that you would be proud to have worked for. It will not do you any good to have clips with grammatical errors (either yours or their) or content that is not credible.
Entering contests is another way to get clips, although this is more of a writing sample. Still, if you win or even place in the contest, this will lend some weight to your writing. This is especially true if you're a genre writer. Romance Writers of America even has a contest called the Golden Heart Contest wherein the winner has the "best unpublished manuscript." Malice Domestic is a contest for mystery writers. While these "biggie" contests are great, small contests are a boon to the unpublished writer as well. One caveat: There are a lot of bogus contests out there. Before you pay any sort of fee, check out the contest.
So where do I find all these places to get published or get noticed or gain some recognition as a writer? Well, you can find some by clicking on the links below:
This link gives you information about newspapers in all fifty states and provides links to many of the news' web sites.
Adbusters (paying market)
Home & Family (paying market)
Woman Abroad (offers both paying and non-paying opportunities)
The Sacramento Bee
Additional Op-Ed Markets include:
Chicago Reader, Daily News of Los Angeles, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Francisco Chronicle Forum, The Star Ledger, Star Tribune, The Chronicle of Higher Education and Washington Free Press.
There are 285 listings for non-paying markets at http://www.writerswrite.net/pubsrch3.cfm .