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If the Door is Closed, Use the Window!
by Lizzie R. Santos
The first time I was told that my story did not pass the publication's standards, the editor did not even look at me. She was too engrossed with the papers on her desk to grant me five seconds of eye contact. To me, she was an all-powerful human being who could make or break my writing career. But to her, I was just another byline; not a person with emotions, aspirations and dreams.
I wanted to attack the witch! I wanted her to tell me why my article was rejected when I felt that it was better than a William Shakespeare masterpiece. (Ah, the idealism of a neophyte writer!) Instead, she sad, "Close the door when you leave."
Since then, many other doors have been closed on me but I still go on freelance writing. Through the years, I have realized that if the door is closed, I can always use the windows to get in.
Here are some of my "windows":
Remember, if you are new into freelance writing, it's not enough to just look for writing opportunities. You'll go farther if you create them!
- Study a magazine's profile. Talk to the editor and look for the kind of articles they don't have - but would suit their readers - and then offer it. You could end up as an instant columnist if you're lucky!
- Be another writer's fan. Choose someone who's been in the business longer. Monitor her works, write to her, compliment her, and criticize her. Empathize with her characters as if you personally know them. Establish a bond and soon, that writer will be your mentor. She can help you get in.
- Send a "gift." If you know of a celebrity who loves cats, send her your story inspired by a cat. Include a short note about yourself and your writings. She'll be touched by the gesture from a stranger. That senator who supports AIDS victims, send him a copy of your article on "The Psychology of HIV Positives." Your name will ring a bell when the need for a writer comes. Do the same for other important people.
- Make use of the season. The campaign period for elections provides various opportunities for freelance writers. Candidates want their biographies published. And what about their campaign leaflets? And don't forget, candidates pay dearly for a catchy campaign slogan. Technology fairs, art fests, sports meets and other such activities also provide writing opportunities. These events need publicity: press releases, special write-ups, even commemorative books or magazines. Big advertising agencies charge dearly. Get in touch with the organizers and offer your services at a cheaper rate. You could find a load of instant assignments.
- Attend writers' events: book launchings, seminars, workshops. Go around and talk to people. Feed their ego. Be as pleasant as you can be. If you do your homework well, chances are, you will strike a friendship with somebody who can give you writing opportunities, maybe not right away but soon!
- Start a trend. Observe what's hot then ride on its popularity. Here's an example: when cell phones became a fad in the Philippines, sending short messages (better known as "texting" in this side of the globe) was the coolest hobby in town. Soon, a book of SMS jokes was published. After a while, a book of inspirational messages followed...and another and another! (Remember the Chicken Soup series phenomena?)
- Offer your service for free. Write for your parish newsletter - gratis et amore - or be a volunteer reporter for your hospital's bulletin. Before you know it, you will harvest the fruits of your kindness. You add to your credentials and advertise your writing skill for free. Your name will be the first to be recommended when the need for a writer arises. Before you know it, paying writing opportunities will just come your way.
- Offer tie-ups. Look for a group that needs writers for their coming projects. Offer a tie-up package. For instance, you can recruit students for a workshop but they will give you the opportunity to handle their press releases. Or you can organize a tie-up for a writing camp for a fastfood to beef up their Kiddie Club membership. Both of you will earn and the burden will be divided, making it easier for everybody.
- Venture into a related field. If you don't succeed in a particular field of writing, look for the nearest alternative medium. If your novels don't sell, why not start with short stories, anecdotes or even personal essays? Better yet, write about how you dealt with your rejections!
- Be curious. When you are given a product brochure or flyer, check the printing details which are often printed inconspicuously at the back. Call them up and inquire if they need freelance writers. If your timing is right, you might just discover another writing opportunity. Do the same for greeting cards and specialty magazines that are given for free at malls and other public places.
- Get the most out of your telephone. Call up writers' groups, libraries, publishing houses and other writing-related establishments. Familiarize yourself with what they are, what they offer, their specialty, etc. See if you fit in. (You can also surf the net.) Once you know your prospect, request for an appointment. Bring samples of your work, unpublished materials and/or concepts that fit into their writing needs. They might be willing to create a project for you if you impress them enough!
- Find a patron, a "godfather" of sorts, who can escort you straight to the editor's room. He could be cousin's friend's uncle's brother or the principal of the school where your best friend's father drove the school bus for 14 years... it doesn't matter. As long as he can wrestle 3 minutes from the editor's busy schedule, he's what you need. It's your move from there on. Be sure that you impress the editor so that he'll give you 5 more minutes to prove your worth!
- Join writing contests. Even if you don't win the grand prize, your work may still catch the attention of an editor, publisher or even a movie producer.
- Hang out where the other writers, editors and publishers are. These include bookstores, magazine shops and libraries. Ask around. Befriend the sales attendants and the librarians. Fish for information so that you can easily spot your prospects. Befriend those "big fish" so that someday, you too can swim in their ocean.
- Be curious. Keep your eyes and ears open. Eavesdrop if you have to, sometimes. Be alert for "something unusual." For example, I was once in a bus, stuck in traffic, when I heard over the radio about a group of doctors who were operating on kids born with a cleft palate. They did not charge any professional fee but they were appealing for donations to cover the cost of medicines. I called up their number (always carry a pen wherever you go!) to inquire about their noble mission. I told them that I am a writer. Before I knew it, I got another writing job! They asked me to write about cleft palates and their group. My curiosity paid off!
- Query, query, query! This is the most common way to get published in most magazines. Write a brief letter introducing yourself, the article you wish to write and justify why that article is worth publishing.
- Advertise yourself. Let people - your friends, distant relatives, acquaintances, even strangers - know that you are a freelance writer. Always bring some business cards and your writing portfolio wherever you go. Widen your network. Statistics show that more people get jobs through referrals than through the classified ads.
Copyright © 2003 Lizzie R. Santos
Lizzie Santos writes features, literary pieces, scripts and other writing projects both in English and Pilipino. She also lectures at creative writing workshops. Her first book, The Laughter of the Leaves and Other Musings, was published by Giraffe Books. She is working on her second book. Contact her at email@example.com.
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