In looking at today's date, I realized that today is exactly 23 years since I published my very first freelance article... in the New York Times.
It's a good opportunity to look back and draw some lessons from that experience.
* People often think you need "connections" to get published in prestigious places. I was a complete unknown and simply wrote a two-paragraph query letter offering to write a certain article. They asked me to go ahead on speculation, meaning that they wanted to see the piece and then decide if they liked it.
* It helped that I was writing to the Education Editor of the Times offering to write a piece for their upcoming first issue of a supplement on education. How did I know about this new supplement? I saw an ad in the Times for it, in which they were soliciting advertisers. You have greater than average chances for success with new publications.
* This was a personal experience piece - a great way to break into major newspapers and magazines, even top ones, especially if you have an unusual experience to share.
* In the absence of any previous publications to cite, show that you have a way with words. The lead sentence of my query letter, written in late November 1980, was something like: "In January I will be retiring from college teaching at the age of 28, and I would like to write an article for you comparing what it was like to be a professor with the way I had viewed professors when I was a student." This is a long sentence, but I'm fairly sure that my use of the word "retiring" rather than "quitting" caught the editor's eye.
Twenty-three years ago today, I was bursting with excitement to see my name in black and white. My father wrote me, "Your mother has to sew all new buttons on my shirt" (i.e., he was so proud).
One thing that has not changed about the publishing business is that it is still possible today to do what I did then. You simply have to come up with a good idea, put some sort of twist on it and send it to the right person at the right time.
Author, Freelance Writing for Magazines & Newspapers (HarperCollins) and 10 other books
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