Freelance Writing for Newspapers

No matter how many times I see my writing published, it never stops being the best adrenaline rush ever.
Yesterday one of my articles appeared in a national newspaper. No big deal, really: I mean, I am a freelance journalist, so you’d think I’d be used to seeing my name in print by now. Not so. Rather than waiting for a break in my workload and taking a leisurely stroll to the newsagents to collect said paper, I hot-footed in down there as soon as I was dressed, like a kid at Christmas.
I had located the page with my by-line before I even reached the checkout, and I really had to exercise enormous self-control not to thrust the newspaper under the check-out assistant’s nose and say, “Look! That’s me! That’s my name! In the paper!” I managed to restrain myself, and just did that to my fiancé instead, but the fact remains: for a freelance writer, there’s no rush greater than publication.
So how do you do it?
Well, in my case, I do it mostly through contacts. I started out as a staff reporter on the local paper, and I’ve kept up with the people I met throughout my journalism career, whether they be fellow reporters, editors, or the woman who used to empty the rubbish bins at the end of the night. In this business you have to do that. You have to keep in touch with people in the industry, you have to make sure your name remains fresh in their minds, you have to keep on plugging away at keeping that contact book up to date, adding to it, and maintaining friendships. This is a business that functions, to an extent, on “who you know” rather than “what you know”, and it doesn’t hurt to keep that in mind.
I also do it by being persistent. You need a thick skin to be a freelance writer. You spend a lot of time being rejected, being snubbed, and even being ignored. (Actually, I prefer being ignored: it stings less!) You have to keep at it. Remember that for every query you send to an editor, they probably received one hundred others. You’re up against a lot of competition, but sometimes sheer persistence pays off. Remember, it was the tortoise that won the race: keep chipping away at it, keep on sending in those queries, know that it can only get easier.
Thirdly, I do it by being in the right place at the right time, and what I mean by that is that anytime an editor contacts me with a job, I jump at it, even it means staying up all night and missing the next episode of “Lost”. A little-known fact for you: in newspaper journalism, excellent writing isn’t the most important quality to have. That’s what sub-editors are there for. What many editors are looking for are writers who will respond instantly, file copy on time, get the facts right, and get the story. Being always-on call may not be the most relaxing way to live, but it’s one way to make sure that the editor who just commissioned you for one story will come back for more.