Two weeks ago, I received a frantic e-mail from a writer who had subscribed to my newsletter and received a free copy of an e-book in which I share 21 query letters that sold to major publications around the world. “In all your queries,” she wrote, “you mention that you’ve been published by all these big-time magazines and newspapers. OF COURSE an editor is going to buy your work, you’ve got the credits to back you up. But what about me? I’ve never even been published. What am I supposed to send instead of bio and clips?”
As it happens, ten years ago, I was that newbie with no credits, no clips, and no contacts to speak of. I lived through and solved all the problems that plague new writers and today, I want to show you how you can, too.
1. You have no money. Most of us, when we’re starting out, want to invest in our education in the form of books and e-courses, perhaps even conferences, but we’re bringing in no money and so it becomes difficult to justify that expense.
The solution: Blog. Find paying blogs and write articles or stories for them that you can write quickly and easily. Once you get that small payment (usually around $50 or so) use it to buy a couple of books to get you going.
2. You have a full-time job or young kids or both. I’m a full-time freelance journalist. I have been a full-time freelance journalist for ten years. Writing is all I ever do. And you know what? I still complain about not having the time to write. Sure, I write articles, but that novel that I haven’t finished in two years? I don’t have the time for it because I have bills to pay and freelancing allows me to do that. The truth is, you’re never going to find the time for the things you love to do or want to do, so you’re going to have to get creative and make it instead.
The solution: Make a date. On Sunday, at 4 p.m., you will do nothing but go to the local café and write. Pick your time, pick your place, tell your family you have a meeting with someone important and just do it.
3. You can’t think of anything to write about. When I first picked writing as a career option, I’d just failed my first year of college as an engineering student. At 19 years old, I had no life experience, no knowledge of the world to contribute, and no burning desire, really, to say anything that the world hadn’t heard before. What could I write about?
The solution: I wrote my first story about failing (and surviving) your first year in college. And I wrote about the things I wanted to learn about, such as finding ways to fund your world travel or how to study effectively.
4. You have no clips or experience to show to prospective clients. I worked my way up from publications that paid $10 a piece to publications that pay $2,000 a piece. It took ten years. Some of my colleagues, however, started with those top publications right away. How?
The solution: Come up with brilliant ideas that only you can write. I broke into The New York Times because I proposed a piece about plastic roads in India that hadn’t been covered before and was unique to me (I live in India). Similarly, I broke into Parade.com with a personal essay about a relationship in the midst of collapse, and I pitched a travel story to Time magazine when I was in Ghana and the American president was visiting.
5. You have no confidence. I’d like to say that this will cease to be a problem as you grow, but that’s not true. We are part of an industry in change, a career that is unpredictable at the best of times, and this does manifest regularly in the form of lost confidence.
The solution: Write anyway.
Mridu Khullar Relph is an award-winning journalist. Get her free e-book “21 Query Letters That Sold” with queries that landed her in The New York Times, Time, Ms., Writer’s Digest, The Writer, and many more publications or follow her on Twitter @mridukhullar.