The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Most editors would agree, freelancing is tough business, whether you are writing to supplement a full time income or striking out on your own. Theoretically, freelance writers should have no problem finding work because of the proliferation of the national magazine market. Every month or fortnight, editors rely on regular freelance writers for everything from news briefs to full-length features to fill the space. But in reality the competition is very stiff and for every accepted copy there are ten that donít make it past a cursory glance. So, how do you, as an unknown writer, work your way into the market and into the pool of freelance writers who are commissioned to write'

Start with professionalism, which means looking at basics. What makes a story interesting (if you are on the political beat, Kashmir and the Abdullahs would be hot topic), how to write simply and directly, how to target your submissions and above all, how to make and develop contacts with commissioning editors' The last step should perhaps be the first because cultivating relationships with editors takes you a long way in getting assignments. But the nose for interesting stories and putting it across in a simple language, supported preferably with photographs, is equally important if you are to remain in the field.

There are no pat solutions to how you go about doing this. Some potential writers who want to hit the road on their own believe that a crash course in journalism will get them there soon. These courses, wherever they may be, donít provide any hands-on experience, not even how to handle a computer. They are pure theory with some assignments thrown in, visits to newspaper offices and printing presses, thatís about all. Practical experience can only come from a stint in a publishing house or a newspaper. The daily grind teaches you whatís in, whatís out, how to re-write a copy to make it interesting and original. And the importance of keeping deadlines without which no magazine or newspaper can appear. One of the things you learn is that taking material that has appeared elsewhere, paraphrasing or recycling it somehow will not sell. You may be able to get away with it for a while, but once the commissioning editor discovers that it has been plagiarized ó sooner or later they all do ó you would have lost the contact for all time and your reputation with it. A minimal legwork is absolutely necessary to sell a story. It isnít just about style; it has a lot to do with substance and the effort you are willing to put into the story.

Some freelance schools have argued that in an age of specialization, some kind of expertise is necessary. To a great extent this is true. The specialization could be on any subject ó not necessarily politics and economics which will always be the hot topics ó that would be of interest to the general reader. So, it could be sports, cookery, the stock exchange, the social whirl of gossip and parties, and the entire gamut of the entertainment industry and so on. But whatever the specialization, there is no substitute for good writing, keeping deadlines and some decent research and a little running around to meet the people who are in the know. But for all this, reading, reading and more reading is the only answer.

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