Ask the cubicle expat: Can I haz column?

October 3rd, 2008

Aspiring Columnist asks: I was wondering if you had any advice for securing a regular columnist position like you have with ABCNews.com (online or print). I am looking to derive more of my income from writing, but find pitching individual freelance stories to be very time consuming. I’m curious as to whether you think I need to start that way, or whether I could apply on my existing credentials. [Note: Aspiring Columnist has published a couple of popular career books with a major NY publisher and does have some national writing credits.]

I answer: Editors and website producers hate when people go to them and ask, “Can I have a column?” That gripe is all over Mediabistro, and I’ve heard editors say as much too, both on public panels and in private. (One editor’s cracks about a freelancer who demanded a column on more than one occasion even made it into my new book.) Despite all these warnings, I have tried to ask for a column before. And it just doesn’t work.

Most people I know or have met who write high-profile columns for indie and mainstream media landed the gig because they were tapped for it, either by a satisfied editor for whom they were already writing articles on a particular subject matter, or by an editor who admired their work (articles, books, high-profile blog) from afar. As frustrating as it might be, you have to hone your niche or beat and start writing one-off articles for an editor first — essentially, dazzle them.

There’s a decent chance that the editors you write for now won’t be the editor(s) who offer you a column two, three, or five years from now. But since the idea is to build up a solid portfolio and prove your mastery of a couple of topics, you’re laying the foundation today for a future column anyway. Of course, if you don’t want to wait, you could start your own blog or webzine and name yourself star columnist. Or you could try to get in with a smaller publication or website that’s looking for columnists (and not worry about the fact that the money will probably suck).

In case you’re curious, here are how three recent column-writing gigs of mine have come about:

ABCNews.com — Editor went to the bookstore in search of an author he could tap for a new career column. Picked up a handful of books, including mine. Called and ask me for CV and clips. The rest is history. Incidentally, this is not my best-paying freelance gig.

Nine to Thrive on NWjobs.com — I was a frequent contributor to the Seattle Times (which owns NWjobs), writing articles on women and careers and flexibility. An editor at NWjobs got my name from one of my Seattle Times editors and asked me if I wanted the gig.

How’d you land that great job? on NWjobs.com — Same as above, though this was an existing column that I took over from a previous writer. After about a year, my editor and I decided to kill this column and morph it into the above blog-style column.

Entry Filed under: Ask the Cubicle Expat,This freelance life

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Get Your Brand Name Out T&hellip  |  November 10th, 2008 at 6:22 pm

    [...] don’t find yourself having to beat down quite so many doors. Like all columnists I know, I was tapped to write my MSM column by an editor who saw my work somewhere else and called to offer me a [...]

  • 2. Freelancedom » Blog&hellip  |  July 9th, 2009 at 9:00 am

    [...] wrote a post about that a while ago. The short answer: I was already freelancing for the Seattle Times when they asked me [...]

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Who I am

Hi, my name's Michelle Goodman and I've been freelancing since 1992. I'm author of My So-Called Freelance Life and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide. Read my full bio here.

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