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Writing for Local Publications
by Shanna Bartlett Groves

If you haven't yet landed a lucrative freelancing opportunity with a national magazine or newspaper, don't hang up your hat just yet. Some of the most rewarding and consistent opportunities for freelance writers are with local publications.

Whether you live in a small town or a large metropolitan area, check out the freelancing prospects in your community. I began writing in a small town (population: less than 10,000) where two competing newspapers accepted freelance material. Today, I live in a city of more than 1 million people and have steady writing assignments with a daily metropolitan newspaper, area magazines, and various businesses that hire freelance copywriters and editors.

I know from experience that becoming a published and well-known local writer is not extraordinarily difficult, and the opportunities are rewarding. Here are a few things you should do to break into the local market as a freelance writer.

1) Find out the names and contact information for every newspaper and magazine, as well as every business publication or Web site, that is produced within 50 miles of your home. See if the Writers Guide (www.writersguide.com) has a listing of local and regional publications. By looking at this book, I discovered local magazines that I'd never heard of before.

Contact your chamber of commerce to see if a local media guide is available. My community's guide has sections for not only newspapers and magazines, but newsletters and radio or television stations that use stringers.

Check each publication's Web site for contact names and writing guidelines, or call the editorial department for more information. Most importantly, read what types of articles the publication prints and only submit ideas that fit with the publication.

2) With your contact list complete, come up with a query that includes one or two unique article ideas. Be sure to include a local tie-in with each idea.

Begin the query with a short explanation that includes a catchy headline and three to four compelling sentences explaining the article idea. Once you get the assignment, you could later use this information as the article's introduction.

Then include a sentence that explains the type of local businesses or individuals you would interview for the assignment. This doesn't have to be a lengthy or detailed list, simply something that tells the editor you have researched the idea and are confident that local sources can be included in the article. If you are willing to take photos for the article, include this information, as well as any photo ideas, at the end of the query.

Writer Kymberli W. Brady of San Jose, Calif., suggests submitting only objective article ideas. "Don't send in opinion pieces that are one sided. That's what letters to the editor are for," Brady says. "Try instead to write as if you were already working for them in a professional, non-judgmental manner. Find timely subject matter and, if possible, find a new spin on it that makes your piece stand out."

3) Plan how you will introduce yourself to each publication. Research which newspapers and magazines require mail or e-mail queries and which editors welcome phone introductions.

Michelle Smith of Chico, Calif., who freelances for a local parenting publication, prefers the mail method when contacting a prospective editor. "If you e-mail or snail mail and don't get a response, then go ahead and phone the publication's editor," Smith says. "Some local pubs are run with a really, really small staff, and it's hard for them to keep on top of the correspondence. They are probably not ignoring you or not interested in you -- they just haven't gotten to your query yet."

Be mindful of an editor's production schedule, and do not call on busy days. This is typically the day before and the day of publication, says freelance writer Heidi Peters. Instead, contact editors the day after publication, as it is usually their most relaxed day.

Some publications may welcome a face-to-face meeting with you by appointment. This would allow you to personally introduce yourself to an editor and tell about your writing background, says writer Jill FitzSimmons of Missoula, Mont. "Putting a face to the work will go a long way for you. So be bold, not bashful."

4) Above all else, stay on top of current business and social trends in your area, which will provide you with multiple article ideas and strengthen your understanding of the community. This could be done by meeting former employers, colleagues, or neighbors for lunch and asking questions about their work and community involvement.

Find activities and groups that complement your writing abilities and interests. Participate in workshops or clubs that interest you, such as lawn and gardening workshops if you want to write about the outdoors or writing clubs; contact a local library or college about writing groups you can participate in or how you can start your own.

5) Once you've landed that big assignment, always remain professional. Keep these things in mind when freelancing:

* Avoid writing for competing publications. Doing so could not only harm the valuable relationship you have with an editor, but could be against each publication's policy.

* Be mindful of your actions while "on the job." Keep from doing any activities that could jeopardize your credibility as a writer, such as promising favors to interview subjects or promoting one local business over another in an article.

* Maintain a strong work ethic. Whether the publication pays you big bucks or just a few dollars, always meet deadlines and keep the writing quality high.

After all, that wonderful article you wrote for a local newspaper or magazine could catch the eye of a national publication that could provide you with the writing opportunity you've always wanted.

© Copyright 2003, Shanna Bartlett Groves

Shanna Bartlett Groves freelances for The Kansas City Star, Kansas City Homes and Gardens, The Information Management Journal, and other local publications. She is the Kansas City regional representative for the National Association of Women Writers and may be contacted at sgrovesuss@msn.com.

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