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Regional Newspapers to Jump-Start Your Writing Career
by Hasmita Chander

Your local newspaper offices are a good place to start your writing sales, especially if they are small publications that cover just one state or so. These editors tend to be more open to using new or unpublished writers and may even spare some time to talk to you if you call up or meet them at their offices--like the one who did in my case.

Armed with a short story for children and a few poems, I decided to go to the editorial office of my city’s newspaper, more than thirteen years ago. I was absolutely green in the affairs of the writing business. I didn’t know a thing about guidelines, studying the market, or how to write a cover letter. All I knew was how to weave my ideas into stories and poetry. I was familiar with the weekend supplement that had the children’s section because we subscribed to this newspaper at home.

I found out the name of the editor of the supplement from the receptionist and asked if I could meet him. She connected me to the editor on the phone first and he asked me to come up. I went with butterflies in my stomach. What if he just gave me a haughty look, seeing my silly little pieces of writing? I almost turned around and walked back rather than face a sarcastic, know-it-all editor, but I didn’t--luckily, or I may not be the writer I am today.

The editor was quite the opposite of what I’d imagined. A gentle, quiet kind of person wearing glasses, he listened to me and looked at my work. He told me that the paper didn’t use poetry, but that he would look at my story and let me know if he could use it.

A couple of weeks later, I received a post-card from them that I read with apprehension thinking--knowing--it would be a rejection. It was not. That is one of the most special days of my life--I was accepted as a writer! The story paid little, but nobody with a $1000 sale could have been prouder than I was when I received that first check.

Over the years, I wrote and sold many more stories to the same supplement, even after a new editor took over. I went on to write non-fiction after that and now am a full-time freelance writer, with more than seventy-five pieces of my work in print in various publications in India and abroad.

Smaller publications offer more opportunities to beginner writers while giving them the experience and clips to get more and better-paid work. When the work is published, compare the printed version with the one you sent in. It may have been edited to suit the publication’s requirements--jot down the changes and make sure you don’t make the same mistakes in your next submission.

I should have met that editor again after successfully selling more work to him, to ask about other kinds of writing I could offer, but I didn’t know how to go about these things until many years later. Of course, it doesn’t do to just go and say, ‘Now that you’ve used quite a bit of my work, tell me, is there anything else you may want me to write for your paper?’

Study the paper, look at the kind of articles or news snippets you think you can write, and write out a few samples. Take an appointment and show the editor the samples. If he likes them, offer to do this kind of writing for them, and then ask (now you can) if they have a need any other writing. Often, there are some topics or kinds of writing that the editors wish they could get done by freelancers. If he does have some such topics and you can do them, this could lead to steady assignments. Even if he doesn’t have anything in mind at that point, he may contact you when the need arises.

Articles written for regional newspapers can be offered to others whose areas of coverage don’t overlap. They could also be offered to magazines that cover the subject, maybe with a little rewriting.

If you’re a wannabe writer who doesn’t know where to start, why don’t you take a trip to your local newspaper office?

© Copyright 2002, Hasmita Chander

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