How To Sell Your Location
Four journalists share advice for selling your stories from overseas to major publications.
As foreign journalists, we can sometimes see our locations as a liability. However, being outside of New York, London or Paris is increasingly important as media outlets try to understand the globalized world (without breaking the bank). Four journalists share how they use their international locations as an advantage in their freelance careers.
Job title: Independent journalist, copywriter, and photographer
Location: The Hague, the Netherlands
How to Pitch: I left my permanent job as a science editor at a magazine in the Netherlands and moved to Tunisia to work as a freelance correspondent in 2014. I chose this country because I had lived in other Arab countries before, learned Arabic in university and was interested to see how Tunisians were doing a few years after the revolution. It was also one of the safest countries in the region at that moment and I was taking my boyfriend and small daughter with me.
Another reason was the fact that there weren’t any other Dutch-speaking journalists based there. In the end, I often wrote in English, as the Dutch market is small — Tunisia doesn’t have strong ties with the Netherlands and media don’t want to publish stories about the country that often.
To my surprise, it appeared quite easy to write for publications like the BBC, Al Jazeera English, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Atlantic. All you need is a good idea and to present it in an attractive way.
That became increasingly easier, especially because there were so many interesting stories everywhere. I wrote about many different topics, such as refugees, migrants, Islamic State fighters, poverty and pollution, alternating with lighter subjects, like small businesses, food and artists (I never felt the urge to specialize). I think became easier to get an acceptance from an editor as well after I could show a few pieces I had written for well-known publications. In Tunisia, there are also not that many journalists who write in English — most write in French — compared to other, I believe more popular places in the region, like Turkey or Lebanon. After a while, news outlets, next to NGOs, started to approach me for assignments too.
Job title: Writer
Location: The Netherlands
How to Pitch: There are several ways to pitch your location. One is for travel magazines/websites, which is basically travel writing and pretty straightforward (what’s to see, where to go, where to eat, what hotels to stay in, what interesting trips you took etc).
Another way is to look at local news and sell these to American magazines/newspapers. It’s easier for you to do the reporting because you’re already on the ground, know the customs, and know what is knew and important, while American magazines often don’t so they need freelancers from abroad.
And last but not least, for example in the parenting niche, posts like “how to parent like a X (enter culture/nationality du jour here)” are very popular these days. So we can always pitch those to national parenting websites. For example, I sold a piece to Babble about postpartum support in the Netherlands.
Also, there are special sites for expats (such as Global Living Magazine/International Magazine/Matador Network and others). We can definitely take advantage of those!
Location: Roaming around Central and South America
Job Title: Freelance writer
How to Pitch: I use my location as an asset and mention it immediately. If I’m pitching an article about things like How to Co-Work at a Wine Shop in Buenos Aires (for gowaddle.com) or covering a sister march in South America (for Bust).
I talk about how I won’t just be doing my research online but will be hands-on and on the ground in the city/country I am covering. Sometimes that means being able to include photos that no one else will have and sometimes it means better quality interviews.
It always translates to a more authentic story as I try to include a little anecdote or insight that someone who is working off internet research won’t be able to put into the story.
It’s that bit of authenticity that has really sold several editors on my stories and I shamelessly mention it in my pitches. That anecdote makes my story a more interesting read for anyone who comes across the story and lends both me and the publication more authority. Most publications can’t afford to send writers to the places where the stories are, but if I’m already there, that helps make me the best candidate to cover the topic. They are getting a bargain by only having to cover my normal article rate. Framed correctly and with the benefits to the publication explained, my not-in-office location becomes an asset instead of a liability.
Rebecca L. Weber
Job title: Journalist and writing coach
Location: Cape Town, South Africa
How to Pitch: When I moved from Washington, DC, to Cape Town, South Africa, I worried that my editors would think that all the time zones would mean that I was inaccessible, or that I would be too out of touch with what was happening in the US.
Now I put my location on my website and all my social media. I regularly get requests from new clients who need somebody who understands both cultures.
When pitching, I look for publications that I think I’ll be able to write for multiple times. Mainstream publications in the US won’t run more than one story based in South Africa at a time (except for a special issue or a monumental event, like the death of Mandela), so it’s almost always a matter of being able to find stories that are a good fit for the kind of subjects they normally cover. I cover the environment, so I look for markets take freelance stories and that are interested in cool sustainability stories from anywhere in the world.
Paying attention to how editors think and what they need is essential for any successful freelancer.
For example, I didn’t think of the arts and culture type stories I like to do as “travel” because they’re in the city where I live. But travel editors in the US think that they fit into the travel vertical because Cape Town is far away from their readers.
The big advantage of being far away from New York is that there are so many stories here that they can’t find online. I talk to locals and read stories in print magazines and newspapers. Explore how what’s going on locally connects with national and global trends, and connect the dots for readers. This usually will take more unpacking and explaining for readers far away who aren’t familiar with your references — and who may not even be able to find you on a map of the world.