Getting paid to write for the mainstream media
This is a post based on the excellent content Carly Findlay shared as a guest speaker at my recent Great Melbourne Blog-in V3.
Guest speaker: Carly Findlay
Carly Findlay is an award-winning writer, speaker and appearance activist. She challenges people’s thinking about what it’s like to have a visibly different appearance. You might have seen her recently on ABC’s super successful You Can’t Ask That program; read one of her articles in The Guardian, The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, Daily Life, or ABC News; heard her speak on an ABC radio program; seen her perform in Quippings; or heard her speak at a festival or event either in Melbourne or interstate.
I knew Carly from previous blog-ins. In the last 12 months, Carly made the leap from full-time to part-time employment so she could grow her writing and speaking business, and she’s taken that one step further by going out completely on her own. Exciting! I was keen to find out more about the modern landscape of pitching to and writing for mainstream media, and I knew other bloggers and writers would love to hear more about how she made the leap from personal blogger to paid media writer. So I asked Carly to talk about her experience of writing for the media.
Carly started her talk by explaining how sharing a personal story turned into paid writing opportunities for her with a media organisation asking if they could republish one of her blog posts, and paying her for her work.
Carly says that winning some awards helped build her profile. I think this is something we should all consider (yeah yeah yeah says she who hasn’t submitted for an award since coming second to The ABC for best kids online something back in about 2007. Damn them with their mega budget website and my tiny little spend developing a mobile comic. I’m not still bitter. Nope.) Awards are a great way to boost your online profile.
Carly peppered her talk with a few quotes. The one I love best is “Write like someone is watching.” She doesn’t claim to be its original source, but yes! You always need to write for someone. You need to keep your target audience in mind. The clearer your picture of who you’re writing for is, the better your content will engage them. If you’re going to write for the mainstream media, you need to know who their readers are and what will hook them in. You need to be able to walk their walk and talk their talk.
Carly advises patience. It takes time to get to a point where you can regularly write and get paid for your work. Borrowing the words of Clementine Ford, Carly says we should “Use your blog as a writing apprenticeship.” That’s a great perspective. Use your blog to sharpen and refine your voice and dive deep into what you love writing about.
When it comes to my writing style, like Carly, I write much like I talk. A casual voice is fine for blogging. I don’t write web copy for clients like that, but for a blog, I’m far more relaxed. It’s an opportunity to let your personality shine through. I also encourage my clients to write conversationally on their blogs and not be formal.
Always check your work for typos and spelling errors.
If you get a response from an editor, follow up and do what you said you’d do.
Blog regularly. Develop a schedule and stick to it as best as you can. But don’t beat yourself up when life gets in the way.
Interview people for your blog to show editors you have interviewing skills and so it’s not just your voice in your work. It’s just one way you can diversify your writing style.
To niche or not
The question was raised: to niche or not? Carly believes if you want to become an expert, then yes, you must focus on your niche. I’m sure this got a few people in the audience thinking about whether to niche or not.
Promote your work
When it comes to promoting your blog posts via social media, Carly advises researching and using the relevant hashtags. Sometimes just having the right hashtag will get your post noticed by the right editor. She had a blog post republished as a result of using the right hashtag. I use the website www.hashtagify.me for hashtag research. Check it out.
Carly also suggests including a quote from your blog post in your social media post. Share it in Facebook groups (where and when it’s allowed — no one likes a spammer and some groups might ban you for self-promotion).
Practice and improve your writing skills
Practice, practice, practice. If you have the time and means to do so, do a writing course such as through the Australian Writers’ Centre.
Connect with other writers — whether that’s a local in-person writing group through Meet Up, something like The Clever Copywriting School (I highly recommend this community — I’ve been in it for a year and it’s my favouritest place on the internet) events like The Great Melbourne Blog-in, or other festivals and conferences.
Pitching your work to media outlets
You’ll find that lots of editors have profiles on Twitter. Search out the ones relevant to your post. Tag them in your post to catch their attention if you think your story is relevant to them.
You can send a media outlet:
- a full draft of your text
- a pitch of what you want to write
- a link to your post if it’s already published.
In your pitch, say something like:
I wrote this about <this person/interesting thing>. I think it suits your publication because <of these reasons>.
If your pitch is timely, interesting, and relevant, you’ll have a much better chance of getting it published. You’ll most likely need to fit in with their editorial calendars.
You can expect to be paid a $300-$500 flat rate for a 600–800 word article. Carly warns that they can be slow to pay. I’ve heard this from other freelance writers, too.
Getting published in mainstream media can lead to other opportunities such as paid consultancy work and guest speaking at conferences and events. It can be a platform for building your profile and taking it in whichever direction you choose.