Do you have a handful of dream publications on your freelance writing wish-list? Although I was already published in a few smaller outlets at the time, I desperately wanted to see my work in print at the now defunct Jane Magazine.
I know it’s not the pinnacle of magazine publishing, but at the time I just clicked with their content and became obsessed with the idea of Jane in my portfolio.
My first approach to getting publishing in any outlet is religiously reading their magazine or content, and carefully pitched a few ideas got some traction. I got responses from Jane’s editors, but ultimately they passed on idea after idea.
A few months after identifying my mission to get published in Jane, I was sitting in a Pokemon.com meeting where I was freelancing as a writer for an animated educational series. One of the Pokemon.com editors mentioned she wrote regularly for Jane Magazine, and I was jealous. Why couldn’t I do that?
Although I’m a little overly-sensitive (I’m a writer after all! As a teenager, I wrote a lot of purple, patchy prose about my feelings), I’m also stubborn and determined. I decided to take this as a challenge to try pitching Jane with fresh ideas. The piece I was trying to pitch, “The History of Pregnancy Tests” earned some back and forth with the editors, but they eventually passed. I later got the piece published in The Frisky.
Ultimately, nothing really panned out with my new push to get into Jane Magazine, and soon afterwards the print magazine folded. By then, it’s digital counterpart, xoJane, had sprung up and I figured I would revisit the idea again down the road. In the meantime, I decided to focus on finding new outlets for my work and slowly built up my portfolio.
And yet, it turns out that I did get published in xoJane and didn’t even know it! Here’s the path to that success.
Leveraged Personal Connections
After a long stint in marketing, one of my friends in New York landed a position as the editor of The Frisky, a property owned by Turner. This ultimately lead to her own work being featured on CNN and other Turner owned properties. Once her work appeared on the front page of CNN for the 10th time, she said it had lost its novelty and excitement. I thought, “Can you just shut-up? Must be nice!”
My friend eventually asked if I was interested in contributing any content to The Frisky myself. I was flattered, and felt like I had won the jackpot. I still had to officially pitch her, and by now I was getting published in a few local and national outlets, but I had never been specifically asked to write for any publication before. I also hoped it would somehow get featured on CNN as well.
Wrote a Totally Honest, “What Do I Have to Lose” Piece
My friend suggested pitching some parenting related ideas, and I settled on a brutally honest and highly personal essay about suffering through postpartum depression after the birth of my first child. I was a little nervous about being so raw and open with complete strangers, but ultimately felt it was a solid piece.
After all, I don’t really know how to write about something as highly personal as parenting without talking about the highly personal highs and lows. But I also knew the topic was likely to get some attention, possibly get shared in other outlets like CNN, and maybe help someone else deal with their own post-birth struggles.
Said Yes to Stipulations in the Contract (that Some Writers Bristle At)
My friend turned editor and I agreed on payment terms, and I was sent over the contract details. I noticed that The Frisky reserved the right to publish the content to other partner sites, and other publications they collaborated with. I knew that meant CNN, but I somehow missed this could also mean other outlets.
Some writers bristle at the idea of having their work reproduced at other outlets without further payment. I totally understand this, and definitely wouldn’t recommend saying “Yes” in every situation. However, I felt The Frisky would yield additional work (it did), and I could build a roster of impressive personal essay and parenting clips to break into new markets.
Turns out, I was right. The subsequent work I did for The Frisky helped open doors to other opportunities like getting published in Pregnancy & Newborn Magazine.
Kept My Fingers Crossed
My article, “My Husband’s a Better Parent than Me” ran in the Frisky and got a handful of decent comments. But nothing else really happened with it. I decided not to dwell on whether it would get picked-up by other outlets or not. Instead, I focused on publishing additional work and building my clips and income. And keeping my fingers crossed something else would happen with this piece.
Rolling with Big Surprises
A few years later, I was rebuilding my freelance writer portfolio, and wanted to grab my Frisky clip. For some reason I didn’t have it handy, so Googled my name along with the title of the article. I was stunned to discover it had been picked-up and republished in xoJane!
Why didn’t I know it had been published? Who knows. As a professional courtesy, I should have been alerted, but this isn’t uncommon as a freelance writer. Editors change jobs, communication gets lost, and content is republished quickly in the digital world. But most importantly, I had already signed a contract that allowed for the re-publication. Unfortunately, your work can be re-published without your even knowing.
What about my friend who worked at The Frisky? She had moved onto another publication by the time it ran at xoJane, and was no longer at The Frisky. I assume xoJane got in touch with a different editor at The Frisky and it fell through the cracks. I understand why this situation would anger some writers, but my entire goal was getting featured beyond The Frisky and it worked. I was also thrilled to finally have my name in print at xoJane, whether I knew about it or not.
Responded to Comments
I was pleasantly surprised to see how well received my article as at xoJane was. I seemed to have truly connected with my intended audience here, and was deeply honored by some of the insights and vulnerability shared.
I responded to the comments, and gave an update to my life now as a mother of 2 to any newcomers. After all, the article had run at least a year before I was even aware of it.
Learn from my mistake! This is why it’s important to set up Google alerts for your name so you’re always in the know.
Used the Clip as a Credibility Builder
I immediately turned the xoJane piece into a PDF to save in my Dropbox folder for safe keeping, and also added the link to my portfolio. It’s important to always keep PDF copies of your work. Things change, links go dead, and publications fold. Some editors are also over-worked, or can’t access deep archives to pull up your story for you.
Ultimately, YOU are responsible for minding the details and organization of your freelance writing career.
Next, I integrated the clip into my cold emails and query letters to new publications as a credibility builder. Although I can’t say 100% for sure that the work opened new doors, I suddenly got 100% response rates from editors I had never been able to attract before. Publication in a big market signals that you’re a professional and have already been vetted by other editors.
Ways to Copy My Success
There’s not a iron clad blueprint or concrete system to breaking into big markets. However, there are a few ways you can approach publishing your content in multiple outlets and still honor what you want to achieve professionally
1) Look for publications that share content with even bigger publications. This gives you the opportunity to use the bigger clips as a boost to your career. And if you get published in a larger publication, you can use it as a springboard to contact those editors and reference it in your query letter.
2) Pitch your existing articles yourself to smaller publications and amass more clips. You’ll earn a smaller rate for the right to re-publish your work, and can give your portfolio a boost of additional outlets. I cannot think of a single exception where you need to say that you were published in 5 outlets that all ran the same story.
As you collect more clips, it will be easier to show credibility in your query letters and attract bigger publications. This system usually doesn’t work in reverse. For example, it’s unlikely a huge outlet will want to re-publish and pay you for an article that already ran in a smaller publication.
For some writers, this method of piggy backing onto an outlet known for its exposure and reach to multiple publications isn’t a good fit. Maybe you write high-end technical articles and earn a healthy paycheck? In this case, you should re-pitch your articles yourself and earn more. For others, it’s a fantastic way to score a big outlet for your portfolio. Ultimately that choice is yours, but remember to own it and run with it to give your career the boost you need.
What about you? Have you used a similar method to get published in big outlets?