Dear WordCount is a weekly advice column answering your questions about writing, blogging and running a freelance business. Got a question? Ask me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear WordCount: I work in public relations and marketing, and have had articles I’ve ghost written for clients accepted by trade magazines. Now I’d like to break into writing for trade magazines for pay as a freelancer. What should I do? — J.
Good for you for wanting to expand your writing business to include freelancing for trade or business-to-business magazines. As a one-time trade magazine editor and long-time B2B magazine contributing writer, I can attest to how fulfilling – and lucrative – working for business-to-business publications can be.
But getting a foot in the door can be tough, especially if you’re not coming from a business reporting or journalism background. But it can be done.
Here’s how to break into writing for the trades:
1. Learn the industry.
If you want to write for the trades, you have to know the industry, specialty or subject you want to cover as well as the staff writers, the editor and the people reading the publication. That’s not as hard as it used to be. You can find a wealth of information on any given profession or industry by studying websites, blogs, magazines, trade associations, industry market research and whitepapers. The vast majority of it is online and free, though you may have to register to get access to some sites. One caveat: if you’re still working in PR in certain industries, you shouldn’t pitch the same publications as a writer that you work with as a publicist. Nor should you pitch stories about companies that you do PR work for. In journalism circles, both are considered major ethical lapses.
2. Read the magazine.
Once you identify publications or websites you want to write for, scour back issues or archives to familiarize yourself with how they cover their industry, what sections they run, etc. Look for a media kit: it’s a good way to find out how a publication positions itself, how often it’s published and how many readers it has. Some trade magazines post editorial calendars online, which you can use to come up with pitches.
3. Send a letter of introduction.
Send an email letter of introduction to the publication’s editor or section editor. Focus on whatever writing you’ve done, but don’t disguise the fact that you have a non-journalism writing background. If you’ve written advertorials or whitepapers before mention it: many b2b publications also produce those kinds of materials, and who knows, maybe the ones you approach have that type of work available. Just know that some publishers won’t hire the same writers to do both their editorial work and their advertorial work, as the the latter is often considered marketing. Customize each letter of introduction to the publication: editors like that because it means you went to the trouble of reading the publication and you aren’t just doing a mass mailing.
4. Send clips that are the closest to the subject.
With your LOI, include links to several clips that showcase your work. Pick whatever work is closest to the kind of stories you want to write – or if you have them, clips of ghostwritten stories you’ve done about that specific industry.
5. Offer to write on a trial basis.
I don’t normally recommend that freelancers write on spec, working on an assignment without the guarantee of getting paid. But if you’re starting out, it might be the only way to get an trade magazine editor to take a chance on your work. Once is enough though. When you negotiate that first spec assignment, include a caveat that if the editor accepts the story, he or she will agree to switch to a more typical payment arrangement starting with your second piece.
6. Be available.
If you want to write for a trade on a regular basis, let the editor know you’re interested in a long-term relationship and carve out time for them on your schedule. Be on call for a quick turn-around assignment or two – that could help cement your working together. And the more you write, the more you’re learning about the publication and the industry you’re covering, which will help you…
7. Keep a running file of story ideas.
If you write enough about an industry, you’ll become well-versed on news and trends and that makes generating story ideas a lot easier. One painless way to do this: when you’re doing an interview for one story, tack on a question about a related subject. Then use what you learn to craft pitches for additional stories.
8. Join a professional group for business journalists.
Check out organizations such as the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE) or the Society of Business Editors and Writers (SABEW). Both have websites with extensive educational materials and resources for business journalists; ASBPE in particular specializes in helping trade magazine writers and editors. SABEW also has a special interest groups for freelancers.
9. Take classes in business reporting.
Organizations such as ASBPE, SABEW and the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism at ASU – otherwise known as the Reynolds Center – offer classes on business reporting, in person and online. A lot of it is free. The Reynolds Center offers some classes on business journalism basics on a regular basis, including one on understanding Securities and Exchange Commission filings — a good one if you’re tracking public companies in a specific industry; here’s a complete list of free workshops.
10. Go to industry conventions.
It’s not cheap or convenient, but attending a convention, seminar or expo is a great way to immerse yourself in an industry. If you go, sit in on panel discussions and walk through the exhibits. Pick up product literature and business cards. All of it is fodder for potential stories. If you’re already working for a trade and they produce a show daily offer to help: it’s a trial by fire but there’s no better way to learn.
If you freelance for trade magazines, how did you get started?