Many writers opt to freelance because they like the independence that comes with working for themselves (or strike out on their own after a lay off). But to write for trade or business publications, you’ve got to be a team player.
I’ve spent the better part of my career writing for the trades. Straight out of journalism grad school, I spent four years as associate editor and then editor of a health-care trade magazine. Over years of freelancing, I’ve written extensively for business and tech trades.
Here’s what I’ve learned: Writing for business-to-business, or b2b, publications is demanding. Readers of b2b publications know their stuff — you can’t file stories that are light on detail, or industry knowledge. That could mean doing more research and reporting than you normally would for assignments for general-interest publications.
If you can, the work pays off. Because they require specialized knowledge, some trades pay better than other markets. In the first dot-com boom, a weekly tech magazine paid me a four-figure monthly retainer over and above fees for assignments to keep me happy and away from the competition. Over the past seven years, a b2b publication has asked me several to fill in on features and special projects when staff writers left, went on maternity leave or took a sabbatical. The partnership is ongoing, and over the years has yielded more than $100,000 in income.
One key to being a successful trade or b2b publication contributor is thinking like a staff writer. Learn the subject and the audience, then make yourself so indispensable the editor automatically turns to you when she needs outside help.
Here are a few secrets to becoming a a b2b publication team player:
1. Read the magazine.
Scout back issues or the publication’s website to familiarize yourself with how they report on the subject, sections to write for, etc.
2. Learn the industry.
If you want to write for the trades, you have to know the industry, specialty or subject as well as the staff writers, the editor and the people reading the publication. You can find a wealth of information on any given profession or industry by studing websites, blogs, trade associations, industry market research and whitepapers. The vast majority of it is online and free, though to access some, you may need to register or subscribe.
3. Learn the audience.
Look up a publication’s media kit and rate card to see what they say about who they reach. You may also find information on readership and circulation in a publication’s editorial calendar, which is also a good for pitching stories for special sections or reports.
4. Be available.
If you want to write for a trade on a regular basis, carve out time for them on your schedule and let the editor(s) you deal with there know you’re interested in working for them. Responding to a request to turn-around a rush job assignment or two could help cement your relationship. And the more you write, the more you’re learning about the publication and the industry you’re covering.
5. Check in on a regular basis.
When you do, squeeze in a couple story ideas. I sometimes send editors items I’ve seen in the news with a quick note, such as: “I saw this and thought of you…” or “Are you guys tracking this? If not, is it something you’d like me to look into?” Sometimes they’re already on it. Other times, the editor has assigned something on the spot, asked for more information, or told me to hang onto the info for the next time we have a story conference.
6. Keep a running file of story ideas.
The more you cover an industry, the more well-versed you become on the what’s happening and trends or developments that might make good stories. One easy way to do keep tabs: tack a question onto the end of an interview about a related or unrelated subject, then use what you learn to craft pitches for additional stories.
Schedule trips to visit editors you work with frequently. Visiting in person gives editors the chance to put a face with a name. You can hear first-hand information what they’re looking for and what sections of their publications are open to freelancers. If you do, save all your receipts, since airfare, train tickets, parking and other costs related to visiting editors are tax-deductible business expenses.
8. Go to industry conventions.
Attending a convention, seminar or expo is a great way to immerse yourself in an industry. Attend panel discussions and walk through exhibits. Pick up product literature and business cards. 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.
[Flickr photo by Bill Harrison]