Monday, 19 March 2012

Strut Your Stuff!

It can be strange being a tutor sometimes. Today, for example, I received some postal assignments and also a handful of email assignments. Of the six postal assignments, three made same comment, and of the three email assignments, two made the same comment. At times like this, as a tutor, it can feel a little disconcerting. Why is everyone thinking the same thing?

The comment being raised was the lack of opportunities for freelance writers. Students had studied a variety of publications and seen the phrase "No unsolicited material accepted." 

This phrase (no unsolicited material) does not mean that it does not accept freelance material. All it means is that it does not accept freelance-written material that it hasn't asked for. Therefore, all you have to do is get the publication to ask to see your material.

This is where the 'pitch' comes in - your email (or letter, but email is best) approach selling your idea to the editor. Do this right and the editor will ask to see your article - then, it is no longer unsolicited.

So, it's not that publications don't accept freelance work - it's that they don't want people writing on spec. Pitching first, and then being commissioned is the professional way of doing things. That doesn't mean you have to have been writing for the national broadsheet newspapers for the past 50 years - you simply need to be clear what you are offering and why it will be of interest to your target publication's readers.

However, one point I'd like to make is to remind you to "strut your stuff" - this is the place to sell YOURSELF. If you tell the editor why YOU are the best person to write this piece, and you can offer something that another freelancer can't offer (or even a staff writer, come to that), then an editor is going to be more interested (assuming the idea is right for the publication's readership). 

One student mentioned that they'd been to St Kilda, a tiny island off the Scottish coastline. This isn't an easy place to get to. From the Scottish port of Oban it can take 8 hours to reach the uninhabited island by boat. From some of the Scottish Highlands and Islands, it can be reached in 4 hours by sea, although many trips turn back due to rough seas. An no, the island is not accessible by plane. My point is this - St Kilda is one of those places that doesn't have coach parties turning up every ten minutes. It's not a destination that anyone can simply decide to drop everything and get to by scheduled services. This student, therefore, could offer something that many other writers couldn't. But she didn't mention it until the last paragraph of her article. 

Don't be put off by publications who say "no unsolicited material." Instead, get out there and strut your stuff! Make an editor WANT to see YOUR article!

Good luck.


  1. Great advice Simon. To be honest I never thought of it like that before. Thanks for that :-)

  2. This is great advice Simon, I felt that I had run out of places to send my novel as I have only ever tried those that say will accept unsolicited material. May just start working through the A & W yearbook again now.

  3. Yes I agree - good sensible advice. You have to remain positive and if you get a 'No' well move on and keep trying.

  4. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!

    Julie xx

  5. So envious of the student visiting St Kilda. I first heard of the island as a child and it became my first 'research' subject. I even wrote a full project on the place.

    That was almost 40 years ago - your student certainly has a USP - I wish I had it!