>What makes bad clips?

>We were talking last week about clips—samples of your published work–and how to send them. Clips are essential to getting assignments. No wise editor will take on a new writer without seeing a sample of her work. If you have never published anything, they may ask you to send a manuscript or to write a piece for them without guaranteeing that they’ll publish it.

But let’s say you have published something and you’re choosing clips to send out. You want to pick the best clips, the ones that you’re especially proud of. Ideally they will also have some connection to the story you’re pitching.

Unfortunately, some clips are not so good, and it’s not all your fault. For example:
• No byline or a misspelled byline. It happens. I have had editors leave out my name or mangle it so badly even my mother wouldn’t recognize it. That lessens the value of your clip. To help prevent this, always type your name in your manuscript as you want it to appear. These digitized days, stories get sent through the process only slightly altered. No one retypes them, and the editor may not notice the byline isn’t there. Protect yourself and make sure your byline is right under the title/headline of your story.
• Bad editing. Most editors are good, but sometimes they ruin your clip with editing that turns good writing into bad or fact into fiction. Ask to see a copy of the edited version before it goes to print. Your wish may not be granted, but always ask. It only takes a minute for them to e-mail you a copy, and you can save a lot of grief.
• Stupid headlines, stupid art, stupid pull quotes or sidebars. We have only minimal control over these editorial decisions, but you can help by making suggestions. Give your story a strong headline, supply or suggest good art, possible quotes and effective sidebars.
• Big dumb ads next to your story. You can’t do anything about the ads that show up with your words, but when you assemble your clips, you can cut out the ads and scan the story without them.

A couple more points:

Old clips are not as good as new clips. Send the best and most recent work you have. But if everything you have is old, send it and don’t say anything about the date it was published.

Everyone tells you to study the publication before you submit anything. The main reason is so that what you send will be appropriate. But another good reason is to make sure you want your work to appear there. Don’t wait until you’re published to discover you’re embarrassed to have your work in that publication. Would you be proud to show off that clip?

As always, your questions and comments are welcome.

Have you purchased your copy of Freelancing for Newspapers yet?

>Got clips?

>Queries and clips go together like bagels and cream cheese. When you approach a new editor with an idea, he or she is going to ask to see samples of your published work. If you have never published anything, then the best you can do is offer to send a finished manuscript. But once you have published, you’ll want to send clips.

Ideally those clips will be your best work and be related to what you are proposing to write. If you’re querying for an article about dogs and all you have is that piece you wrote on baby quilts, go ahead and send it, but if you have something about dogs, that’s the best.

Now how do you do it? Back in the olden days, people sent “tear sheets,” pages torn out of the actual magazine or newspaper, along with their letter and SASE. Then we got good photocopiers, and we could send copies. I have done that for many years. In fact, I have a file drawer stuffed with alphabetized copies of past published work.

However, the world has changed. We’ve gone digital. Most newspapers and magazines and certainly all web zines want queries and clips sent by e-mail. It’s hard to send a piece of paper through cyberspace.

So what do we do? We computerize our clips. If your article was published online, you can make note of the URL and include it in your query. But you can’t count on that article always being there, so copy it into your own file. I use the Adobe PDF program, but there are others. Search online.

If your article is only on paper, have it scanned onto a CD or flash drive, or onto your hard drive. For a long time, I rarely needed to do this, but the world has gone digital. I recently bought my own scanner (Canon CanoScan 8800F). It’s a complicated beast, and I’m still figuring it out, but I have already put some of my best clips on my hard drive, so next time I send out an e-query, I can send my e-clips. I can also clean out that file drawer.

Some editors still work by snail mail, so do keep paper copies, if you have them, or be ready to print out your computerized file, but first priority is to get them into your computer.

A writer’s clips are essential tools. Keep them handy and ready to send out with your great ideas.

Questions and comments encouraged.


Have you purchased your copy of Freelancing for Newspapers yet?

>So good, but no pay

>I was market-searching the other day and came across American Chronicle, which bills itself as a family of online magazines. Submitted articles are reportedly syndicated nationally and appear in all the major search engines. They list a bunch of major metro dailies that receive their stories. They publish the writer’s bio, photo, and web site address. Plus, the writer can write about almost any topic he or she wants. You’d be assigned your own individual page featuring your articles. Oh, there’s more. They’ll give you your own private email manager and a tracker to see who’s reading what you write.

Dang. Finally, a market that will treat you right. Just one little detail: They don’t pay. You do it for the exposure, for the clips that they promise will impress editors of other publications. So, here’s my question, one that has been asked many times over the years. Should you write for free? When is it worthwhile to do a freebie, keeping in mind that these articles will require research, interviews, and writing time? What do you think? I’ll tell you my thoughts on the subject tomorrow.
P.S. Has anyone had experience with American Chronicle?

UPDATE 2016: American Chronicle appears to be defunct, but the issue of writing for everything but money still exists. What do you think?