How I Landed My First Freelance Writing Jobs Without Clips


My first actual published piece of writing was a band interview 1993 or 1994. I wrote the piece for the music and tattoo magazine I worked for. I wasn’t originally scheduled to do the interview but the assigned reporter called in with a last minute illness and I was the only one who could get to Bryant Park for the concert and help out. The interview was well received, but the magazine wasn’t. It ceased publication right after that issue due to lack of sales.

My one and only copy of this magazine has an extra place in my heart because the band KISS adorned the front cover and after joint promotion, they all autographed my copy of the issue. There was no way I was tearing apart my one and only copy of this now rare, autographed issue of Rock & Roll Tattoos for a clip. I put my copy in a protective bag and packed it away…and haven’t seen it since. Yes, this aspiring writer lost her one and only writing clip.

At the time, I wasn’t looking to freelance so it didn’t occur to me to make copies of my first published clip (beyond the school newspaper). I showed the magazine to friends and family for a few weeks and then tucked it away for safe keeping.  When I began freelancing in 2000, I had a dilemma. Every single gig required clips and I couldn’t find mine. What do I do?

Draw on experience

When I began looking for freelance writing work I realized I had something that might set me apart from some other candidates; experience within the publishing industry as an editorial assistant. This in itself didn’t give the potential client an idea of my writing style, but it did let him know I knew a thing or two about writing. It wasn’t a deal maker by any means but maybe it would keep my query from the “rejection” pile. I described my experience in my pitch to potential clients. Some weren’t impressed, but some wanted to learn more.

As I became a more experienced freelance writer I realized having expertise in a particular niche or industry is sometimes more attractive than having a long laundry list of published clips. If a writer is knowledgeable about the subject matter and can prove he’s a good writer, he can land the gig – even without prior experience.

Freelance writing clips don’t necessarily have to be published

Unless the potential client specifically asks for “published” clips, it might not matter. The reason clips are required are because he wants to make sure you can write and, also, to get an idea of your writing style and expertise. When you’re first starting out as a freelance writer, you might have to create your own unpublished clips.

Research the potential client

What is your potential freelance writing client looking for? If you have enough information, you can write up a sample article and tailor it to your client’s needs. Dig a bit deeper and see if you can learn why the client needs a writer. Learn about his business. Is he looking to teach or sell? Knowing as much as you can about the client, his goals and his opportunity can help you craft an unpublished clip that comes close to what he’s looking for.

Audition your writing

Consider your clip an audition. Actors looking for a part in a movie or play don’t show up and go through the motions, they give it their all. In order to compete with the more experienced writers, you’ll have to give your very best effort as well. If needed, ask another writer to look over your sample before submitting it for consideration. It sounds cliche to say, but you’ll never get a second chance to make a first impression.

If inexperience is keeping you from querying for a gig, consider this: I landed the very first freelance writing gig I applied for using an unpublished clip. Granted, I received many rejections throughout the ensuing decade, but that first acceptance did wonders for my confidence and outlook. Don’t let a lack of published bylines keep you from going for the gold, as a freelancer you have to make your own opportunities.

How did you land your first gigs without clips?






7 responses
  1. Pierre William Trudel Avatar

    I have been writing articles on for some time now and have always had the itch. Is it possible to use those articles to show others?
    I write from my heart and always have an opinion.What should I do to get paid for my work.Can you help?
    Your article is inspiring.

    1. Deb Avatar

      Hi Pierre,

      Honestly, I don’t know how editors feel about Ezine articles, but I personally feel if it’s a good piece of writing it’s a good clip.

  2. Annie Avatar

    I am a very new freelancer – but just had my second feature article published in today’s edition of our daily newspaper. I landed this freelancing opportunity with zero published clips. The editor’s only knowledge of me was a verbal explanation that I blogged, and that one of my blog posts had been posted on a parenting website. To this day I don’t believe she’s read either!

    I guess she just decided to take a chance and I proved to her I can do it. I am currently working on another piece for the paper and have other opportunities in the pipeline.

    I am proof that it is possible 🙂

    1. Deb Avatar

      Good for you, Annie. Yes, you’re right – many local newspapers are very willing to give brand new freelancers a foot in the door. They’re usually very low payers, but they’re good experience.

      1. Annie Avatar

        I’m finding that the pay is indeed low, compared to what I’ve seen quoted as typical magaine pay for freelance pieces. However, given the choice between this, and the much lower (or in some cases no) cash paid for online content – I’m very happy to be starting with this newspaper 🙂

  3. Rebecca Avatar

    I received a CareerBuilder prompt for a bookkeeping position with a travel company. After digging deeper, I found out the company was looking for a marketing person and a writer. I interviewed for the marketing and writing position. They tested me out in the marketing position and we both decided that writing was my passion. I’ve been freelance writing since that day in January 2008!
    .-= Rebecca´s last blog ..Building Business Relationships is like Dating =-.

  4. Andrea Ross Avatar

    So I have been on this website for quite awhile, just looking and thinking about putting my interest in writing to work. I have searched many of your articles and am having a hard time finding the answer I am looking for, so I am hoping you can help. Sample is the full article and a clip is bascially a “sample of a sample”? How long should the clip/sample be?? I have been looking and even googled it and can’t find a range. Thanks for any help!

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