When Margaret and I decided to launch our freelance career by going overseas, we got some good advice: Introduce yourselves to editors before you go. Editors who receive unsolicited work from overseas reporters they don’t know tend to be suspicious they’re getting CIA or other countries’ propaganda.
These being the days before websites, we made up a folder that had my clips and resume on one side and Margaret’s on the other. We send a packet to the foreign editor of every American paper that had one. We also sent one each to NPR and Mutual Radio.
All of them called us. And all of them said the same thing: We won’t give you any money up front, but we’d love to hear from you. What we exacted from them was permission to call collect and their Telex numbers. Today, of course, the equivalent would be the editor’s email address.
For $150, papers the size of the Kansas City Star and the Dallas Times-Herald could have proprietary bylines from Africa in their pages. They liked that. It livened things up from the usual wire-service copy. Of course, getting the stories to the newspapers was always a trial. Telex is cumbersome, to say the least. And the Kansas City Star didn’t even have its own machine. We used to file to the reservations Telex of a hotel on the other side of Kansas City, and the paper would send an intern over in a car to pick up the copy.
Point is: If you’re thinking of launching your freelance career by going abroad, do an appropriate amount of spadework first.
A freelance writer for 30 years, I've written -- along with my wife and writing partner, Margaret Knox -- four non-fiction books, a daily column from post-Katrina New Orleans for the New Yorker's website, and lots of magazine articles. We also enjoying mentoring young and beginning writers. If you are eager to write for magazines or write a book, you might find my page of proposals helpful.
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