Off the Edge

As a beginning writer, I think one of the hardest things to do is to put yourself out there. For me, my fear of failure is a lot worse than the disappointment I actually feel when I don’t get a job.

So, I wanted to talk about about walking off that ledge.

If you don’t take chances, you never get anywhere. It’s cliche, but “You miss 100% of  the shots you don’t take.” Its true you’re not going to get the job you don’t apply for; you’re not going to gain a client you can’t get up the gusto to contact. Remember this. Post of over your computer or across the top of your screen if need be. There are some tricks that I’ve found that help with this.

1. Be prepared. This means do your research. If there is a company that you’re applying with, read over their website before writing them an email. Mention things that you found discussed on their site. Chances are they put a lot of work into that site, so referencing it will show your level of interest. Google them; this will let you know of any recent company news. If you have the name of a particular person at the company, you may even want to Goggle his or her name. Perhaps they just got married or had a baby and announced it in the paper; this will come up and you’ll stand out by offering a congratulations (just be careful not to come off as a stalker).

2. Proofread your email. Especially if you’re applying for a writing or editing job. Most hiring editors or assignment editors assume you spend time on your query–it should be carefully written, since it will serve as the first example of your work that person may be reading. Having typos or obvious mistakes makes you look sloppy–why should they hire a sloppy writer?

3. Don’t promise more than you can deliver. When pitching, whether it be an article, a job application or an attempt to gain a new client, be sure that you don’t promise to turn the work around on a ridiculous deadline, or promise to do something you can’t actually do (like interview the president). While being able to do these things may get you the job, if you promise and don’t deliver that will be the last job you do for that client.

4. Follow-up. Don’t be annoying, but be persistent. As an editor, I sometimes need a week or more to get back to someone; especially if they contact me while I’m on deadline. This isn’t personal, nor is it a reflection of your work. It is, however, a reflection of how busy that person is. Respect that person’s time when you contact them–don’t include a 3 page long email with your life story. The best query letters are three paragraphs. Be short, sweet and memorable.

5. If you don’t get a job or assignment, don’t sweat it. Find somewhere else to pitch or apply almost immediately, so you don’t fall into a rut. Instead, identify one way you can improve your pitch (even if it’s just changing around a few words) and try it somewhere else (targeted for that publication or job). And reward yourself (with something SMALL – like a half-hour break) when you send off that next pitch. You didn’t let a failure get you down, and you’re already chasing another assignment.

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