In order to be a successful freelance writer, you need two things—sellable story ideas and contacts at publications. Non-New Yorkers have it easy with ideas: You’ll know about things your Manhattan editors won’t. But it definitely is tougher for you to get to know editors—tough, but not impossible.
Here are some ways to develop new contacts with editors when you don’t live anywhere near Manhattan (and even if you do):
This first step is to make contact—ideally face-to-face contact—with any editor you can. A good opportunity to meet them is when they’ve traveled outside the city for a specific work-related event. It’s a chance to say hello—even if only to shake a hand and ask for a business card.
When might you be able to do this?
1. Attend conferences for writers and editors. New York editors are often invited to speak about their publications or industry issues. Make a point of introducing yourself and getting their contact information.
2. Take continuing-education courses taught by professional journalists. Bigger names are often brought to town, especially if it’s a onetime lecture or seminar. And in ongoing classes, the teacher—who will likely be a significant local journalist—will often bring in guest speakers who are working editors. Again, take time after class to shake hands with a lecturer or guest speaker and introduce yourself.
3. Ask family and friends if they know anyone who knows anyone who knows anyone who knows anyone who is on staff at a New York publication. Sending an email is an efficient way to cast a wide net for help.
4. If you already write for a local publication, it’s not a bad idea to ask your contact to put you in touch with anyone they know in New York.
Stay in touch
Once you’ve befriended an editor, do what you can to stay on his or her radar screen—without being a pest.
1. Send news about yourself. Write a synopsis of your background that highlights your expertise and writing skills.
2. Whenever your work is published, update your editor by sending a copy of the article.
3. Send serious pitch letters via email or snail mail. (Find out from your contact how he or she prefers to receive query letters.)
4. If you happen to see an editor you’ve met on a TV show or if you hear her speaking as a guest on a radio show, send a complimentary note or email.
5. Pass along interesting articles from newspapers, magazines and websites on industry news.
6. Follow up with an email or phone call a week or two after sending a query letter. Try to confirm that the document was received and offer to provide additional information should it be required.
Finally, come visit New York
Once you have a few contacts, one of the best things you can do for your freelance career is to make an annual or biannual pilgrimage to New York to say hello. Get the most out of your trip by planning your visit to coincide with a writer’s conference or other event at which you can meet more editors.
1. Email and/or call your contacts a month or so in advance to make arrangements. Give them the specific dates you will be in town and ask to meet for lunch or coffee to discuss story ideas.
2. At your meeting, pitch your ideas verbally (bring reference notes) and listen carefully to your editor’s feedback. Take notes. Ask questions. Don’t get defensive. She’ll either love or hate your ideas, but usually she’ll explain why they do or don’t work for the magazine. Listen carefully to these suggestions, which are valuable insight into the personality of the magazine. Also, if one of your ideas shows potential, she may spend time brainstorming with you to find a way to turn it into a sellable concept.
3. Plus—who knows?—if you’re really lucky, this meeting may include a visit and tour of the publication’s editorial office, which is yet another chance to meet even more editors who you’ll stay in touch with once you return home!