When you read a freelance writing job description or market listing, you’re likely to find they want clips or tearsheets or published samples. (A tearsheet technically is an actually article torn out of a magazine or newspaper – but don’t worry, copies work just fine.)
This may seem impossible if you’ve yet to be published.
Why Editors Want Tearsheets, Clips and Samples
The reason editors ask for clips or tearsheets from an unknown writer is they need to be reasonably certain you can write well and are capable of completing an assignment before they invest much time in you. Clips give them an opportunity to evaluate your skills.
However, it’s worth remembering that most editors are always looking for fresh voices for their publications, which means they are open to new writers – they just don’t want to waste time with the gillions of wannabes that couldn’t put a good sentence together, let alone a whole article, no matter how hard they tried.
That’s good news, because it means you can use all sorts of things as writing samples. It also means you may have more experience than you think you do.
What have you actually written?
Think about what you have written, in any context. For example:
- Have you ever had a letter to the editor published? It can count.
- How about any free writing you’ve done, perhaps for a church or company or community or school newsletter. It counts!
- How about a classified ad for your piano that worked – that can count too.
- Did you write an essay to get into college? Or win a contest with a jingle or statement about why you liked the product? Every one of these and more can be used as a tearsheet or credit.
The goal isn’t to fool an editor, but to demonstrate your skills.
If you’ve been in any sort of business environment, the chances are you’ve written a sales letter or two, even if you didn’t think of them that way. But letters that introduce a product or a service or even yourself can be used to show you have real writing ability. So can all sorts of customer service responses.
But the web provides some additional possibilities.
Use Article Sites
One good use of the sites that let you post articles in hopes of finding a publisher is to use them to build a credit list. Go ahead and post an article or two or three for free. Do your absolute best. Then use the link or even a copy of the whole article as clips.
Using such services isn’t “being published” in the traditional sense, but it can be good way to get started. Even selling a short handful of articles for $2 or $3 can work in your favor if you can link to them.
Sure, some editors won’t consider such clips as legitimate, but some will and you can build from there. Remember, the only thing the editor is really interested in is feeling relatively certain you can write reasonably well. A well constructed list of credits accomplishes the same thing in a professional manner.
Put Samples on Your Website
It’s also totally legitimate to write some samples of your writing and put them on your professional website. In fact this is one excellent reason a new writer should have a website.
Again, you’re not trying to fool anyone and you’re not going to claim your samples are published anywhere, you’re just showing what you can do. Don’t be shy.
Image from http://www.sxc.hu