One of the participants in the 40 Ways To Market Your Writing I did with Carol Tice asked this question after the event:
My clips go back a LONG way (1980s-1990s) but I don’t have a lot in recent years. My recent clips are a niche print publication (2007-2008) and now web content for SheKnows.com – but don’t know how to market either of these toward niches I am interested in.
When I was editing magazines and newspapers the reason I asked for clips had little to do with the topic of the magazines (new age and business) and newspapers (one community and one aimed at seniors). I really wanted to know if the person submitting the query could write.
Most editors agree that writers who have clips or tear sheets or links are more apt to actually get an assignment done well than those that don’t.
Your clips really are there to demonstrate you’re already a professional. Sure, if you’ve got a clip or two that are on target for the new magazine you want to write for, great. If, however, you don’t have any that match, look instead for length and style similarities. And if none of your tear sheets bare any resemblance to the target publication use the best of them anyway.
Any well written clip an editor can actually read is better than none.
I would suggest you choose your three best clips. It’s better to have a well written sample that’s way off topic than a poorly written one that is on topic. It’s better to have a dynamite sample written years ago than a poorly written one published last week.
I’ve had articles published that I no longer want to brag about for various reasons. Send only those you’re proud of.
Another approach is to simply list the magazines and websites you’ve been published in leaving out any content mills. Editors are always pressed for time and such a list reassures them. A nasty truth is that many editors don’t actually read your clips – they simply wan to know you have them.
Be bold when approaching new writing markets!
For new writers, this doesn’t mean you can’t get published without clips – that’s not true. You’ll simply find your life easier when you have a few quality published samples to show off your talent.