For those not in the know, I started writing for Develop about two months ago. For a mere 3-5 articles a day I am paid in cash and exotic titles like: “North American Correspondent”, and “Lord of Dance”. I’m not actually called the second one yet, but don’t worry, we’ll get around to it.
I think it’s time I wrote a bit about how I got the job. You know, in case you wanted to follow in my glorious footsteps or, more likely, are confused as to how someone as completely unqualified as I got into a very competitive position.
It started, like many decisions, with beer. I was sipping a pint in my local pub when I noticed a call for U.S. writers. The listing was for Develop- miles out of my league- but, strong with the dutch courage, I hastily assembled a resumè, and sent it in. Mind you, this was back in December, and I had yet to be published anywhere, aside from this blog and some ghostwriting stuff. It was a long shot.
To my great suprise, I got a response pretty quickly. I sent a thank-you letter, and started a brief e-mail conversation with Rob Crossley, Develop’s online editor. Without knowing it, I had stumbled on the first tenet of journalism: persistence. Simply by being a bother, I had worked my way into the final running for the postition as U.S. correspondent.
As time wore on, I was sure I’d been left out of the running. In the middle of January, I still hadn’t heard back. So I sent another e-mail, and mentioned I’d gotten published, and thanked Rob for his encouragement. This one changed everything. As it turns out, they’d lost the applications when the e-mail server was reset. This meant resubmitting our applications, and in the meantime, my resumè had gotten stronger.
Realizing I had a chance, I made the necessary changes. I may very well have been the first to send my info in. I also decided to be sporting about it and re-tweet the information to my fellow applicants. In a few weeks, I got the news: I had the job.
The basic lesson here is that if you want to write for a living, start writing now. Even without being published, I had already assembled a decent bit of writing here at Thinkings. This was crucial. You aren’t going to get a paid position or freelance gig without some evidence that you are a writer. Some places ask for a writing sample specifically penned for your application. This does not mean that they won’t look at other samples if you enclose them. A one-off piece doesn’t do you any good if there’s no evidence you can’t perform at that level on a daily basis. For a job like the one at Develop, consistency is key.
The next thing, and probably more important, is that if you want to be a journalist, you’re going to have to be persistent. When I first spoke with Rob on the phone, he said I wouldn’t have gotten the job if it hadn’t been for all the e-mails I sent. You may think this means being irritating. It is irritating. But it also shows interest. It shows you care. And most importantly, it show’s you’re willing to keep at it. As a journalist, you have to hound people to get a story- they don’t just hand the good stuff to you. Hounding an editor about an application, provided you’ve got the chops to make it worth their while, shows you’ve got the drive for the job.
Third, be polite. If you’re being persistent, you don’t want to be rude. You are going to be annoying to people before they get used to you. But that does not mean you can get away with being a jerk. There are only a handful of journos out there that every PR agency will immediately respond to. It takes years to build up that kind of rapport. Editors work the same way; they give precedence to those writers whose names they already know and trust. Getting the job means being persistent, but polite persistence means you’re building a relationship that will help your career in the long run.
So let me recap: be proactive, be persistent, be polite. If you’re looking for work, this will get you most of the way there. I got lucky. I probably wouldn’t have gotten the job if it weren’t for a series of fortunate strokes. If that e-mail server hadn’t crashed, if I hadn’t just recently published my article with Indie Game Mag, if I hadn’t felt comfortable enough with Rob to keep sending e-mails, I would probably still be a blogger struggling to get an article here and there. But the fact is none of this would have mattered if I hadn’t been ready to take advantage of good fortune. The application process is the best training you can get for your future job in journalism. If you can get published, and capitalize on that success to get more paid work, you’re ready for the industry. Go make it happen, and best of luck to you.