The final person on my list of freelance writing advisers is Larry Clow. Like me, he got his start writing for a local newspaper and is moving on this spring to pursue freelance writing for real. He has worked as a reporter and newspaper editor and has a memoir in the works. I emailed him about his thoughts on writing and editing. Here is what he sent me.
Larry Clow, author, editor of The Sound, freelance writer
What kind of stories does The Sound look for?
The Sound is always looking for Seacoast related stories — that’s the first question I ask writers, in fact: What’s the Seacoast connection.
Generally, our focus is on arts and cultural events, and a lot of our stories preview upcoming events — shows, film screenings, author readings, plays, etc. But we also print news and feature stories, too, and so I’m also always looking out for topical news-y features about things happening in the region, or maybe national topics that could have a local angle.
Does it accept stories from writers just starting out? If so, how do you like to be approached in that case?
We do accept stories from writers who are just starting out! I like new writers to send a brief pitch describing their plan for the story and some potential sources, and I also like to see one or two writing samples, so I can get a sense of the writer’s abilities. Email is always the best way to send pitches to us; since we’re a small staff, there’s not always someone in the office.
What are you looking for in new writers?
I’m looking for writers who know whatever topic it is that they want to cover, or, at the very least, know who they need to talk to so that they can know about their topic. Not everyone is an expert about whatever they want to write about, but I at least need to see that a writer’s willing to do the necessary research for a good story.
And, of course, I look for reliability and consistency — meeting deadlines, responding to emails, turning in relatively clean copy, that sort of thing.
What are some ways writers can show they are serious (have ideas for art, name possible sources when approaching you, etc)?
Emailing me with a decently fleshed out pitch, with some possible sources and details about art/photo opportunities is HUGE. That alone automatically sets a writer apart.
Another big factor: If the writer demonstrates in some way that they’ve read The Sound and are familiar with the types of stories we publish. One writer recently pitched me a story that was (A) about an event he was organizing — already a big no — and (B) was taking place on the other side of New Hampshire — another clue that he hadn’t seen that we only write about events in the Seacoast. Conversely, another writer recently sent me an email with 4 short pitches; each pitch included a brief description of the story, why it was locally relevant, why it was timely, a handful of possible local sources, and, in two of them, a reason why this writer was the best person to write the story. Needless to say, I immediately accepted one of the pitches (it was for this story: http://soundnh.com/taking-root/)
What are some of your writer pet peeves (turning in stories late, spelling errors, etc)?
My number one pet peeve is emails that I call “non-pitch pitches.” Basically, emails/messages/phone calls from writers who don’t have a specific pitch, but are just contacting me because they’re interested in writing. This drives me a little crazy, and it’s something that, when I was first starting out as a writer, I thought was a totally jerky thing that editors would say. “Why wouldn’t editors want extra help?!” I thought. Now, I see why — it’s extra work for me to come up with story ideas for writers I don’t know, when it’d be far easier for me to simply assign stories to writers I know who can do them. I appreciate the intention, but it drives me nutty.
As a writer, do you do any freelance work? If so, what kind?
I do! Right now, all my freelance work is for the University of New Hampshire, where I write features for The College Letter, a monthly publication from the College of Liberal Arts, and the UNH Magazine. I’m hoping to expand that soon — I’d like to start pitching stories to some larger regional and national publications.
How have you been able to build relationships with editors to get published?
I have, and it’s largely been through personal networks. My UNH jobs came by way of a professor I worked with in the English department while working on my MFA. For three years or so, I did regular work writing policy stories for Child and Family Services of NH’s quarterly newsletter, and I came to that job after meeting their communications coordinator at an open house event.
I stay in touch with my two UNH editors regularly, either pitching them stories or checking in to see if they might have a story that needs to be picked up. (That’s another good reason to know the publication and it’s schedule — for example, if my editor at the magazine passes on a feature pitch, I know that she still assigns some short, 600-or-so-word alumni profiles for each issue.)
Do you ever submit pitches to editors you don’t know and if so, how did that work?
I do, though not as much as I’d like. I’ve pitched a couple times to Dispatch, an arts/lifestyle magazine in Portland, Maine and was successful, but I haven’t had much time to pitch them lately.
My most ambitious pitch was a feature for Yankee Magazine. In that case, I wrote my pitch and got some feedback on it from a friend who’d recently sold a story to Yankee (she also tipped me off about which editor reads the pitches, so I made sure to send my pitch to that person and not the general editorial email account). The editor passed, unfortunately. I’ve got another idea I’m working on a pitch for, though, so maybe this one will be successful.