In this week's installment of our "Getting Started" series, we'll hear from Christa Miller on what it's like to start writing for trade publications. One of my own favorite projects is ghostwriting client features for trades. Interested in breaking into the style, either ghosting or by-lined? Christa offers some tips help you get there.
Here's what she had to say:
On How She Started Writing for Trade Publications...
"I started freelancing in 2001, after I realized I didn't want my career to be in tech support! I had been a Law Enforcement Explorer (a Boy Scouts of America program) in high school and college, and as I contemplated becoming a writer, I realized police work was probably what I was best qualified to write about.
At the time, prior to 9/11, the big topic was school security. So I pitched an article about school resource officers in small towns. It ran in October -- the month after 9/11 -- and not too long after, I got a bunch of contracts through 2002."
On Needing Specialized Education or Experience Before Starting...
"Nothing formal. My degree is in Economics, but policy doesn't figure too much into street-level police work! I had a good understanding of the fundamental issues police officers and departments were facing, so I let that drive my "6 questions" during interviews."
On How Writers can get Started in Writing for Trades...
"Most trade magazines are struggling along with everyone else in the publishing industry, so I don't think writers should expect to be immediately successful. However, I do think the time-tested strong, relevant query still counts for a lot. My first query had four positive responses because it was relevant to an important topic of the day, and it formed a basic outline of what I planned to cover.
If writers can/should be doing anything differently, it's developing relationships with sources and editors via social media. I joined a law enforcement listserv when I started -- now there are Ning groups like CopsOnline and Police Pulse. It's also possible to get to know editors, sources and PR people via tools like LinkedIn and Facebook. (Trade magazines are often advertiser-driven, so the advertisers' PR people are important to get to know.)"
On Things Prospective Trade Writers Should Know...
"1) It's about the relationships. With editors, with sources and PR people. These are the people who will support your career, who help build your reputation. Stick especially with those you "bond" with. They bring the best opportunities, whether in the form of other sources or great stories.
2) Relationships take time to build. Starting out, I found it hard at times to work in a vacuum of no feedback. But I kept getting contracts, and not long after that, I found sources who talked to me because they liked what I was writing. I would say it took a good year to start building a strong reputation.
3) Be prepared for life contingencies. When I was pregnant with my first child, I figured I'd jump back into freelancing 6 or 8 weeks after his birth. I'd do interviews during his naps and type one-handed while holding him. Easy, right? Well, I never anticipated he would have severe acid reflux (try working on a computer around that!). I was more like 6 months out of work.
With my second, I took closer to a year off because I had them both at home full time. And neither one of them was ever a great sleeper, so I actually took on more editing during that time. I think that flexibility was key -- it kept me sane, improved my writing skills, and kept me earning, even if it wasn't my ideal work."
On Christa Miller...
A freelance writer for the past eight and a half years, Christa M. Miller specializes in public safety. She now divides her time between freelancing, and consulting as a content and social media strategist for law enforcement agencies and vendors. You can follow her on Twitter @christammiller.