Hello. I have been taking ages getting back to around four different people concerning my thoughts on employment in the world of editorial. Because it occurred to me this might be useful to anyone thinking about working in the world of copy-writing/editing, I thought I'd make a proper thread. It also means I can be lazy and not type individual PMs. Stop reading if you don't care about this.
Michael, I've nearly finished a separate email for you personally about your writing. :-)
Here are some observations about the industry.
1 - Qualifications
There are numerous courses, many NCTJ-approved. While you can make it in writing without it, it's often preferred, especially by papers.
This is generally because you'll know quite a lot about libel, slander and other such legal things by the end of the course, which means less blind panic for the subs when you hand in your copy.
I didn't take anything related to NCTJ, however - I took a publishing course - and I know editors and freelancers of/for major publications who simply worked through the industry by being damn good at writing and correcting mistakes. If you're good and determined, you'll do alright.
2 - Starting local is no bad thing.
If you're into the idea of newspapers, you could either fuck yourself in the eye by being paid six pence a week to be an intern (assuming you stand out in a crowd of hundreds of thousands), or keep your day job and start accruing experience by doing small jobs for the local publications.
They *will* pay (see point five) and you will get immediate feedback about the quality of your writing, allowing you to see what editors are looking for. This is invaluable. Having work published on blogs is fine, sure, but unless they're well-known enough, an editor will be suspicious of how much your experience is worth.
Pitch to your local paper editor about an event (sporting, social, council) that's coming up in the area, say you'll work for free as an ice-breaker *and have a turn around time of the next morning*. Include a sample of writing - for brevity's sake make it a review of anything, around 250 words. Even if it hasn't been published it doesn't matter. When you've sent the email, wait 24 hours, then call to check it's reached them. This is especially acceptable if the event is looming, because it's a genuinely good reason to badger them.
3 - Don't just be a writer: specialise to the nth degree.
It's very easy to spend all your time calling yourself 'a writer'. As a Something Awful article mentioned, these people are cunts. If you spend your whole life learning to write, you're only good for Editing Matters magazine or What Syntax.
Don't even let it be broad. If you can write about sports, great, but pick *one*. If it's film or music you're chasing, specialise in a genre. You won't be pigeonholed forever, but it's a much better way of pitching for work: if an editor knows you know your shit about a specific area, they've either got someone like you or not, and in the case of the latter, they'll give you the commission and you have a foot in. If they have to email you back to ask your areas of interest *they won't email you back*.
This means that if you already have a profession, it could really help - 'Hi, I'm a freelance writer who ALSO knows his fishing: give me a job.'
4 - Payment.
Publishers take the piss. In an industry where you always owe someone money, it's very easy not to give any out unless you have to. I've seen photographers standing in a doorway refusing to let directors through until they get a cheque. So: offer to do as many as the first two or three pieces for free, and then seek a decent ppw rate. Blogs will try to stiff you, but then again unless they have voluntary writers who care a great deal, they'll have to make do with shit writers - don't reduce yourself to working long term for free unless it's principled.
5. SPELL-CHECK. YOUR. PITCHES. Seriously.
6. Another route
If you're not sure you have what it takes as a writer but are very, very good when it comes to grammar, then the industry always needs sub editors to chew up and spit out. It's how I started, and it fucking *sucks*, but you can get out of it quickly if you have the right frame of mind.
7. The nationals/big companies: copy-writing and staff writing jobs.
If you're a writer at heart, going with local papers/established blogs will help you pitch for freelance work, and will give you serious weight when applying for in-house positions. If you do this gradually, going from the tiny village paper do a city paper etc, you can make your way up pretty fucking fast. If you're brilliant, you can skip a few steps, likely by networking.
It's thankless more often than not. You'll work on days you don't want to, and have to revise things at the last second when you should be enjoying social time. You will see your writing changed, and you will hate the editor. Don't worry: they hate you too. It is an under-paid industry until you're really big. If any of that annoys you: stop wanting to be a writer.
9. If your grammar and spelling is only okay, not great,
it doesn't matter too much. I'd much rather have a factually accurate writer who just needs sentences tidying than a brilliantly articulate one who gets the facts wrong. Always.
10. The best writers turn things around fast without argument, read the commission twice to make sure they're not on the wrong tack, and actually have the balls to bother the editor over big worries.
Take me for a pint and we'll talk specifics. Cheers to you for wanting to be a writer - it's awesome if you win.