Ask The Freelance Dude #17 – Writing on Spec


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Dear Freelance Dude,

I’m a student and games editor for our university newspaper. Being a student, my loan is covering me and allowing me put time into my degree and other hobbies. I’ve secured interviews with some big names and am planning to write some features. My goal is for these to be of a good enough standard to get paid for the writing. Yet, I’m going to write these regardless of whether a publication agrees to pay me for it. Can I pitch a feature I have already completed/ partially completed? How would I go about doing so?

Signed,
Marcus B.

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Dear Marcus,

You can absolutely pitch a feature you’ve already completed – that’s called writing “on spec,” and while most pros prefer to pitch article ideas up-front, then lock-down a firm assignment before they put the time and effort into writing up the final piece, working on spec can be a useful tactic for new writers seeking to break into publication. Aside from having a good idea that’s tailored to the publication you’re pitching, editors are mostly interested in your writing ability and whether you can deliver on your pitches. Since you may not already have published clips to give editors when you’re pitching, having a completed or near-completed piece to show them when you pitch can make the difference between landing an assignment and being passed-up.

When pitching an article on spec, craft your pitch just like you would normally. Lead with a snappy hook and provide enough supporting detail to show there’s some meat to the idea and that you can pull it off. Further down in the pitch, when you’re laying out the specifics of what you’re proposing (a 1,000 word feature on gaming dogs with interviews from top developers talking about their pooches, for example), mention that you’ve already conducted interviews with important persons X, Y, and Z, and you have a draft of the finished ready to submit  for their consideration. Do not send the finish piece with your pitch. Simply mention that it’s done and you can provide it on request.

If you haven’t finished a piece yet but have everything lined-up to write it, I’d recommend firing off a pitch before you finish it. Even if you don’t have a lot of clips to back yourself up with, if you deliver a killer pitch and a perfectly tailored idea, that will be enough to entice some editors to bite on the piece. They may ask to see what you’ve got, and you can offer to provide a sample of the work-in-progress article if they’re concerned about lack of clips.

In either case, if you’ve got a great idea and you’ve already secured interviews with some notable sources for the story, DEFINITELY mention that in your pitch. In fact, you should take a few of the juiciest quotes and work them into your pitch. Just keep them short and don’t go overboard. That’ll show you’ve got all your ducks in a row and will entice the editor your pitching to.

Note that writing on spec is not necessarily the same as writing for free. Pitch to places that pay, and you’ll likely wind up scoring a paying assignment. It’s worth taking that route first, then, if you can’t find anyone to buy a piece you’ve finished, pitch high-profile sites that don’t pay – and hopefully you can at least score a little exposure out of it. That’s the main reason a lot of writers don’t like to work on spec – you may put a lot of time into a piece only find you can’t sell it. But if you’re determined, then go ahead and give it a go.

Good luck!

Best,
The Freelance Dude

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Follow @nmeunier on Twitter for more writing advice, game industry commentary, and freelance shenanigans.

Have a writing, freelancing, or game journalism related question you’d like answered? No problem! Hop on over here for details on how to submit it to The Freelance Dude!

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