Rebecca Douglas aka Becks and the City describes herself as a Computer Programmer/Lawyer. After many years of study in both fields, Rebecca decided to pitch articles to some of her favourite glossy magazines. Today Rebecca is sharing her experiences as a freelance writer and giving some helpful advice.
We can do this the easy way or the hard way, as they say in the movies.
I seem to have chosen the hard way. You see, in the past two years I’ve become a freelance writer for magazines including Cosmo Bride and Women’s Health & Fitness, but the road here has been interrupted by twists, turns and plenty of potholes.
I wish I was one of those kids that always knew what they wanted to do. Sure, I adored writing in primary school and created choose-your-own-adventure stories, books with mazes and Where’s Wally-like visual puzzles and mysteries with the solution written in mirrored hand-writing to stop classmates from cheating and skipping to the end straight away. Embarrassingly, I even typed up a newsletter containing stories, recipes and puzzles, called All-round Fun Club in Year 4 and distributed it to friends. Yes, I was that sort of nerd.
The trouble was, I also had an affinity for maths and music, which meant that on my Student of the Week questionnaire under the “What do you want to be when you grow up?” section, I said “teacher, lawyer, writer, architect, ballerina, computer programmer, flautist, LEGO designer”. What can I say? I was always a chick of varied interests.
As it turns out, I’ve kind of become several of those professions! During high school, I narrowed my future professions down to wanting to be a maths and English teacher, so I did English, Music, Maths 1 and 2 and Physics in Year 12. I scored well and got into Maths and Computer Science at university, which allowed me to combine those nerdy subjects with humanities electives like English.
However, my plans for earning my “World’s Best Teacher” coffee mug derailed while I was at uni when I started my own business as a part-time high school tutor. I discovered a fatal flaw in my plan: I really hate kids. Well, not exactly hate them, but tutoring was tough. Students forgot what I taught them from session to session, had the attention span of fleas and several were, well, just plain thick. Of course, some were hard-working, helpful and sweet, but the damage was done. That’s one reason it can be so valuable to get work experience/interning early on in your chosen industry, because you have warning if you actually really hate the job or would suck at it harder than an industrial-strength vacuum cleaner.
So I finished by Maths and Computer Science degree, did an honours year in English, and then completed a law degree. So I’m kind of a computer programmer/lawyer. I got my first “proper”, post-uni job in state government and a year later ended up in Consumer Affairs as a mediator.
Mediating is actually really cool. I get to do two of my favourite things: communicate and help people. It also uses some skills and knowledge from my law degree. The downside? You deal with angry people. A lot. It can wear you down. And so the siren song of a career as a writer became stronger and stronger until I could no longer ignore it.
I dipped my toe into writing by switching to part-time work at Consumer Affairs. I read everything I could about writing for magazines and snagged myself a copy of The Australian Writer’s Marketplace, then started emailing pitches to all sorts of glossies – health, bridal, fashion, travel etc.
Surprisingly, the first positive response wasn’t from some tiny, obscure publication – it was Cosmo Bride! Because I didn’t have a portfolio of previous articles I’d written for magazines, I’d emphasised my expertise in Consumer Affairs (ie shopping, negotiating contracts for large purchases, and not getting ripped off) in my pitch to them.
As I was an unknown quantity to Cosmo Bride, they asked me to write the article on spec (ie if after I wrote it, they hated it, they could just reject it without publishing it or paying me). Luckily, they liked it and I was unbelievably thrilled when I first saw it in print. I rushed down to the news agency to buy it and showed it off to the ladies behind the counter like a complete Wally!
I’ve kept on pitching and gradually built a portfolio of work, which I’ve put on my blog. I’ve got to say blogging has helped me in several ways, especially right at the beginning because even if I hadn’t yet been published I could (a) show magazines samples of my writing in the form of blog posts and (b) prove I was serious about writing because I’d been blogging about it for the past several months. It has also helped me keep track of my progress and network with established writers (by interviewing them, having them stumbling across my blog, etc). I’d highly recommend it.
My other advice would be to not get discouraged. I’ve had two on spec articles rejected so far and while I was devastated at the time, I’ve since heard from a very smart, talented fellow writer that her on spec article was also rejected by one of these editors. Sometimes rejection just comes down to personal preference or the way the magazine operates and it’s not necessarily an indictment on your writing skills. No matter, keep pitching and you’ll find editors who truly appreciate your work.
Anyway, that’s the story of how I’ve become a writer. Hopefully there’s a smidgen of useful info buried in all those words.
Good luck with finding your own words and getting paid for them. May the writing and career gods smile upon you.You can follow Rebecca on twitter and find her portfolio on her blog, Becks and the City and also like the facebook page.
So you wanna be a sports journalist? This is part two of the My Interning Life ‘I want to be a sports journalist’ series. Liam Quinn is currently on exchange overseas in Michigan, USA. He plans to complete his Bachelor of Journalism at La Trobe Univeristy in 2013.What is your dream job?
Wow, tough question.
Honestly, I have about three or four ‘dream jobs’ that I want to do at some point in my career. But, if I had to choose just the one, it would be to become a Feature Writer for The New York Times. To me, that’s something I view as the pinnacle, so it’s only natural that I want to be in that position.
What made you decide to do work experience/interning?
After speaking to lecturers, fellow students and industry professionals, it didn’t take me long to realize that journalism is an incredibly competitive industry.
An internship not only gives me a “leg-up” in terms of resume strength, but the experience, contacts and skills I hope to gain through it are invaluable.
Already I feel that the experience I’ve been able to gain has helped tremendously with my development as a writer.
Where are you currently interning/doing work experience?
I’m currently working at BackPageLead in Melbourne, and writing for Bleacher Report.
I’ve been with BPL since May in 2011, and began writing for Bleacher Report in December 2011. I [also] spent the 2011 season working with the Northern Football League. I have worked as match-day commentator for the league, and I also co-present a weekly NFL TV wrap and write a weekly preview of the upcoming Match of the Day.
What does the company that you currently work for do?
BPL is an independent sports commentary and opinion website. It covers all sorts of sports, with a team of writers working on Australian, American and European sports. Besides the articles from its team of writers, BPL also links other sports stories from around the world, making it the first place to turn to keep up to date with all the news in the sports world.
Why work at BackPageLead?
Obviously, the benefits of experience gained and working with professionals is fantastic. Charles Happell, BPL publisher, has worked in almost every area of the field. He started out as a Federal Politics journalist, before becoming a sports journo in London and Reuters in Milan. He also worked for The Age for over a decade, serving as Sports Editor for three. Having the ability to learn and work closely with someone with such an incredible pedigree in the industry is something I do not take for granted.
I’ve also had the chance to collaborate with some other incredible writers and people, something that I would not have been able to do without BPL. But, more importantly, it’s great fun.
How did you find out about the internship? Who helped you apply, referred you?
I was incredibly lucky to find BPL.
I hadn’t seen an internship advertised, but having been a reader of BPL I was well aware of it. Then one day, I simply decided to take a chance and send Charles an email, and ask if he had any work experience on offer.
Charles gave me a call the next day and we arranged a time to catch up for a coffee on a Friday afternoon, and then I started the following Monday.
I was incredibly nervous my first day, and to be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t really have an experience working for a group like BPL, so it was all a learning curve.
The first day I was in the offices with Charles, as he gave me a crash course on how to negotiate the basic operational components of the site.
But amazingly, Monday is the day when AFL great Wayne Carey comes in to film his weekly vidcast for BPL. It was an incredible shock to be sat there at the desk and have Carey walk in and shake my hand. I think I had a pretty embarrassing pause for a few seconds, before I meekly responded that it was nice to meet him.
What do you do at your internship on a weekly basis?
Each week I try and write two articles for the site. They range from a variety of sports (sticking with topical events) but due to my interests, I tend to write mainly about US sports.
Other than writing, I also subedit articles from regular contributors, getting them ready for publication. As part of that I obviously work on structuring the pieces if they need a little tweaking, while trying to leave the original voice of the writer in tact.
For Bleacher Report I am required to write two pieces per week.
Do you feel your current internship will make you stand out to prospective employers?
Well that’s the plan. I think that the experience I will gain has to make my resume stand out from the pack, which is obviously an integral facet in finding a job in the industry.
Is your internship similar to your ‘dream job’?
In a lot of ways. BPL gives me a lot of freedom in my writing, providing it’s relevant and well written. I think I’m incredibly lucky to have that, and cannot thank BPL enough for having the faith in my work to allow me to do that.
Has your internship changed you in some way?
From my first meeting with BPL, we decided that the number one goal is that I become a better writer, as a result of my time there. Already I feel that my writing has stepped up in the short time I’ve been there. So that’s a change.
On a personal note, I think that it has made me more determined to succeed. Being a Journalism student, you hear plenty of doom and gloom about a dying industry, but being with people who have ‘made it’ shows me that it is possible.
Is one internship enough? Will you do more? Why/Why not?
I’m glad I’m involved with both BPL and the NFL.
Working with BPL has taught me so much more about the industry, the sorts of thing you cant read in a textbook or hear in a lecture. Working with the NFL lets me see “behind the curtain” in a sporting organization, albeit on a relatively small scale. Having knowledge of the media environment and sporting organizational side is a great advantage, as it increases my overall understanding of how the two work together.
But at the same time, I want to take on any opportunities that I stumbled across. At this point, I figure that any and all experience I can gain will be a great help.
Have you been published? If so, what did you write about & where?
I’ve been lucky enough to have a an assortment of articles published.
My first piece was featured on upstart Magazine and I’ve since had a collection of other pieces published. I’ve also written for The Roar, AFL.com.au and of course BackPageLead and Bleacher Report. I was also credited with a piece in The Herald Sun.
Has twitter helped you network with prospective employers and fellow students?
Absolutely. Utilizing social media is key for any ‘wannabe journo’. But it has to be used in the right way.
Personally, I try and think of Twitter as an online representation of myself to prospect employers. Therefore, maintaining a professional approach and tone is important.
What is your advice for other students who haven’t done an internship/work experience?
You can follow Liam on Twitter.
Give it a go. Email people, ask anyone you can think of. What do you have to lose? The worst thing someone can say is no, but even if they do, at least they’ve heard your name and hopefully had a look at some of your writing.
Even if you don’t have time for an internship or cant find one, try and build a portfolio. Whether it’s writing, podcasts, YouTube channels, whatever, just try and do something.
Besides the fact that it could help down the track, its also really great fun.
And regardless of where you end up in life, enjoying it is the most important part.
…where can I be published?
There are many young aspiring journalists out there. There are also many young aspiring sports journalists out there.
I have noticed that all of my AFL or sports based internship articles have gained a lot of attention. This is some of the advice I have been given and some that I have found has helped myself. I do not necessarily want to be a sports journalist but so far have only been officially published (bar this blog and my personal one) online writing about Rugby Union and AFL.
If you haven’t got an internship or are at university doing a journalism degree and haven’t been published then here are some options:
Get in touch with your universities online/print newspaper and submit sports based articles. For example, my university has an online magazine called upstart magazine where emerging journalists can be published.
Ask your university lecturer for advice. See if they can refer you on to a fellow journalist to give you some tips and create some contacts in the industry.
Search for sports opinion based websites where you can upload your articles and be published; like I did on The Roar and Sports Press. For the purpose of this post I wrote a short article about the Melbourne Rebels trial match against the Auckland Blues and was published this morning on The Roar. You can read the article here.
Find a sports based internship. Many sports organisations take interns and work experience students each season. It’s best to go online and search for the appropriate contact and register your interest before the season starts. If you have been consistently writing sports articles on your blog or being published online, then your articles will become a body of work to show to when appyling and may help you stand out from other applicants.
If you don’t already have a Twitter account, get one. Start following sports journalists, organisations and get involved in the conversation when necessary. Twitter is such a powerful tool and I have made several connections at different sports organisations through following the people who work at them.
Watch, read, take notes and attend a multitude of sports. This will help expand your knowledge and as you keep writing and being published your confidence will improve. Every time I attend a Rugby Union match I take my pen, notepad and my Dad. He is my personal commentator and helps me read the play as I am still learning about the sport. I also keep clippings of sports articles of games I had attended and read what was said so I understand the sports journalism ‘language.’
A word of caution: do not confine yourself to just writing sports articles. You may want to write lifestyle, news even review articles to show that you can also write about other topics than just sport. Being able to write on many different topics will show versatility and make you more appealing to prospective employers.Where can I specialise and study Sports Journalism?
La Trobe University in Bundoora, Melbourne offers a undergraduate degree Bachelor of Journalism (Sport)
Charles Sturt University in Bathurst, New South Wales offers a double degree Bachelor of Sports Studies / Bachelor of Communication (Journalism)
University of Canberra, ACT offers a Bachelor of Sports Media