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Monday, January 30, 2006

Keep In Touch - Freelance Writing Tip #15

If you're a freelance writer, then you need contacts. Contacts are either people who can give you stories or people who can give you work. Let's have a look at these in more detail.

Contacts who can give you stories

Many of the stories in magazines are spin-offs of events that have made the news. For example, when deep-veined thrombosis hit the news a few years ago, the magazines were full of tales of sufferers, investigations into legroom on airlines and a few stories of those who had actually died after a long-haul flight. My point is that the people that you would get in touch with for news stories will also be able to give you good leads for writing feature articles. So, who are these people, anyway?

Media research shows that most reporting is based on a limited range of sources. The main ones include politicians and government officials, the courts, the emergency services (police, ambulance, fire) and hospitals, the representatives of local businesses and industries and the unions. Other good places to look for information are schools and universities, churches, local clubs and societies, the military and national pressure groups and charities.

Much of the information that will spark a feature idea comes in the form of a press release, saying what that organisation or individual is planning. These days, most press releases are available on the internet (often on the organisation's or individual's own website), and are therefore relatively easy to find. Press releases usually have a name, number or email of someone you can contact for further information. Once you've actually got past the PR person to the person who has the information you want, try to get their direct number and email and make a note of it. The next time you've got a similar subject to cover, you've got a ready-made, friendly source.

As a writer, your contacts book is one of your most valuable resources. Be obsessive about collecting contact details for people you meet or speak to, even if you can't see how they will be useful. You never know when a chance encounter will lead to something useful. A former colleague of mine overheard a conversation and was able to break a story about a company that was up for sale. So make sure you get email addresses, web addresses and phone numbers (as well as physical addresses and fax numbers, just in case). Keep in touch with your contacts (a friendly email every so often) so that your name stays in their mind.

Contacts who can give you work

You should collect the same details for people who might be able to hire you. If you belong to writer's forums or if you blog, then you'll probably get lots of leads from other writers who have found places that are hiring. Even if they don't want what you're looking for right now, keep the details so that you can query about other writing. Again, you never know where the next commission is going to come from. My most recent paying gig came from one of my ex-students who wanted me to review a charity concert he'd organised. A few hours listening to music, food laid on and I got paid fairly for my 500-word review. Now, that can't be bad, can it?

I write for Constant Content

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