Saturday, June 5, 2010

Building your own pipeline

These days, "pipeline" has become a dirty word, especially if you live in one of the Gulf states. Yet pipelines of information are non-polluting -- and, for freelance writers, essential.

To switch metaphors for just a second, a lot of freelancers are dying of thirst when a river of ideas is rushing right past their door. All they need to do is tap into it.

One reason they don't, I think, is the sense of isolation that freelancing can engender. Those of us with journalism backgrounds tend to fare better, because we're used to reaching out to others for suggestions.

The thing is, the world is full of people who want to give you information and tell you stories. What I'm pushing with the Writers' Bridge is a system where you take as many of these nuggets as you can and try to recycle them for pay.

Sure, I hear you -- with your day job, your family, etc, you're too busy to spend a lot of time chasing down these nebulous story subjects. Fair enough. But here are some ways you can bring them into your own space, as simply as turning on your computer. All it takes is a few initial contacts ....

1. Colleges. Identify every college within a reasonable driving distance of where you live, write to the public relations person there, tell them you're a freelance writer and would love to be put on their mailing list.

I live in a small town of 60,000 in Central Virginia, a place where residents take a perverse pride in being one of the largest cities east of the Mississippi not served by an Interstate highway. However, Lynchburg has five colleges, and over the years that has brought me into contact with best-selling authors, pop culture icons, experts in every imaginable field, sports stars, guitar heroes, heads of foreign countries, congresspeople and every U.S. president since (and including) Jimmy Carter.

Find out the schedule of speakers for the colleges on your radar, and the entertainers who come there and the professors who are considered experts in their fields. The PR person will be delighted to keep you informed.

If one of these speakers interests you, send a query to a magazine or Website telling them that you plan to interview that person when they come and would love to do an article for them. Then contact the speaker's press person and ask for a phone interview in advance. I've learned the hard way that it's often difficult to get "face time" with an important person once they get to a college campus, but find out if they're speaking to a class prior to their public appearance and ask if you can sit in.

2. Chambers of Commerce. As with colleges, contact every oine of these in your area, and tell them you'd love for them to feed you ideas. Is there a new business in the next town with an interesting product? What are some tourist attractions that people in other places might be intrigued by? The Chamber people would love to see you get something in print about their city or town -- that's part of their job.

3. Google alerts. I talk about these all the time, but you can use them in connection with subjects in which you might be especially interested. Try to keep them as specific as possible, though, because otherwise they'll cause you to tear your hair out. Target them to your area -- "Autism + Central Florida;" "Deer hunting + Western Pennsylvania," "Music + Cleveland."

4. Blog. By all means, blog. That doesn't mean you have to be a slave to it, but if you post fairly frequently, that's another tap for the pipeline. People will begin e-mailing you with subjects they'd like to see you address.

5. Your local newspaper. As much as you can, read it. There's no law that says you can't take a story that appears there and write your own on the same event or subject.
Also, once you have your blog up and running, ask the newspaper if they would care to provide a link to it.

6. Entertainment venues. Get in touch with the ones in your area and get a schedule or what bands or comics or speakers will be out in the community.

I could think of more, but this should be enough to prime the pipeline.

1 comment:

karen97 said...

Never thought of promoting myself by contacting Chamber of Commerce or colleges, getting on their mailing lists, etc. Great ideas, Darrell.

My first paid piece, an Op-Ed for The Oregonian, came about because my local paper in Eugene ran an AP article about the dangers of entering sweepstakes, especially how the elderly are caught up in it and lose their savings. Being a hobby sweepster myself, I knew that you never had to buy anything in order to enter, something the article was not emphasizing.

With enthusiasm I fired off a query to the editor at the biggest paper in our state, because I knew this subject had national attention, and shared my side of things. Got a call while sweeping my kitchen floor, lol. He wanted to run my opinion piece.

I knew I'd be getting a byline (with my mug shot) but the check that arrived after publication was a complete surprise. I was so new at the frelancing game, I hadn't even asked if they paid.

So, yes, read your local papers. They're a great source of ideas and inspiration.