Yesterday, someone asked me on Facebook if I had connections when I started freelancing. The simple answer is that I had absolutely no connections when I started.
I think this is a really interesting question because, when you read a lot of bios for well-known writers, you’ll tend to notice that they often attend the same schools. In the journalism world, these are often the big J-schools or Ivy League institutions. When you didn’t go to schools like these, when you don’t have the kinds of contacts that this particular realm of higher education offers, it’s really easy to feel intimidated. I do all the time.
I actually went to a pretty amazing university– Loyola Marymount– but it didn’t have a journalism school and, frankly, I didn’t think I would be doing what I am now. I also went through a really good graduate program at CSUN, but it’s not a “name” school, so, connection-wise, it didn’t help much. But, what I learned at both of these schools helped me tremendously. Thanks to working at LMU’s awesome radio station, KXLU, and taking a handful of alternative media-minded courses from Dr. Melissa Wall at CSUN, I learned that there’s a way around the establishment.
Maybe we should call this Freelancing the Indie Way.
I got my start in zines, beginning with the really crappy Riot Grrrl-inspired ones I coerced my friends into putting together with me in high school. Our neighborhood had just been leveled by an earthquake, so we were bored enough to try and learn how to cut and paste layouts. It was a visual disaster, but I was brave enough to send a copy to a much bigger Riot Grrrl-inspired zine and the editor happened to like it and asked me to write for them. So, I did.
I stopped making zines after that, but I kept writing for them. Outburn, the glossy music magazine, was basically a goth and industrial zine when they asked me to interview Legendary Pink Dots for them. I continued writing for them for years and was able to interview tons of bands that I love. I wrote for many more zines, like Flipside, Razorcake, a bunch of others. One zine editor started up a larger scale music publication and asked me to edit it. That was The Rockit.
(Note: In this decade, your best equivalent to a zine is a good blog. Start one with your friends or on your own. Ask people to let you write guest posts.)
One thing you need to know about keeping it indie is that your either going to be writing for free or very little money. These are your passions. What you get in return is the freedom to write big stories on under-the-radar topics that no one else will buy. I first wrote about artists like Ladytron and Peaches, who were unknowns outside of the clubs at the time, for Outburn. My first anime convention story ran in Razorcake. The stories I did on fairly underground musicians for The Rockit provided the clips that helped me get a gig writing for L.A. Weekly.
As for the Weekly, I submitted a blind query when my boyfriend saw that there was a new music editor and they needed more writers. I wasn’t going to do it. I didn’t think my work was up to par, but I did it just so Carlos would stop hounding me. I was shocked when I got a response. (Thanks, Randall!)
Now, I’ve been working long enough where I do have a limited amount of connections. There’s a pretty high turnover rate in journalism, but editors who like your work will get back in touch with you at their new publications. Always hang on to business cards. Follow the contacts you make on Twitter and keep in touch.
Yes, freelancing is tough. Yes, you absolutely aren’t going to be making any money at it when you start. I know right now, you’re wondering about my trust fund. I don’t have one of those either. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about freelancing when you’re broke.