How One Freelance Writer Broke Into Her Dream Niches

Freelance writer dreams of successBy Jessie Kwak

If you’re just starting out as a freelance writer, breaking into new magazines can seem like a chicken-and-egg scenario.

You’d love to write for Redbook, Psychology Today or Popular Woodworking, but editors want to see clips in the field. How do you get clips in your target niche before you’ve broken into it?

I started out as a travel writer, but I wanted to branch out into better paying markets – so I started figuring out how I could use my travel writing to do so. Using a combination of strategies, I slowly began building a portfolio that has helped me break into some of my dream niches, like personal finance, business, cycling and beer.

How did I do it? Here are my tips:

Pitch a topic you’re an expert in

My first sale outside the travel writing niche was to a regional parenting magazine, ParentMap. It was, of course, an article about travel with kids, but now I could add “writer for parenting magazines” to my skill set.

To break into personal finance, I pitched a piece about how a 6-month backpacking trip taught my husband and I to talk about money. The editor loved it, and now I’m writing another piece for them on how to budget for travel.

The plus side of these articles is that they’re not just travel pieces – I can use them to break into writing about personal finance and relationships, too.

Say you have a few clips writing business profiles, but you’d really like to break into food writing. Take a look at the magazines you’d like to write for – could you pitch one a profile of the new sustainable sushi restaurant down the street?

Almost any beat from accounting to technology can be slanted to fit a variety of other niche magazines. It’s a great way to break into a new market.

Pitch new topics to your current editors

After I wrote a few travel pieces for ParentMap, I pitched my editor a piece about teaching your kids to ride a balance bike. That earned me a clip I’ve used to attract clients in the cycling industry (another major dream niche of mine).

If your editor at the local home and garden journal likes your regular container gardening articles, try pitching her a piece on the latest crop of hi-tech gardening gadgets. If she assigns it, you’ve just landed yourself a clip writing about technology that could help you break into another great-paying niche.

Pitch articles that combine niches

I keep a wish list of magazines I want to write for, and whenever I’m pitching a new piece – whether it’s to a current editor or a new market – I figure out how to make it slant toward multiple niches.

Wanting to break into writing about beer, I pitched a travel piece to Beer West Magazine. With the ability to say I’d written for a beer magazine under my belt, I pitched the Brewer’s Association trade magazine a piece about getting startup capital for your brewery through crowdfunding.

Voila! A clip that shows I can write about breweries, small business startups, and crowdfunding, and now I’ve cracked writing for trade publications.

This isn’t hard to do, but the trick is to do it consciously. You need to make every hard-earned clip count, especially in the early stages of your writing career. Don’t sell yourself short by only pitching ideas that can be used in a single niche.

How have you broken into new niches? Tell us in the comments below.

Jessie Kwak is a freelance writer in the Pacific Northwest. She writes about the good life: travel and the tourism industry, outdoor adventures, food and beverage, and (of course) cycling.

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22 comments on “How One Freelance Writer Broke Into Her Dream Niches
  1. Linda H says:

    Jessie,

    Your article had me listing magazines I want to write for, article ideas I want to pursue, and thinking of when I can schedule time to visit my favorite bookstore to browse magazines for possible markets.

    Great ideas and excellent tips on bridging the river of fear to go from wanna-be to experienced freelance writer. Your ideas offer hope to those who struggle with “I want to but….”.

    I agree with Nadia, you’ve applied our knowledge and expertise, built your portfolio and taken action to move forward. Great roadmap for others to follow. Keep it up!

  2. Nadia McDonald says:

    I learnt a lot from reading Jessie’s strategy. She is a woman of action. She applied her knowledge and expertise and built her portfolio. I loved how she used her experience to expand her niche.

  3. Alex M says:

    Freelance’s a tough game right now – more difficult than it ever has been. It’s not helped by the blogging and guest posting craze. A lot of journalists I know have ended up in the SEO market producing great content, whilst not really being journalists. A strange situation, but then I wouldn’t take the risk with freelancing.

    Great to hear of your success, though! At least some have made it through it all.

  4. Benard says:

    I like this article, it’s actually practical and useful instead of the normal fluff. It’s like 6 degrees of separation, one good article can leapfrog you into so many different industries if you’re smart about what you’re writing about.

    Thanks a lot Jessie, it’s such great advice.

    • Jessie Kwak says:

      Thanks Bernard – I like the 6 degrees of separation analogy. I think too often writers look at a publication and think “There’s no way I could get in there!” Instead, you have to think of it in terms of stepping stones. Anything is attainable. 🙂

  5. Great tips, Jessie. A lot of take home value, here. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  6. Erin says:

    Jessie, this is great stuff. Like Lisa said, I feel a little dumb for not having made the connection before. I always thought that a clip in a certain industry was just clip in that industry, and never thought to use the crossovers in the actual article content to pitch a bigger publication or business in the “second” niche. Thanks for sharing your story!

  7. Lisa says:

    Jessie! This is so brilliant. I feel dumb that I haven’t been doing this. I did kind of luck into some cross-niche clips, which I’ve used as clips for my goal niche, and I actually just pitched to a client that would give me some great clips in a new niche. But I need to do a LOT more of this. You are so smart.

    Also – this is totally the method Jon Morrow recommends for pitching guest posts to blogs outside of your niche – find the overlap between your blog and the target blog. I’m not very good at it; I’m always pitching ideas that fit my target perfectly but don’t fit my blog at all. I’m going to practice it with magazines now because seriously, it’s brilliant!

    Oh! And there’s a bonus: I bet it makes your pitches more likely to be accepted, because you’re really bringing a fresh angle to the publication’s topic.

    • Jessie Kwak says:

      Thanks, Lisa, and thanks for the note about Jon Morrow. I’m planning to pitch some guest posts this week to support an e-book I just released, and I’ve been brainstorming ideas to slant it to blogs outside my niche. The book is a bike-themed craft guide, which makes it quite, um, nichey.

  8. Daryl says:

    I agree with Willesha – I love how you wrote an article for one magazine with an eye for breaking into another!

  9. hoongyee says:

    i always appreciate smart strategies in achieving a goal like building a diverse market.

    not only can niches like accounting and technology be slanted towards any market, controversy can also be a great way to enter a new market.

    for example, there was a big discussion among some of the biggest foundations in the philanthropy world about measurement and how to know if something is successful. i read the blogs of five of the most influential writers to see what their positions were and successfully pitched a piece about how to measure wonder to a philanthropy publication. it was basically a curated piece of different opinions but clearly summarized for easy reading.

    this technique can work well to break into the top publications of any niche you are targeting.

    and why not take a crack at the big shots?

    cheers,

    hoongyee

    • Jessie Kwak says:

      That’s a great idea, Hoongyee. It shows that you’re current on the major issues in whichever niche you’re trying to break into. I’m tucking this idea away for future use. 🙂

  10. Thanks for the tips! Numerous examples clearly demonstrated possible connections. Inspired this writer! 🙂

  11. What *great* suggestions, Jessie! So clever the way you used your existing knowledge/passion as a jumping off point to get into a new niche. Love it. As Williesha said, this is good stuff! Feeling inspired….thx! 🙂

  12. This is such a good strategy! It’s really easy to sit there and think, “My clips don’t fit that market at all,” but it takes a lot more creativity to figure out how to slant them so they do work.

    And I’m sure this would work really well for writing other than magazine articles. Copywriting, blogging… everything has some sort of “niche” that you have to make your clips fit.

    • Jessie Kwak says:

      Exactly, Katharine. Most of my freelance work is blogging and copywriting, and I use this exact same technique to talk my way into my gigs that are more in line with my dream job.

  13. Williesha says:

    I like that you leveraged individual stories almost in a chain to the next big magazine. That’s a really awesome technique. Still trying to up my game when it comes to idea generation. This is good stuff.

  14. *How have you broken into new niches?*

    You can break into a new niche simply by becoming an enthusiast on the subject.

    I managed to get a paid writing gig writing a series of tutorials on how to play Backgammon.

    As it turned out I’d managed to gain the attention, (of the website I wrote the series for), after they’d read a number of detailed strategy posts I had made on a Backgammon forum.

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