JournalismMuse: Sticks, Stones and story types

Breaking into a freelance market is about being strategic about my stories. It’s about leveraging opportunities to reach more lucrative assignments.

I think of it as casting stones into a lake. Each story is a stone cast into the marketplace and it’s a matter of making a large enough waves that it’s impossible for anybody to ignore. Obviously, hefting boulders is a great way to make a name for yourself, but a sustainable career is built on throwing regular sized stones into the water until the big one rolls along.

After getting forced out of the newspaper world, I opted to spend my time covering video games. This was an intimidating prospect after covering prep sports for four years. At the newspaper, I was comfortable because the sources were familiar and it was a small scope. It wasn’t long before coaches I talked to for stories were on a first name basis with me. They were familiar with my work and we knew what to expect out of each other.

The first step when breaking into a new market is building relationships. Starting out, my first priority was speaking with people responsible for making games because I didn’t know anybody that could help me. At first, many of the stories I chose to write at contained at least one primary source because it forced me to reach out and speak with people that make games. Interviews and profiles give the most important people involved a chance to talk about their game and add to my sense of how the industry works.

The backbone of my freelance career are my connections and its imperative that every person that appears in my stories is willing to speak with me again. A source is someone who won’t hesitate to pick up the phone when I come asking for an interview and it’s important that the people that matter think of me that way.

Now it’s possible for a journalist to thrive on relationship building stories alone, but it’s also important to leverage my own growing expertise into stories people want to read. The more I learn about video games, the more confident I am talking sharing my views. Columns, opinion pieces and reviews are stories that are predicated on my knowledge of the industry. These are marketing type stories that showcase my expertise for readers.

A big part of covering covering games is the ability to look at them critically. Reviews are marketing type stories and a staple of many video game websites. I need to be skilled at writing them and make sure that readers trust my opinion. I want the people that read my reviews to come away thinking of me as a fair and trustworthy judge of games merits.

Columns, opinion pieces and blog posts work the same way. These types of stories show that I am engaged and pay attention to my beat. The trick to these stories is riding the wave. A well timed blog post that touches on a particularly hot topic of the day could garner a wide audience if it goes up at the right time. Combine timing with intelligent and engaging commentary is a sure fire way to build a loyal audience.

Both types of stories will get you to paid work. When pitching to a magazine, the first thing I do is take inventory of all the sources I’ve spoken to for other stories. I think of their expertise and come up with an angle that makes use of their unique insight. Making connections with a diverse group of sources expands the number of topics I can write about with authority.

Marketing stories are a source of confidence. It shows that I am willing to stay informed and offer up my own insight. Provide insight on buzz worthy topics enough times and the right people will take notice. An editor may notice my name when looking over a pitch or even seek me out to write a story.

Freelance success is about working with what I’ve got and slowly build my sphere of influence. I build relationships to fill out my toolbox of sources and offer up my insights to build an audience. This takes time and patience, but throw enough stones and sooner or later you’ll pick up that big one.