When starting out in print writing, clips are an important part of the picture. You need clips to get work and to prove that you can in fact write. The earlier you begin thinking about the clips you need, the better your chances of having one handy when an editor asks for it.
Tweak Your Specialty
How about an example?
When I started writing I wrote primarily about dance. Unfortunately, my dance clips were not a big help when querying business, travel--or even local magazines. So what did I do? I wrote a dance article about the business of being a studio owner. BINGO! A business article that would help me get my foot in the door at another type of publication. Which leads me to my first piece of advice...
My first big travel article was really an arts piece about a local arts district in my home town. And I wrote a "dance as exercise" piece for a local magazine, which got my foot in the door there...
Editors want to see clips that are related to the subject matter you are proposing to write about. Having just one clip that applies is better than having ten great pieces that have nothing to do with what you are pitching. That said, you need a range of published clips to be able to break into new publications. Start with your specialty areas, then try and tweak them to expand your range and give you more possibilities.
Writing for small magazines and regional or local publications is a great way to go. I worked for a publisher that did magazines for suburbs around my hometown. I wrote about everything from local restaurants to area schools. Did it pay well? Not really. Did I get the variety of clips I needed to get other jobs. You betcha.
Sometimes those low-paying gigs can really pay off if you know how to work things to your advantage. Take on topics you haven't written about and build your arsenal.
Stick With Print
A quick word about clips from the web...
You can use links to web content or articles you have written when you query a magazine, but it really is not an ideal choice. After all, the writing style is totally different for online articles. Shorter paragraphs and bullet points are great for the web, but may not endear you to a magazine editor looking for someone who can write for their publication.
Getting the clips is only half the battle. Once you have a number of them, finding the one you need--when you need it--is key. Some people like to scan them in and have them handy. I did that in the beginning, but after a while it becomes labor-intensive. You might want to consider using a 3-ring binder with plastic sleeves and organize them by subject or publication. That works well for me. That way, when you need one, it's right at your fingertips.
Do you have any thoughts about writing for clips and organizing them well? If so, we'd love to hear from you!