I would like to do some freelance writing for the local paper back home here. I was wondering two things.
1) Should I have my article written before I query the editor? Or should I wait to see if they're interested?
2) How much do I charge for that?
1) I touched on this earlier in the week in one of the "comments" sections, but I thought I'd reiterate this here. Never, ever, EVER send in a completed story before you've received an assignment. Never. (Was that clear enough?) The only exceptions to this rule are essays and some travel pieces.
Why not? Wouldn't this save everyone some time? No. Here's why.
An editor is there for a reason. Part of his job is to choose which stories will work in his magazine (or paper) and why. Thus, when you send him a germ of an idea, it's only a germ. He's the one who gets to choose the angle, advise you how to write it, and assess how it can best blend into the rest of the magazine. If you've already written the whole piece, how on earth can he do this? Believe it or not, every magazine strives to differentiate itself from its competitors. You might think that SELF, SHAPE, FITNESS, WOMEN'S HEALTH, and HEALTH are interchangeable, but trust me, the editors at each magazine do not. (And as a writer for these mags, neither do I.) In fact, a story works for SELF might not work for FITNESS...I'm not talking about the story idea, I'm talking about the completed story. Yes, they're both going to cover weight loss, but SELF might do it by running a piece that features tips from real women, while WOMEN'S HEALTH might do it by featuring top experts in the field and breaking it up into body type. See where I'm going with this? Unless you've permeated your editor's brain, there's no way that you can know how they want a piece covered. Maybe they like your story idea but have recently covered a similar angle - they'll want to take that story idea and come up with something fresh. Or maybe the angle is working, but they'll want you to list which experts you'll interview before they give you the green light. Who knows? There are a million variations on these hypotheticals...the bottom line is that if you've already sent in the completed story, you're not giving the editor a chance to make the piece fit his particular niche. And he'll shoot you down faster than you can say, "Jack Bauer."
Finally, I should note that sending in a completed piece is a blatent sign of a newbie. Because it's so verboten, seasoned writers would simply never do it...and those who do wave their beginner flag all too clearly. So take my advice: draft a kick-ass query - detailed enough to grab the editor's attention, complete with why this story is right for him, why it needs to be told now, how you would tell it, and why you're the one to tell it, then send it off. That should impress him just fine.
2) Payment. You don't tell him how much you charge, he tells you how much he pays. Which doesn't mean that there isn't room for negotiation, only that the editor/paper/magazine sets the standard and you use this as a launching point. (There are some exceptions for this - start-ups might ask me how much I usually get paid, but again, they're the exception, and I'd never pitch a story and add in, "I expect $XX for this piece.") Newspapers don't pay that well - I'll be blunt. I don't write for them, but I'd guess that you'll get a couple hundred bucks for a story - max, somewhere in the ballpark of, say, 10-35 cents a word. But that's not the point for you right now. You want to build clips, as well as your portfolio, and local papers are a great way to start.Anyone out there write for papers and want to share his or her general rates?