How to stand out from the crowd (in a good way)

For freelancers hoping to get commissioned, or those looking for a full-time position, crafting your story pitch or CV appropriately is essential if you want to stand out, says Phin Foster

I receive tens of emails each week from aspiring and established writers looking for either commissioned work or a job on our features desk. It never fails to surprise me how many are meandering, irrelevant, semi-literate or downright insane. Quite a few tick all four boxes.

Having been there myself, I appreciate how disheartening the freelance game can be and the extent to which many become disillusioned after countless rejections. The trick is not allowing such disillusionment to become reflected in how you present yourself.

Any email that has been sent to commissioning editors en masse can be spotted a mile off and prompts an immediate red flag. At least give a vague sense of having proofed for typos. Spell my name correctly. Spell the name of the magazine correctly. Demonstrate some knowledge of the title and why you deserve a shot at being a contributor.

Linking to previous work is advisable, but make sure it relates to the topic in question. Keep your writing sharp and to the point – when an editor is already receiving hundreds of unsolicited PR announcements daily, mustering the energy to read a stranger’s 1,000 word personal statement outlining past achievements, life goals, pets, travelling adventures and hobbies is a big ask.

And telling me you’re “creative”, “work well as part of a team and independently”, or “love writing and words” only really tells me that you haven’t got much to say.

But the fact so many proposals make me despair for the future of the written word should offer real hope. It has got to the point where receiving a well crafted, intelligent covering letter has become such a rarity, I actually get pretty excited when one crosses my desk. Such cases tend to frame their writers as smart, but not smart-arses; funny without being kooky or whacky; confident rather than self-aggrandising; and memorable for none of the wrong reasons.

All I really need to know is who you are, what you’ve done and why I should be interested. That shouldn’t take more than a couple of short paragraphs and is also a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate your capabilities as a writer. Finally, while my peers won’t thank me for saying this, follow up any email with a call a few days later. Most of us were in your boat at some time or another and putting us on the phone and on the spot is often the best way of getting a foot in the door.

For those of you who have sent me meandering, irrelevant, semi-literate and downright insane letters of introduction in the past, please continue to do so. Over the past few years I’ve been compiling a rogue’s gallery and am committed to seeing it grow. Some highlights are included below for your education/amusement, (the spelling and grammar is, sadly, all the original writers’ own).

“Being creative is defiantly second nature to me, and creative writing is something I’m incredibly good at.”

The versatile
“I enjoy working with a wide range of different people. Whilst working at Murphys Sports Bar I met a wide range of customers. Most very polite however, there were some incidents of people who were inebriated who were highly aggressively.”

Short sentences
“If you want a smart, qualified, take-charge and dependable writer with published newspaper and office experience for an experienced feature writer position in London, United Kingdom who is available for work immediately, consider me because not only am I qualified, simply put I’m passionate about news and the role it plays in peoples’ lives, I love to write, I have reporting and features writing experience at a weekly where I covered a number of beats including education/school district, city, police and features, as a journalist I’ve developed a knack for accurate typing, I’m technically savvy, I’m a community-news minded writer, I’m a relatively young candidate with valuable experience working for news companies and am eager to learn as much as possible about the news industry and how journalism works, though I’m an out-of-country candidate working at a major digital publication where I could learn everything I’d want to about features writing would be a dream come true (and living in England would be a huge bonus), and I have a scientific background.”

Go Getters
“I have been an active person since childhood”

“Accredited Future Life Progressionist/Past Life Regressionist/Life Between Lives Therapist, Soul & Spirit Healer, Lifestyle Executive, Angelic Alchemist. Soul Contract Interpreter, Empath, Psychic, Agony Aunt and Holistic Massage Therapist.”

“I would like to be able to work in an environment where there is a strong team ethic, and colleagues are treated fairly, with there being a possibility of progression, through training in the company. I have no doubt that these factors are withheld at the company you represent, and is the prominent reason why I would like to be an employee there.”

Culture vultures
“I’ve been always interested in culture and its different declinations. A creative contribute to the different aspects of the ‘cultural product’ has been central in the fulfilment of my personal aspirations and the development of my career. “

The detail-orientated
“You can devolve your writing responsibly to me and rest assured oft he quality.”

“In a phrase: Europe is more culturally-enlightened and less censured than the western world”

“I’m a recent graduate in Journalism from the University of Lincoln who took a bold step in relocating to the Falkland Islands”

Aspiring émigrés
“There was a reason I was voted the senior class member most likely to live in another country…”

Phin Foster is editor of Hotel Management International, and The LEAF Review

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