What if My Writing Samples are Unpublished?

I received an excellent question today from a fellow freelance writer:

I am making my way into freelance writing and I have been rather lost as to what my first steps should be. I am very interested in setting up an online portfolio and was wondering if you could help me figure out the best way to showcase my writing samples. I haven’t yet been published and am not sure how my samples should look in order to appear professional.

Unpublished writing samples should be given the same treatment as published writing samples. Particularly:

  • Your writing sample should have its own page in your online portfolio
  • It should be displayed in plain text (not as a Word or PDF attachment)
  • The text should use a friendly font that’s easy to read

In a nutshell, you’re writing sample should look as professional as a published writing sample, but without the small detail of a publisher’s name included.

The good news is, many publications won’t mind this approach. Take this piece of encouraging advice from The Magazine Publishers of America:

When editors look at samples of your work, they are primarily interested in your writing style and mastery of journalism, rather than where the sample was published or how much you were paid.

In fact, some editors actually want to see unpublished work. For example, HowStuffWorks asks for “a mix of published writing samples and unpublished writing samples (work that has not been through an editor)” in their submission guidelines.

The other option: get published!

The email got me thinking about getting published without published writing clips, and it’s worth noting how easy it is to get published in today’s multi-media world of blogs, web copy, community newsletters, and press releases.

Getting published is not as hard as you think. In fact, you may already have published writing samples that you haven’t considered:

  • Do you have a blog? If you’re blogging is of a high enough standard, you can always use blog posts as writing samples. Here’s an example of a restaurant review I posted on my blog, and how I presented it as a writing sample in my online portfolio.
  • Have you written business reports, technical manuals, or press releases? These are perfectly legitimate writing samples. For example, I wrote a technical manual for one of my former employers and wanted to use a sample chapter as a writing sample. The chapter was in Microsoft Word format, and would have been a beast to convert to HTML. To get around this, I wrote a little blurb that described the writing sample, then a link to download the writing sample as a .doc file. You can see how I did this here.

For more ideas on writing samples, checked out a guest post I wrote for The Freshman Writer: Getting Published Without Writing Clips.

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