A couple of years ago I set as one of my goals having a pet column somewhere. I like writing a column. It’s regular, reliable work, it’s in my 400-1000-word zone, where I’m used to writing, and it’s great for raising an author profile and getting a following.
I imagined myself as a sort of “Dear Abby” of exotic pets, and set about looking for places that would be interested in that kind of column.
I wasted a lot of time because I was scared to ask places like Canadian Living if they were interested in a pet column. Why would they even consider me? I thought. So I hesitated, while months went by.
When I finally did get the nerve to ask Canadian Living if they wanted a pet column, the answer was “No”. They didn’t have space in the magazine. I was disappointed, but buoyed by the very nice phone call I had from the editor, telling me that she would like me to consider writing about exotic pets for them if they needed me. In other words, I asked for a column and got a couple of feature articles (so far). It wasn’t what I was after, but it was a huge step in my writing career.
I also got a lot of writerly street cred.
I landed work at Old Farmer’s Almanac in a similar way. I pitched some ideas, and the editor asked me to write a piece on spec, because she didn’t know me or my style. I did it, and she bought it. In 2013 I’ll be in the print Almanac, in bathrooms all across Canada.
More serious writer cred. (Plus I’ve finally written something my dad can brag about.)
A few months later the editor asked me if I’d be interested in, and capable of, writing a series of blog posts on starting with chickens.
“Yes!” I said. Now I have a presence on the Almanac website, and am talking about pet articles with them. It’s not a column, but it’s regular work in my field and major prestige for being on a high-profile site.
Now imagine if I hadn’t asked. No Canadian Living article, no Almanac piece, no critter-related blog posts, and I’d still be struggling to sell non-fiction to online publications whose idea of good pay is ten bucks an article, or pay-by-ad-clicks. I’d also be way short on writer cred.
For my upcoming book, Shepherd in Residence, I asked for blurbs from writers I knew and admired. Some turned me down because they didn’t have time, or had made it a rule not to do blurbs (because they said they got too many requests). But others came through, including Bill Richardson, who wrote the foreword, and Lorne Elliott. These are nationally-recognized names, and I got those pieces because I asked.
If ya don’t ask, ya don’t get. Just ask. Maybe they’ll say “yes”. Maybe they’ll say, “no, but..”. Maybe they’ll say flat-out “no”. Two out of three ain’t bad. And it does wonders for your writer cred.
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