By Laura Bridgewater
Little steps of persistence add up to the next big step, whether it’s a first clip, a book contract, an assignment from a national publication, or even a radio commentary.
My own recent radio “Sell-A-Bration” story was inspired by a local newspaper columnist. As a guest speaker for our writing organization, the columnist shared with us how it took her over a year to break into two newspapers in our region. Every few weeks, she would pitch the editor again. She said she would carefully scan her cover letter because she didn’t want any hint of hostility (“Why haven’t you gotten back to me?”). Eventually her self-syndication efforts paid off and she was picked up.
So I came home from that meeting and fired off an email to KUNC, my local public radio station, asking if they would be interested in some commentaries. I figured that if it took the newspaper columnist 12 months, then I had better start now because it might be a while.
In the past year, I had been dissecting books about being a columnist, which is a lot like being a radio commentator. Generally, you need seven finished pieces to show an editor and seven more pieces in various stages of completion. I had a number of previously published essays (a few that were award-winners) and a shoebox full of scraps of paper for future topics.
Additionally, I had also been reading books and taking classes about humor writing. I knew from studying Patrick McManus’s book The Deer on a Bicycle: Excursions in the Writing of Humor that humor sells–especially given the current poor state of the economy and two wars. I also knew from freelancing that often the best way to break in is to write those evergreens that the staff is tired of writing.
Finally, I’ve been reading and listening to National Public Radio (NPR) commentators for years. I had recently finished NPR commentator Sandra Tsing Loh’s book Mother on Fire: A True Motherf%#$@ Story about Parenting. Her work is often described as “slice of life.”
All of these thoughts coalesced into one when I fired off my email to KUNC. I said that I had humorous, “slice of life,” holiday stories to submit. When they fired back a few days later and asked for three sample scripts, I delivered. A few more email volleys (and a phone call to hear what my voice sounds like) and I was on the air.
Instead of 365 days, it took twelve. I was in the right place at the right time because the radio station was looking to bring another commentator into the fold. But I was also prepared. I had put my butt in the chair, I had written some pieces, I had read books, and I had joined writing organizations. All my little steps added up in 2008.
In 2009, I’ll continue to make strides. By being on radio, I’ll no longer be as worried about spelling. Instead, my new challenge will be pronunciation.
To hear how Laura Bridgwater pronounces Hester Prynne, listen to her first commentary, Thanksgiving Makeover . Her second commentary will air on December 22, 2008. Visit www.kunc.org and look under KUNC Commentators. Laura is a graduate of Christina Katz’ Selling Short Stuff for Moms class.