“Send me your clips.”
It’s a good sign when an editor asks for samples of your writing. It usually means he’s interested and wants proof of your skills before offering you an assignment. In the publishing world, “clips” are short for “clippings.” Of course, these days clips are more likely to be PDFs than snippets of newsprint, but we’ll get to that. Here are some common questions about clips.
Q: Which clips should I send?
A: The general rule is to send three to five clips no more than five years old. I say, send a couple of your best, most relevant clips and don’t worry about how old they are. Of course, if your best clip is from 1995, include some more recent ones as well. It really doesn’t matter how many clips you send, but keep in mind that most editors won’t comb through a huge pile of paper.
Q: How should I send them?
A: Defer to the editor. Don’t e-mail her PDF files unless she invites you to. If you can send her a link to your Web site where she can download them herself, that’s ideal. If you only have hard copies of your clips, mail them. (Faxes may smear or be illegible.) Spring for overnight mail if the editor’s in a hurry. And while color copies are nice-especially if there are photos or art accompanying your article-clean, black-and-white photocopies are fine. Never send the originals, since you may not get them back.
Q: Do I need to wait for an invitation to send clips?
A: No. If you’re sending an unsolicited query by mail, by all means include some clips. However, photocopies (and postage) aren’t cheap, so I usually mention some publications I’ve written for and offer to provide clips upon request. In e-mail queries, links to online clips are fine, but again-don’t send unsolicited attachments.
Q: What if I don’t have any clips?
A: Have you written an article for your church newsletter? Had an op-ed run in your local paper? Published an essay in your alumni magazine? Those count as clips. If you really don’t have anything that qualifies as a published writing sample, offer to write a few things for free so you can get some clips.
One last tip: I make regular trips to Staples to photocopy my latest clips before they get lost in the recycling bin. Then I file them so they’re easily accessible when an editor says those magic words.
Abigail Green is a freelance writer in Baltimore. Over the past 12 years, she has written for national, regional and online publications including AOL, Bride’s, Baltimore Magazine, Cooking Light and Health. She blogs about the lighter side of pregnancy, parenthood and potty training at Diary of a New Mom. She also teaches the six-week e-course Personal Essays that Get Published.