Big Ideas, Delivered With Impact

Using Twitter to Land Writing Assignments

In Resources, Writing on April 10, 2009 at 8:26 pm

By Tim Beyers

Recently, I asked the writers who frequent Twitter if they had landed work using the microblogging service. Responses were mixed.

Haven’t landed an assignment on Twitter yet, but I’ve found sources,” says Susan Johnston, a Boston-based freelancer who goes by the witty Twitter moniker @UrbanMuseWriter.

She’s right. Twitter can be excellent for finding sources and source material. But can you effectively query in 140 characters or less? “I haven’t landed a paid assignment via Twitter, but had opportunities to write pro bono,” says freelancer Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen, @quipsandtips on Twitter.

That’s telling. Pawlik-Kienlen, like yours truly, is a long-time pro who writes for food money. Her work has appeared in Reader’s Digest and, among others. Johnston’s no slouch, either. Her work has been published in The Boston Globe and The Christian Science Monitor. If these writers aren’t landing paying gigs via Twitter, are there any to land?

Perhaps it’s too early to be asking. Estimates peg Twitter’s total population at 8 million, a fraction of the 200 million inhabiting Facebook and yet it’s still struggling to harpoon the Fail Whale. If users can’t rely on Twitter, publishers won’t either. Nor will editors. Querying the old fashioned way — via e-mail or snail mail — is probably still best.

And yet queries are most effective when you know something about the editor you’re querying. It’s here that Twitter can be invaluable. Have a query in mind for BusinessWeek? Take a look at what Executive Editor John A. Byrne is tweeting. For Check its tweetstream to see which stories rank a cut above.

Querying is selling and, as any salesperson will tell you, you’re apt to sell more when you can address a need. Editors have needs; strive to meet them. Twitter can help.

RESOURCE UPDATE: I finished a new version of The Freelance Writer’s Helper this morning. Find it here. And if you’re a writer or editor, please join Lydia Dishman and I for Editorchat on Wednesdays, 8:30-10 pm eastern on Twitter. Click here to see what we’ll be discussing on Tax Day.

© Copyright 2009, Tim Beyers.

  1. I’ve considered following up on a query via Twitter, but not sure if that’s too stalker-ish. It certainly lends itself to short notes like follow-ups rather than a full blown query.

  2. I would never think to actually query editors via Twitter. I’m a strong believer in a strong query letter, and Twitter just doesn’t allow for that sort of formality.

    That being said, I feel as if the connections I’m making on Twitter will most definitely lead me toward more professional opportunities. Me and the people in my Twitter network are constantly helping each other out!

  3. “I feel as if the connections I’m making on Twitter will most definitely lead me toward more professional opportunities.”

    I see this as well, Steph. The writers and editors I’ve met via editorchat have helped me immensely. Thanks to you both.

  4. I just re-read today that the most effective pitches are those that speak to the editor (or agent, or publisher) individually. That is, they contain a nugget that perks ears because it’s directly related to the person, magazine, or company. So, that’s a brilliant way to use Twitter — to get to know the editors/agents/publishers better and learn their preferences! But, I’d still make sure those nuggets are professional and related to the query.

    I don’t think I’d pitch an editor via Twitter either, unless I’d worked with the editor before. You can be a little more lax when you’ve built a relationship! 🙂

    Thanks for including me here, Tim. And I love the layout of this comments section!


  5. I’ve actually pitched an editor on Twitter — but she’s an editor I’ve worked with before. I think that it can be a way to quickly connect about an idea, but the relationship already has to be there.

    What’s really surprised me, though, is that I’ve tweeted about an article that I was working on and I received a reply from an editor — she wanted a similar article for her publication. Once again, I’m talking about an editor I’ve worked with before, but amazing things can happen on Twitter!

  6. Like Susan, I’ve had better luck finding sources on Twitter – both sources for assignments I already had, and sources for assignments I subsequently pitched & got. However, just last week I found out about a paid blogging opportunity the day it was posted and sent a letter of introduction the same day. It’s far too soon to tell whether anything will come of it, but it’s right up my alley and if it wasn’t for Twitter I’d never have known about it.

    Michelle R.

  7. Interesting post. As a longtime freelancer, I wouldn’t consider pitching via Twitter either, but the connections and real-time info are invaluable. Also, I’m using it to build my blog readership, which in turn I’m hoping will boost my platform as a potential book author. So Twitter offers plenty of uses for writers, maybe just not for pitching stories.

  8. I think that one of the problems with using Twitter as a source for jobs is that it’s not a very effective tool until you get a wide enough net cast. Because you have to be following someone before they can contact you, there’s no way for “sources” that you haven’t pre-screened to notify you about a story without doing it publicly or for potential employers to get a hold of you. Not a big deal, if you have an active network of people you follow, but a much more difficult task, if you’re choosy about who you follow on Twitter or if you aren’t already connected. While there are times and situations where Twitter can be a great tool, it’s hard for me to see this being an ideal solution for independent journalists without the support of a larger platform.

    • Good points all, Davis. For writers who are too shy to ask for an interview in front of the Twitterverse, Twitter may not be of much help. I’m not one of those writers. Any shyness I would face is more than suppressed by my more primal need to feed, clothe and generally take care of our family of five. We survive on my writing income.

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