Words of advice for budding freelancers

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Looking for work with SFX? Here's some guidance on how to make your submission stand out from the pile

Fancy working for our magazine? Well, you’re not alone - so do an awful lot of people. We endeavour to reply to every email we receive asking about the possibility of freelance work, and read every sample submission... but some of the mistakes people make drive us crackers. So, if you’re looking for work, here’s some frank advice on common pitfalls to avoid.

Editor Dave Bradley writes:

Ever since I've been a mag editor I've received almost daily gissajob letters from would-be journalists, freelancers and work experience candidates. Hey, it's nice to work in a place that others aspire to join. Many of the speculative letters I receive are from enthusiastic and talented folk, and we've taken a few under our wing on summer placements or tried them out as new contributors. Often pleas end up deleted or at best politely brushed off, however. You'd think that the following points would be common sense when contacting the editor of a market-leading magazine, but apparently not, so I list them here in the hope that if you ever want to get in touch about career possibilities you won't be so daft.

  • "Dear sxf i hope 2 b a writter 1 day and i luv scifi can i writt a article for u pls?" You'd think that anybody applying to be a journalist would try to impress with their grammar, spelling and turn of phrase, but you'd be amazed how many people write covering letters as though they've recently been lobotomised. Please write in your best English, care enough to get your letter proofread, and then we'll talk.
  • We're dementedly busy. The best way for us to start filtering your emails straight into the Deleted Items folder is to chase us repeatedly. Don't email the same begging letter to all SFX team members, don't follow up 24 hours later with a "did you get my email?" message, don't call the office the day after to find out why we all didn't respond immediately to both your previous emails. This doesn't label you as "keen", it wins you a "pest who doesn't respect our professional space" award. If your CV and samples are good enough, we'll get back to you eventually.
  • "I want to be a writer and I happened to hear about your magazine on the internet, it sounds like it might suit me perfectly." Lucky us! (So, you've never actually read SFX, then?)
  • And while we're talking about research: "Dear Sir or Madam, I am based in London and currently seeking an internship…" Well, we're based in Bath. And my name is Dave, it's right there in the magazine along with our address and my picture - do I look like a madam? (Okay, don't answer that.)

Reviews editor Ian Berriman writes:

  • Remember to replace the words “Dear Empire” or “Dear Total Film” with “Dear SFX”, eh? We all make mistakes, and I’ve done it myself, but still... a reviews editor likes to feel special.
  • Don't send me a lengthy covering letter/email bemoaning what a hard life you've had and how writing for SFX would fix everything. This isn't The X Factor. And besides, I had my heart replaced with a lump of shiny jet years ago.
  • If you send in sample reviews, they should really be of the kind of genre material that SFX covers. Anything else creates the suspicion that you don't know your onions. A bunch of gig reviews tells me very little about your ability to write about science fiction.
  • Don't tell me I can "search so-and-so website for samples". No. If you want the work, you send me the best samples of your writing. That's how it works.
  • Don't kick off your review with a synopsis. Synopses are boring.
  • Double, triple and quadruple check your submission for grammatical errors, typos and missing words. Picture me ringing them all in red pen and tutting. Because I do.
  • If there isn't a single clever turn of phrase in your submission, screw it up and start again.
  • You improve your chances if you stress any areas of specialist knowledge. Anyone can write about the latest Hollywood blockbuster, but it can be trickier to find experts on, say, Warhammer, the Cthulhu mythos, or paranormal romance.
  • Make me laugh.
  • Above all, remember that adding a new freelancer to the pool means taking a faithful old retainer out in the pasture and shooting them in the head (metaphorically speaking - well, in most cases). So I'm looking for any excuse whatsoever to scrawl "NO" at the top of the print-out. Don't give me one.

For more advice on how to get into journalism, see point 22 onwards of our FAQ .

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