I remember this time last year VERY vividly.
But it’s hard to believe it’s been a year since I started working for USA Today.
It feels like it’s only been a few months while simultaneously feeling like many years since my assigning editor started following me on Twitter.
I suppose that’s a natural feeling when so much has happened. I can say with certainty there’s never been a dull moment.
I distinctly remember the phone conference I had with the President of USA Today’s Travel section, John Peters, last August. It was 9:30 in the morning.
A million thoughts ran through my head. Mostly, how many ways could I f**k this up?
I tried to sound cool and collected. But I was so nervous, I came across breathy and deranged.
“Hello Hilary, John Peters here!” John had said jovially. My assigning editor was also on the line. I was quiet. I waited like a kid waits to be reprimanded.
John didn’t notice, quickly asking me my thoughts after reviewing the site.
I suddenly felt like I was unprepared for a school presentation. “Um, well— I mean…” I formulated some incoherent answer. There was a lot of stuttering. I never stutter.
After taking a moment to discuss, John presented with me an offer. “Okay Hilary, we’d like to offer you a trial period. You’ll complete twelve pieces for us— six videos and six written pieces— and if we are happy with the quality we’ll post them. After that time, we’ll discuss whether or not it’s a good fit. Sound good?”
I didn’t know JACK about editing or making videos. I’d never written an article for a newspaper before… Let ALONE for the number ONE nationally syndicated paper in the country. But I could show no fear.
“S-sure,” was all I managed.
So much for bravery.
“We want you to be excited about this,” John said. I could hear the smile in his voice.
“Yes, yes of course.” I stumbled. Get it TO-GETH-ER, Hilary. “I am very excited. I won’t let you down. I’m looking forward to this.” I smiled, suddenly realizing how silly it was since they couldn’t see me.
And with that shaky and awkward end, my journey with USA Today began. Thank goodness for the help of my friends, especially Dani of Going Nomadic, who lent us her camera equipment, time, and encouragement.
I spent the entire trial period in fear of getting canned. I constantly questioned my abilities, knowledge of the trade, and sanity.
But my first written piece and video submissions about kid friendly attractions in Las Vegas went live on the website. So at least they didn’t hate them.
And sure, they definitely feel amateur compared to what I’m doing now. But it’s been a pretty cool progression. A year and almost a hundred videos and posts later, I’m in the kitchen with Giada DeLaurentiis. So I guess it’s all about persistence and willingness to grow.
My USA Today journey has led to a lot of writers and bloggers asking for advice on how they can start writing for bigger outlets. After thinking back on everything I’ve learned this past year, I think it boils down to 5 key things…
5 Must-Knows For Pitching Yourself To Major Outlets
5. Pay Attention and Engage on Twitter: Up until the moment my editor started following me, I rejected the Tweety bird and all it stood for. I thought it was stupid but played the game because I ‘had’ to.
But here’s the thing: it allows everyday people to connect with celebrities and heads of major corporations without a lot of red tape. Everyone is accessible through Twitter. And if you use it correctly, you’ll not only build an audience, you’ll build connections with people you never thought possible.
4. Build Your Brand Around Your Innate Expertise: When I was first approached about doing Vegas content, I was hesitant. After all, I had labeled myself as a “travel blogger”. But I wasn’t doing as much nomadic travel as I previously had. And my editor saw a potential in me that I had never considered: I had a locals perspective on Las Vegas. Hell, I’d LIVED here for 20 years… Didn’t that just MAKE sense?
Now I’m their Local Las Vegas Insider. All this time I’d been trying to establish myself as an expert in something else… and it was where I grew up that landed interest. Go figure.
3. Just Pitch It: I tell writers all the time to research who they want to work for, find the appropriate e-mails, and just go for it. The worst that’s going to happen is that they’re going to say ‘no’ or not respond at all. But you may have just presented them with an option they didn’t even know they had. The key here is ‘knowing’ your audience. Don’t you dare send a blanket e-mail to a prospective editor without doing your homework.
I got lucky, having been referred to my editor by other bloggers. But not everyone will have this luxury. So go after what you want. The worst that’s going to happen is that you’ll be in the exact same place you were a minute ago. Or, it could possibly change your life.
2. Be Nice To People: It sounds so simple, but you never know where your next referral will come from. The bloggers who referred me to my editor hadn’t met me when they suggested she reach out. And since then, I’ve received more referrals from people who thought I was ‘nice’ and ‘deserved’ work than those who’ve researched me inside-and-out. I mean, you must possess the necessary skills. But of all your skills, hard work and kindness are the most important to maintain.
If you alienate your audience, your friends, or potential friends, they can’t help you. Life’s a karmic circle. So help others when you can and always remember on any day, anyone you come into contact with could change your life… Like these guys.
1. Never Say No: If you want it, the least you can do is try. When I hosted my first red carpet at iHeart Radio, I’d never been on a red carpet before. But I sure as hell wasn’t going to tell my editor that. I said, “I would absolutely love to,” and went and quivered in my heels later.
My first interview out of the gate was Ryan Seacrest (so you know, NO PRESSURE).
Looking back now, I think I looked nervous and unnatural on camera. But my opinion on my performance didn’t matter. My editor was happy so she allowed us to keep going. Now I have a hosting reel that looks like this:
THE TAKE AWAY:
Every decision you make— whether to connect to someone on Twitter, ‘Like’ their fan page, chat with someone you meet, or send off an e-mail— sets off a chain of responses. The goal is to put the control in someone elses’ hands. Make it their job to reject you. Don’t do it for them. Besides, there will be plenty of people who will HAPPILY say, ‘No,’ to you along the way.
And when those rejections happen, just remember that every ‘No’ is one answer closer to that ‘Yes’. (Remember when I got horrifically rejected from graduate school? Talk about a life-changing “No,”…)
Plus, I’ll be here to cheer you on along the way. So no fear. :)