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Sunday, May 4, 2014

Writing for The New York Times: Guest Post from Caitlin Kelly

          The New York Times. Few markets have the cachet or the draw of this world-reknowned newspaper, and many freelancers dream of cracking this market. It's not just the money but the notoriety and yes, the exposure, that is so valuable for freelancers  (I know of at least one writer whose feature in the Times led to a book deal--the editor saw the piece, liked it, and contacted him directly.)   
          So I thank veteran writer Caitlin Kelly for today's guest post. Kelly has also written for Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Smithsonian and More and is the winner of a Canadian National Magazine Award. She blogs at, with more than 10,200 readers worldwide. She's the author of Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail and Blown Away: American Women and Guns. 

           For many ambitious writers, a New York Times byline may seem a distant dream. But for those of us who frequently write for the Times  -- my byline appears usually once or twice a month, writing for them since 1990 – it’s a market worth breaking into. A Times byline offers serious journalistic street cred, prestige, and guaranteed visibility among assigning editors of books, magazine,s newspapers and digital media, most of whom read that newspaper every day.
            If you’re not reading it regularly, get to know the various sections and how much they differ in tone and content; a fun, light-hearted story for the Styles section isn’t a Sunday front-page, (called the dress page), feature for the Business section, (internally known as Bizday.)
The paper also shifts gears fairly often, with freelance opportunities arriving and departing as editors internally shift responsibilities. If you read the paper carefully and often, you’ll be able to spot these and jump quickly.
            Since starting to write for the Times doing short book reviews, I’ve written for sports, real estate, home, Metropolitan, business, (for four different editors and sections within that department), special sections, science and automotive. (There’s also Styles, OpEd, Sunday Review, Education Life and Arts & Leisure to consider.)
Times editors all share a few key expectations:

          1) Your copy is 100 percent accurate and you have fact-checked it thoroughly before filing (submitting) it
          2) You have no conflicts of interest, and have signed the Times’ long and detailed freelancers’ code of ethics and agree to abide by its rules
          3) You’re selling a work made for hire and your copy may appear in the Times International Edition or elsewhere for no additional payment
          4) Photo editors for each section need you to suggest sources willing/able to be photographed and to share their contact information
          5) You’ll be sent a “playback”, the edited version of your story, and must read it as soon as you get it, fixing anything they have asked you to address
          6) Once your story is scheduled for publication – typically for a weekly section or column – you and your sources are readily available to address and answer every question right away
         7) You’re ready to answer questions from multiple editors as your piece moves through the editing process, from assigning editor to copy editors
          8) You won’t be paid until your story runs, even if it is held for weeks or months.

           The good news?
They pay by direct deposit, and usually within a few days or week of publication.
They need copy! Whether a meaty feature for Sunday Business – 2,500 words or more – or a feature for Dining or Homes or Styles, Times editors rely heavily on a team of talented, trust-worthy freelancers. Pay varies widely, but can reach $1/word, usually more for their magazines, T and The New York Times Magazine.
This is a smart, worldly crowd. They know their stuff and expect you to know yours as well.
They need writers who won’t let them down. If you’ve done terrific work for one section and editor, that internal reference will be useful when introducing yourself to another one there.
            Having worked for three big daily papers as a reporter, The Globe and Mail, The Montreal Gazette and the New York Daily News, I love writing for newspaper editors. They’re clear and straightforward and, once they know you’re solid, are usually happy to work with you again.
            Good luck!


****Want more of Caitlin Kelly's insights about smart reporting and writing? She is offering six 90-minute webinars May 10 and 17th by Skype: blogging, thinking like a reporter, personal essay, freelancing, developing ideas and interviewing. She's helped satisfied students from all over the world. Please visit for details.

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