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How to Build Your Writing Portfolio If You've Never Been Published

Updated on October 10, 2016
Room of My Own profile image

Sadie Holloway writes about enjoying the good life while living on a modest income. She loves finding creative ways to save money.

Find out how you can build your writing portfolio and make a strong impression on prospective clients, even if you have never been published in a mainstream magazine or newspaper.

Every writer has to start somewhere, even if it's writing for the penny-saver flyer.

An article published in a small local newspaper or advertising circular is a good start when you are a brand new freelance writer.
An article published in a small local newspaper or advertising circular is a good start when you are a brand new freelance writer.

Every writer has to start somewhere. That's why you need to take advantage of as many writing opportunities as you can, no matter how humble they may seem at first. It's a mistake to think that only material that's been published in a major magazine is worthy of being included in your writing portfolio.

For example, if you have friends who own small businesses, ask if you can write a sales letter for them. Look out for volunteer opportunities with local charities and non-profits, too. If you belong to a club or group that sends out a monthly newsletter, why not offer to write an article for them?

A lack of experience doesn't mean you won't be a successful writer one day.

Getting published won't happen overnight. But that doesn't mean you can't start building your portfolio now.
Getting published won't happen overnight. But that doesn't mean you can't start building your portfolio now.

Job opportunities for writers are on the rise! According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, job openings for writers, authors, and editors is expected to increase by 3% in the next decade. The expected increase in job opportunities for technical writers is even higher at 14.8%.

The median salary for a writer in 2012 was $ 55,940 and the median salary for a technical writer was $ 65,500. So, that leaves just one question. What type of writer do you want to be?

  • Advertising Copywriter
  • Author (Non-fiction)
  • Web Content Copywriter
  • Biographer
  • Essayist
  • Journalist
  • Columnist
  • Humorist
  • Lyricist/ Songwriter
  • TV Scriptwriter
  • Screenwriter
  • Speechwriter
  • Poet
  • Playwright
  • Technical Writer

Was one of your recipes published in a cookbook? Great! You can include that in your writing portfolio, too!
Was one of your recipes published in a cookbook? Great! You can include that in your writing portfolio, too!

Whatever you do, don’t limit yourself when you are building your writing portfolio. Having an array of written material will appeal to a wide range of clients. Even though you may be looking for a certain type of freelance work (i.e.; technical writing, magazine articles, copy writing), it's wise to have a broad selection of writing samples in your portfolio to show to potential clients.

Here are some more ideas for how to bulk up your writing portfolio even if you have little experience as a published writer:

  1. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper on an issue that you are passionate about. The great thing about a letter to the editor is that you can write as often as you want and you’ll know quite quickly whether or not your letter has been chosen for publication.
  2. Write for content-rich websites such as HubPages. With these sites you can write on almost any topic you choose!
  3. Help your friends celebrate. Offer to write special occasion announcements, memorials or wedding vows for your friends and loved ones. You may not have your name attached to the work when it gets printed, but you can still use it as a conversation starter when reviewing your portfolio with a new client.
  4. Help a blogger out. Write guest posts for up-and-coming bloggers who you believe have potential.
  5. Edit. Rewrite brochures, flyers and ad copy that you think could be improved and include them in your portfolio, alongside the originals, as proof of your editing skills.
  6. Enter writing contests. You may even win some cash!
  7. Blog. Start a blog or two on niche or personal interest topics.
  8. Include abstracts and excerpts from your college papers and assignments. If you aced a paper in college 10 years ago, there’s nothing that says you can’t include an excerpt of it in your portfolio.
  9. Write for new magazines, free publications, and advertising circulars. Even though you aren't receiving pay, you’re learning and you’ll be able to stretch your writing muscles while tackling topics that you never would have thought of. At the very least, by writing for free in a new publication, you’ll still receive a byline and have something tangible to put in your portfolio. Besides, if the publication takes off and does well, you may be hired again to do paid work or be offered another position, such as an editor or regular columnist.
  10. Submit a recipe to an auxiliary or school fundraising cookbook. In addition to writing step by step instructions for how to make the dish, add some colorful details to the recipe such as a short story about your memories of making the dish with your grandmother.
  11. Write instructions for a craft project and share it online. This type of writing sample can be useful if you're looking work with a children’s or parenting publication.
  12. Write a letter to a politician on an important subject. If you get a response, keep a copy of the response in your portfolio along with your original letter.
  13. Blog hop. Write thoughtful comments on high-profile online articles, stories, and blogs.
  14. Write a short story or personal essay. Remember, the purpose of your portfolio is to show prospective clients what you're capable of writing. Whether your piece is published or not, the quality of your work will still speak for itself. Not everything that is published is well written. And not everything that is well written gets published.
  15. Write a heartfelt thank you letter to an organization that has helped you or your family. Give them permission to publish the letter in their next newsletter, on their website, or in their annual report.

How many writing samples do you think a successful writer should have in his portfolio?

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What are the top five qualities of a successful writer?

  • Successful writers aren’t afraid to break writing rules in order to let their true voices to be heard.
  • Strong writers express their ideas no matter how unconventional they may seem.
  • Well-paid writers accept feedback, criticism, and rejections gracefully.
  • Highly respected writers are humble and in touch with their strengths and weaknesses. They are always willing to improve themselves.
  • Thriving writers are fun to be around.

Once you have an assortment of writing samples you'll need to organize your material in an easy-to-share, yet professional-looking format. The video below provides information about an online portfolio service that allows you to show off your best work and make a positive first impression.

How long have you been working as a freelance writer?

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Image Credits: Pixabay

© 2014 Sadie Holloway


Submit a Comment
  • Room of My Own profile imageAUTHOR

    Sadie Holloway 

    5 years ago

    Hi Tricia,

    Writer's Digest distributes announcements about different writing contests throughout the year. If you sign up for their e-newsletter you'll get all their notices, along with tons of other cool tips and tools. Many literary magazines and indie publishers also offer writing contests. In Canada, the government (arts and culture ministries) in partnership with large corporate sponsors hold major literary contests and the prizes can be quite large. For example, The Scotiabank Giller Prize, The Man Booker Award and Canada Writes are just a few of the more pretigious writing competitions that I know of. Joining a non-profit authors association will also help you keep your ear to the ground for writing contests. For example, here's a page from The Writer's Union of Canada that lists competitions:

    Writing festivals, book fairs, and publishing conferences are also a good source of information about what's out there. Try googling "writing contests" for you area and see what comes up. If you're not sure if a contest is legitimate, read samples from the previous year's winners. If the writing is strong, that's a good sign that it's a contest worth entering.

    Good luck and be sure to let me know how it goes if you decide to enter a contest!

  • Tricia Deed profile image

    Tricia Deed 

    5 years ago from Orlando, Florida

    Enjoyed your suggestions. Is there a chance that you may recommend those companies that are legitimate for contests?


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