I don’t know a single working science writer who imagined, back when they were imagining what they wanted to be when they grew up, that this would be their career. Heck, most of us didn’t realize until pretty late in the game that such a career existed.
Ask ten science writers this question “How did you get started in science writing?” — and you’re likely to get ten quite different answers, full of circuitous paths and serendipity. Indeed, the origin story is a favorite conversation topic amongst science writers and SciLancers are no exception. I asked SciLancers to share one small piece of how they got their start, their first paid clip.
Sarah says: “The pay was a whopping $8. I wrote for Indiana University’s campus newspaper for about a year, and those stories were the primary clips that led to my internship at Discover and the AAAS Mass Media Fellowship.”
Amanda says: “My memory of how I reached out to this editor is fuzzy, but I pitched them a piece about the NIH postbaccalaureate experience, which I was finishing up. Amazingly, they said yes. I think they paid me $700, which seemed like an astonishing amount to me then (and sounds almost unbelievable to me now). The article is a bit promotional sounding, but I’m proud of it.”
Stephen says: “This was an excerpt from the behemoth final thesis I wrote in the spring of 2006 when I was a student at the MIT science writing program. Seed knew about my thesis thanks to one of my classmates who had recently been hired as a writer and editor there. Pay was $375. I felt thrilled to see the excerpt in print, and I promptly emailed my mother.”
Jenny says: “I was beyond nervous about even pitching the story. I was rather formal, using the title “Mr.” in my email and later felt totally ridiculous about it when I met him for the first time and realized that a) he was a PhD, and b) he was just a regular guy about my age, and not the frowning, bespectacled misanthrope I’d conjured up in my mind. I think the pay was around $250.”
Mark says: “I was in the Santa Cruz Science Writing program and hadn’t been able to get into the sea kayaking class, but a stressed fellow student gave me her slot. A chemist on the trip told me about her work and I realized it sounded like a good feature. Since we were going a year without income, and had paltry savings, $2,400 was a welcome paycheck.”
“New flea market opens in town,” by Monya Baker (bio) for the Madison County Record
Monya says: “Before coming home from college my sophomore year, I called my hometown paper and got a job to lay out pages. Eventually, the editor gave me an assignment to write a few hundred words about a couple who was opening a new flea market. Pay was $50.”
Rob says: “I started reporting what I thought would be a local story for KUNC, the station I was working at as part of my AAAS Mass Media Fellowship (so I’d had other local radio stories earlier that summer, but wasn’t paid for them). After recognizing it to be a larger story, I asked for and received a lot of help from both KUNC and NPR folks, and it grew from there. I was thrilled when Bob Edwards said my name. Pay was $400.”
Doug says: “I was working on this 3,000-word feature as a writing sample to try and get into Santa Cruz. I submitted it (meaning the fully written story, not a pitch, sent via snail mail) to an editor at New Scientist. She called and said she really liked it, but alas, she was already editing a feature on the very same topic. She grabbed a little material from my story and crammed it into the staff writer’s and paid me a tip fee of $80.
In the meantime I was information-interviewing with someone from Exploratorium, and told her my near-brush with publication on the frog story, and she said ‘Hey, we’ve got this frog exhibit opening in several weeks – forward me the story and we’ll see if we can use it.’ They published a ~2,000-word version of it online and paid me $200.
What about your first paid clip? Share with us in the comments.
Image Credit: Tax Credits on flickr.