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Media bistro

by Jennie S. Bev

Publish Your Freelance Work Abroad
Parlay an international interest in your local viewpoint into a freelance gig

[This article was previously published by Media Bistro (NYC) on June 4, 2008. It has been more than two years, so some details are no longer current.]

By Jennie S. Bev

Today I write bi-weekly op-ed pieces for The Jakarta Post, an English print newspaper based in Jakarta, an Asian metropolis 9,400 miles away from New York. I also guest blog for Asia Blogging Network based in the same city. From time to time, I write articles for Asia Sentinel, an online news site based in Hong Kong, China. Reprints of my articles can also be found in the pages of Korea Times based in Seoul and Asia News Network based in Bangkok, Thailand.

Recently, I have just received an assignment to write for Reader's Digest Asian edition and have been approached by a literary agent to write an installment for The Complete's Idiot Guide. In the midst of all these, I also write for Tracy Press, a community paper based in my hometown as a "Town Crier" columnist, and have published in and mentioned by glossy magazines, such as EntrepreneurCanadian Business, and Audrey. I was also interviewed and contacted for future interviews by Radio Singapore International, KQED, ABC Australia, and BBC.

I received all these by writing from home in the far east of San Francisco Bay Area. Call me an armchair columnist/commentator, I don't mind. Now let's see how you too can raise your profile by breaking into international publications.

Understand your strengths
Writing opinion and feature pieces for newspapers and magazines — both online and offline — is a piece of cake to me, but not quite so with reporting pieces. That's why I specialize in the former. Find your forte, stick with it, and keep brushing up your skills.

Know your vantage points
As an Asian-American woman who was raised in Indonesia, I have several advantages. This allows me to write about many issues in a unique voice.

For instance, for The Jakarta Post and Asia Sentinel, I often write about moderate Muslims and their relationships with other minorities. Because I am non-Muslim, belong to a minority ethnicity, and can give solid arguments based on theoretical frameworks and Western viewpoints, I can offer something that is scarce [in that market].

Find your unique vantage points as an American or a US-based writer. They can be based on anything, such as political affiliation, religious values or lack thereof, educational background, comparison with American system and phenomenon, and American influences in a particular observable fact or trend.

"The topics have to deal with subjects of interest or use to Asian readers," says John Berthelsen, the editor of Asia Sentinel. "For instance, if the US congress passes trade legislation that would deal with Asian interest."

Berthelsen, who has worked as the managing editor of The Standard and a correspondent of NewsweekThe Wall Street Journal Asia, and The Sacramento Bee, emphasized the importance of expertise in writing for your audience. "We prefer people who know what they are talking about, who are accurate and can be trusted to tell a story and stick to the facts," he says. "We are an editor-driven publication and we tend to take great latitude with journalists' work if we have to, to bring some pieces up to our standard. The editors have all been in Asia an average of 25 to 30 years and all have lived in a half-dozen countries each. We know the area and we have a strong history in the region, so we tend to know sources and issues."

Nazia Mallick, the editor-in-chief of Circle based in New Delhi, India says, "Since ours is a youth magazine, we prefer articles on universal topics everyone can relate to. Young people here are very much interested in knowing about international views and news. So any article that has local flavor such as the dating, automobiles, music, humorous episodes are more than welcome."

Be work-culture conscious
Just like contacting US-based editors, professionalism and utmost politeness are musts. Address all editors with their salutations Mr. or Ms. and their full names. Querying is the best, but some publications prefer to see articles on spec. Include a brief bio and a professional resume along with your first query.

When an editor requests for a copy of your personal ID, such as a passport, a driver's license, or a residency card, it is usually due to low business trust environment in that particular country. It has nothing to do with you being a foreign writer. Just play along gracefully but politely ask them to kindly please keep your personal information completely confidential due to its sensitive nature.

When an editor requests for a local bank account, try negotiating. In some countries, overseas wiring costs pretty high, so if you can offer a solution, they are likely to consider it. For instance, if the pay rate is sufficient to accommodate the outgoing fee, offer them to bear the cost. Or, if they are likely to assign multiple pieces, offer them to send your payment all together in bulk.

Both Asia Sentinel and Circle do not require a writer's personal ID or a bank account in the country where they are located. However, The Jakarta Post does.

When "no" might mean "maybe"
Some editors can be quite reluctant to work with foreign writers, but if they give a hint that they like your queries, nothing is written in stone. For instance, UMM men's magazine and Bobbi young women's magazine based in Ottawa, Canada, prefer to work with US-based writers with Canadian ties, such as permanent residency. However, they made an exception with Eric J. Leech, a Denver-based writer, whose sense of humor caught their hearts and captivated their readers.

Getting paid
How much a publication pays really depends. Some franchised magazines (those with an American parent magazine) may pay rates similar to their US counterpart. UK and Europe-based are likely to have comparable rates with top American magazines, thanks to strong currency.

However, writing for newspapers may not pay that much. An op-ed piece published in Los Angeles Times may pay up to $400, but for The Jakarta Post, it pays $50. A reporting or lengthy analysis piece published by Asia Sentinel pays $150. Circle pays $35 to $50 per 1,000-word feature article.

Finding an international gig
Do you know that Reader's Digest has Asian, Australian, and UK editions? What about Cosmopolitan and Vogue? Do some online research to find the non-US versions of top American magazines. From time to time, they need specific articles that connect their non-US readers with American trends or perspectives. I recommend trying the Internet Public Library's newspaper directory, Mondo Times, and Kiosken.

What about blogging?
I have been blogging as a guest at Asia Blogging Network for almost a year. It is a good way to get more exposure and to build a writing portfolio. Approach it seriously, just like any other writing assignment, and be conscious of your target audience.

Above all, enjoy and have fun with Web 2.0 and globalization.[]

Media Bistro, June 4, 2008

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