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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Building a Portfolio

What is a portfolio?
I belong to a few groups online, and one of the pieces of wisdom that pops up often is that to get freelance jobs, a writer needs a portfolio. Okay, so what exactly is a portfolio? The way I understand it, a writer’s portfolio is a collection of clips designed to showcase the quality and range of the writer’s work. If you can clarify or expound on this definition, please chime in!

How does someone entering the freelance educational writing market compile a portfolio without having landed a freelance job? It’s a bit of a Catch-22. You need clips to get the job, but you need the job to get clips. Oy!

There are ways, I think. I’m going to use myself as an example, since I am just pulling my own portfolio together.

Since I work as an editor on professional development materials, I have the opportunity to use some of that work in my portfolio, for both editing and original writing. That's a good start.

Straight out of the classroom
But what if I had never been an editor? What can I put in my portfolio straight out of the classroom?

Once school year, I wrote a research manual (twenty-three pages) that was printed up for the entire 8th grade. I think a clip from that might serve to show my skills. I also handled the team newsletter for a time. This would serve as an example of my writing and possibly even my design skills. As the NJHS sponsor, I wrote press releases and a brochure. I plan on including those in my clips.

When I first started teaching, I designed and taught week-long summer workshops in computing, both basic (what’s a mouse?) and desktop publishing to teachers. That written curriculum might have served to show my instructional design skills, but who knew to keep them?! (Kick!)

What about college?
I wrote a feature story and a book review for the college newspaper. I think I can include those. I also did proofreading and desktop publishing for a journal at our university press. I have a copy of that journal. Should I include a scan of the cover for proofreading and layout experience? I don’t know about that one. I was also editor of the literary magazine one semester. I was responsible for the whole magazine. I didn’t sleep much that semester, but I did remember to keep a copy.

What can I include?
Will any of this help me land a freelance job? I guess that’s my question. My recent freelancing has been assessment item writing, and I’m not sure I can include any clips of those because of nondisclosure. Sure, when I land a gig, I’ll start putting the recent stuff in the forefront. But until then? Is it a good or bad idea to include older work?

What’s in your portfolio? Can there be too many clips? How do you choose what makes it in?

I think I’ve gone on long enough.


mara said...

I don't have a portfolio. When someone asks me for a writing sample, I dig around in my files and look for stuff that's closest to the style, reading level, genre, etc. they're looking for. It would probably be good if I assembled a set of samples to draw on, since I never remember which pieces were better than others. But I can't think of many situations where I'd want to hand someone a portfolio showing my full range.

wheelertop said...

My impression is that the clips don't necessarily have to be published. Most places only want 3 clips at the most. I've been sending out writing samples that are unpublished, because my published things aren't right for the occasion. I only include a published sample if it is close to what they publish. But then I include a list of publications to show that I have been published.

I'm new at this, too, but just yesterday I got a response from an editor at a place that said to send "published clips." Instead, I sent unpublished that were just right for that market. The editor was pleased and says she hopes to work with me.

Laura Coulter said...

It's good to know that unpublished clips might work.

My thoughts on the portfolio were more web-based, where potential clients could pick and choose what to look at if I labeled them properly. Or I could list the specific clips for them to look at when I send a cover letter. Maybe just keeping them on hand to send out on request would be the best way to handle it.

Sheesh! There are so many details to think about...

@wheelertop - your blogger profile link doesn't seem to work. fyi

Anonymous said...

Publishers do prefer to see published clips (who wouldn't?), but I have surprisingly few of these. Have found that publishers seldom send out samples to writers without being prompted.

Also, there's a good chunk of work that I'm leery of showing, having signed a nondisclosure agreement. Has anyone else encountered this problem?