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The Washington City Paper publishes more freelance writers than anyplace else in town, so if you have a story or review to sell, you’ve come to the right place. About one-third of all stories and reviews that appear in the City Paper are written by freelance writers, an infusion of outside talent that (we hope) keeps the paper fresh and interesting.
That said, you should know that 90 percent of the freelancers who approach the paper to write a story or a review never actually do so, which makes dealing with freelancers an unpredictable and frustrating experience for us. If you’re serious about writing for the City Paper, produce a piece that is appropriate for our editorial mix.
What is the City Paper Looking for?
The best way to answer that question is to read our paper every week. You’ll find that we gravitate toward stories about the city and its surroundings, and we prefer to write narratives with a conflict of some sort at the center. We publish a variety of journalistic genres, including profiles, investigative pieces, polemical essays, “Talk of the Town” type articles, and stories about local institutions. We’re not interested in Op-Ed material, fiction, poetry, stories about news conferences or demonstrations, or service journalism about 12 great places to get espresso after midnight. Nor are we much interested in the sort of celebrity-worshiping journalism that lards the pages of Washingtonian and Vanity Fair.
We put such a high premium on good writing that we sometimes abandon the above rules to publish a piece on the inner workings of a press conference, the dynamics of a demonstration, or a particularly insightful profile of a popular author or film director. We have yet to find a writer, though, who could make the 12-great-places-to-get-espresso-after-midnight idea come alive.
Our cover stories run between 2,500 words and 12,000 words in length. There are a number of departments for shorter stories by freelancers: The District Line, which is about Washington and its environs; the B feature, a reported personal essay; and Artifacts, about the business and culture of the arts. We also publish 150-word news briefs in our City Desk section. Other short articles run between 500 words and 2,000 words, but we are not hard and fast about these lengths. We will go—and have gone—shorter and longer.
Our columnists write about District politics in Loose Lips, the press in Dept. of Media, sports in Cheap Seats, arts and entertainment in Show & Tell, and food in Young & Hungry. Though those subjects are largely the domains of the columnists, we have run feature stories on those topics in other parts of the paper, so your pitches are welcome—and, of course, we’re happy to take your tips.
We also publish weekly reviews of movies, film, theater, the visual arts, music, books, and food. Reviews range between 700 words and 2,000 words in length. If you want to know if we’ve already published a review of a movie, play, record, exhibition, or book that you’re interested in, search through our
archive of back issues, which includes the current issue. Don’t be discouraged if you see the same bylines in the arts pages week after week. We’re open to new writers in every section of the paper.
A great place for freelance arts writers to start at the City Paper is in our City Lights section, which comprises 150- to 250-word critics’ picks.
Should I Send a Query Letter?
Well-developed query letters are welcome via e-mail, and if you’ve been published elsewhere, it can’t hurt to submit clips of your work along with your letter. But please understand: We’re looking for stories, not topics. That means if you can’t sketch out a brief narrative arc for your idea, you may need to flesh it out some more before it’s ready to pitch. Of course, if you have a draft of your story ready, that’s preferable.
What Manuscript Form Do You Prefer?
Send us your story by pasting it into the body of an e-mail or attaching it as a rich-text or Microsoft Word document. Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We much prefer dealing with electronic submissions, but if your Luddite streak precludes this or you’re a prisoner without access to the Internet, you may post your manuscript to us at 2390 Champlain St. NW, Washington, DC 20009.
How Much Do You Pay?
The pay scale for freelance work varies widely. We pay anywhere from $15 for a City Lights pick to $2,000 for a complex, high-enterprise cover feature. We also pay more for well-written stories that don’t require days of editing on our part. All freelance pieces are accepted on spec, though we sometimes pay kill fees. You must provide us with your Social Security number; payment comes one week after publication. The City Paper buys only first rights.
How Soon Do You Report on Acceptance/Rejection?
We’ll try our very best to get back to you within a week. If you don’t hear from us, try e-mailing again.
What About Illustrations and Photographs?
Interested artists should send samples to the art director. We pay $85 and up for illustration assignments. At this time we are not hiring new photographers, though we encourage you to submit your work for the Page 3 photo position. Page 3 photos capture and reflect multiple perspectives of the people, places, and passions of metropolitan D.C. in a timely, individual, and inspiring way.
Odds and Ends
We discourage simultaneous submissions and want to know if you’ve written a previous version of the story for another publication. Please do not pitch stories for which you have a conflict of interest. That means you may not write about institutions or people in which you have some financial stake. Also, we must carefully review pitches that concern your close friends or family. In such cases, disclosure can mitigate any possible conflicts to our satisfaction, but we must know such things in advance.
Feel free to e-mail an editor if you have specific questions, but if you’re one of those freelance writers who has only the vaguest of intentions to write for us, please don’t bother. The best times to contact any of the editors listed below are on Thursdays and Fridays.
Thanks for your interest in the Washington City Paper.We welcome your comments and opinions; send us a message.