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Washington City Paper Freelance Submission Guide

If you have a story or review to sell, you’ve come to the right place. An infusion of outside talent keeps this publication fresh and interesting.

That said, you should know that most of the freelancers who approach us to write a story or a review never actually do so, which makes dealing with freelancers an unpredictable experience for us. If you’re serious about writing for City Paper, produce a piece that is appropriate for our editorial mix.

What is City Paper looking for?

The best way to answer that question is to visit our website. You’ll find that we gravitate toward stories about the city and its people, 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, stories about local institutions, and an occasional first person narrative. We’re not currently interested in op-ed material, poetry, stories about news conferences or demonstrations, or service journalism about 12 great places to get espresso after midnight.

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 and 5,000 words in length. If you have a real whopper on your hands, we might give you up to 7,000 words.

There are a number of departments for shorter stories by freelancers: our news section, District Line, which concerns D.C.; our arts section, which leads off with a feature or essay each week; our sports section; and our food section, which occasionally includes freelance features. Shorter stories run between 900 words and 2,000 words.

In our food section we occasionally publish 1,200- to 1,600-word feature stories by freelancers, but more regularly seek short stories for the web. Consider submitting a well-reported first-hand experience, a profile on a unique food organization or businesses, or a creative, visually-driven story. Avoid stories ripped from press releases. We don’t take restaurant reviews or previews, and definitely nothing that has to do with a national food day.

We also publish reviews of theater, the visual arts, music, books, and dance. Reviews range between 500 words and 2,000 words in length. Don’t be discouraged if you see the same bylines in the arts pages week after week. Though we are not seeking any more film reviewers at this time, we are open to new writers in every other arts section.

The best place for freelance arts writers to start at City Paper: 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 email, 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 email or attaching it as a rich-text or Microsoft Word document. Please send it to editor@washingtoncitypaper.com

How long does it take you to consider a story pitch?

We’ll try our very best to get back to you within a week. If you don’t hear from us, try emailing again.

What about illustrations and photographs?

Interested artists should send samples to the editors, editor@washingtoncitypaper.com. At this time we are not hiring new photographers.

Anything else I need to know?

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 with 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 email an editor if you have specific questions.


News, Features, Food, Sports – Caroline Jones


Arts, City Lights – Sarah Marloff


Thanks for your interest in Washington City Paper.