Making it as a hockey writer
Every once in awhile, I get emails or PMs from young aspiring hockey writers asking for suggestions for getting their work recognized.
In this age where Web-based media and the blogosphere are saturated and traditional newspaper and print outlets have cut back on hockey coverage, there's no easy answer.
I recently corresponded with Lucas Aykroyd about these very subjects.
In my opinion, Lucas is THE top established hockey freelancer in North America. Lucas produces a diverse array of great writing, and knows the global game as well as the North American leagues. No matter the topic, his knowledge and depth of research is obvious. If you haven't yet discovered his Hockeyadventure.com site, do yourself a favor and check it out. I guarantee it will become a regular stop.
At any rate, my email exchange with Lucas was the genesis of this blog. He and I are of like mind about what it takes to write about hockey professionally or semi-professionally.
The most effective route is to carve a specialized niche for yourself. Once you're a known commodity in your specialized area, it's much easier to step into mainstream coverage.
Lucas and I both wrote for the now defunct Pro Hockey Euro Report in the mid to late 1990s and have written extensively on the international game. I also wrote for Hockey's Future for years, covering prospects in the Philadelphia Flyers' organization.
Lucas has written on hockey travel, hockey foods, and other off-the-beaten-path stuff that enabled his writing talents to stand out, because he wasn't covering the same topics as countless other writers.
The bottom line: Find topics that interest you other than NHL players and games and concentrate on those areas first. Use these areas for a pitch to established Web outlets that can get you credentials for the press box. Gaining credentials and building up a clippings file should be your main goals for the first few years.
From there, be prepared to keep plugging away steadily for several more years.
In my case, it took five years worth of unpaid and low-paid work (as in the pay for two articles might cover gas for the car and a ticket to eat in the cafeteria) before I finally was able to pitch successfully to get paid work. Networking takes care of the rest, as long as you keep up the quality of your work. Eventually people start contacting YOU and the opportunities come along more easily.
I can't stress this enough: If you want to pursue hockey writing because you love to write, you love the game and you'd still write about it for no pay if that was your only outlet, then go for it.
But if your goal is to make money as a writer, there are much easier, shorter and more lucrative avenues than hockey freelance.
Fact is, even if you make it as a freelancer, you'll likely still need a full-time regular job to make ends meet (that is, if you want things like health benefits, a retirement plan and enough money to maintain a household). Freelance can be a nice supplementary income if you do it in high volume, but there aren't enough hours in the day to freelance enough to make it your only job.
Even today, my hockey writing has to be planned around other obligations. My research and writing time is sandwiched around my primary full-time job as editor-in-chief of a business newsletter. There are many nights where, after a full day at my regular job, I come home or attend a game and then write at home until about 3 AM, knowing I have to be at my "real" job in a few hours.
Most of my weekends are consumed by keeping up with my freelance work, so that I can get a full night's sleep on at least a few nights during the regular work week. Otherwise, I couldn't be functional as an editor during the work-week and I'd be cheating my regular employer. The trade-off is that I'm usually writing seven days a week, virtually every week of the month.
Pure and simple, you need a strong support system in place at home in order to maintain that type of lifestyle. My wife, Laura, has been supportive of my writing from day one but the juggling act isn't always easy to perform.
You also need to find people who've been in the business for years who are willing to help you out. Fortunately, there are many of them within hockey. Among others, I've been helped out by Les Bowen, John McGourty, Phil Coffey, Scoop Cooper and Tim Panaccio. Back in the days when the original Rivals.com had a Flyers site, my friend Mike Barr got me credentialed through his site.
The rest of it has to come from within you. Ultimately, all you can do is use your best judgment and follow your heart.