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Writing for mags like The New Yorker, GQ, Esquire, etc.

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by WaylonJennings, Oct 22, 2008.

  1. Just found out that Ryan Lizza, The New Yorker's chief political guy right now, is only 33 years old.

    Curious about how writers - and we have a few of them here - end up writing for mags like these? Is it a don't-call-us-we'll-call-you situation? A "If you have to ask ..." type of thing? Are they all mucho credentialed (grad degrees in their beat, maybe an MFA, etc.)? Does the fork in the road come at age 20-22 when most of us decided to go into newspapers?

    I'm curious. How does someone break in?
     
  2. Mizzougrad96

    Mizzougrad96 Active Member

    I've done freelance for one of the magazines you listed and for several other similar magazines.

    Early in my career, through some connections, I got very well-paid freelance gigs doing researched charts, team capsules, top 10 lists, essentially glorified agate for magazines like Maxim, GQ, ESPN the Magazine, TSN, Street and Smith, as well as a zillion magazines that have since folded. Maxim paid me $800 to do a top 10 list that was about 600 words and took about three hours to research. ESPN paid me $1 a word for team capsules for a preview section. I did contract work for SI.

    In most cases, doing this kind of work led to writing assignments.

    I know these types of freelance gigs are a lot harder to come by than they were a decade ago, but that's how I started doing magazine work.
     
  3. JR

    JR Active Member

    Ask Jones.
     
  4. Mizzougrad96

    Mizzougrad96 Active Member

    Well, in his case, the answer would be, "Be insanely talented..."

    Not all of us can claim that. ;D
     
  5. I've heard the Jones story. How he basically begged "Esquire" to give him a shot until they wouldn't let him leave. (Though I wouldn't mind hearing it again).

    I guess I wonder if someone risks getting stigmatized/pigeon-holed from working in newspapers.
     
  6. Goldeaston

    Goldeaston Guest

    Waylon brings up a good point regarding pigeon-holing. Many, maybe even most, sportswriters fall victim to this crap. Somehow, if you cover sports, you're not a "real" journalist in the eyes of many in the field. Likewise, if you've "only" worked for a daily, you're somehow unqualified to write longform for a magazine. I'm not sure I get that. A beat writer in a given week may write five stories and five notbooks, for instance. At about 500 words apiece, that's 5000 words a week. How that does not prepare you to write longform, I have no idea.

    I realize the two forms and their construction are done in different ways. But a typical good sportswriter can put together some pretty nice prose while writing on deadline after a weeknight baseball game. I would think that, given a few days or even weeks to come up with 3000 words for a magazine story, by comparison, would be relatively easy. Maybe it's just me.
     
  7. partain

    partain Member

    I'm a former sports/newspaper guy who spent 7-plus years at various non-profit associations and parlayed that into a job with a magazine that covers the two associations I used to work for. At the time I was hired, the magazine never even advertised editorial openings. If a position became available, the staff simply compiled a list of four or five names of people they knew. I was lucky enough to know several people on staff. We're no where near some of the magazines listed, but we are a 75-year-old publication with circulation of 200,000 in a niche sports market.

    As for the writing end, I had no formal training in magazine writing. Of course, we're starting to see shrinking newsholes as well, which means features have dropped from 3,500 words to 1,800 to 2,000 in most cases. So the writing side really isn't that difficult, especially considering the time allotted for pulling these stories together. I also write and compile several departments each month that aren't all that different from daily newspaper work.

    I had done some freelance stuff for the magazine, as well, before coming on full-time. So I think that's a great way to get in the door at many places. But the best thing you can do is find a way to your name in front of people. My editor doesn't like to take calls in the first place, much less ones from people he doesn't know.
     
  8. buckweaver

    buckweaver Active Member

    I agree with almost all of what you said ... except the above. It's never easy; just a different kind of hard. Churning out 5,000 words a week on the same topic doesn't really prepare you for writing long-form, because it's not the same kind of writing. Not the same kind of focus. But it does give you the confidence that you can do it, and maybe can help to organize your ideas.
     
  9. Goldeaston

    Goldeaston Guest

    I guess the key word is relatively. Nothing in this profession is easy. At least nothing done with any amount of quality.
     
  10. Jones

    Jones Active Member

    Fuck, I'm 34 and a has-been.

    A different kind of hard is exactly right. Less deadline pressure, more space, more time, often better access... But longer stories, a higher writing standard, stories that stand up over time, and really no room for error. The pressure isn't from the clock; it's from a bunch of empty pages that are worth a lot of money.

    But to answer the question, Waylon, I started in newspapers, and have never felt any sort of stigma after I made my move to magazines. In fact, the opposite is probably true -- I think, if I can say this without sounding like an asshole, my time in newspapers made me a better reporter and a faster writer than the average magaziner. I turn something around in a week, and people are like, How can you do that? Well, if you're used to turning around baseball gamers in ten minutes, a week feels like an eternity. But seeing as some magazine stories take eight months, a week in that world can seem to flash by in a few beer farts. It's weird.

    Now, all that being said, it's a rare writer who can make the adjustment without a hiccup or two. It really is a different art, and it takes a little while to beat some of the newspaper habits out of yourself. I know I took a while to find my footing. But it can be done, absolutely.

    Local hero Wright Thompson is a great example of a young guy who worked his way into magazines after doing good work at newspapers.

    Unfortunately, the freelance opportunities have been the first casualty of this little downturn we're in, and like Mizzou said, that was once the best way into magazines. It's harder than it used to be (and it was never easy) to convince an editor to pay a stranger to write a story that he's already paying his staff to write. As I've always said, and it's more true than ever: You need to pitch a story that he can't possibly turn down, and that only you can write. It's a tough trick, but if you do that, and then you hit a home run, you're in.

    Because it's a small world, magazines. It's tough to crack, but once you crack it, you're part of the gang of thieves. After I got my job at Esquire, I got offers from a bunch of magazines who'd turned me down only months before. They just didn't want to take the chance on me that Esquire did. And, yeah, I wasn't too proud to beg.

    Bottom line? You've got to find the guy who's still willing to give a guy a chance, and you have to convince him that you're the guy who deserves it.

    Of course, I can say that, because I'm insanely talented.

    That's a joke, by the way. I wake up every day thinking that today's the day they call my bluff, and I'm left blowing old fat guys for ten bucks a throw.
     
  11. Goldeaston

    Goldeaston Guest

    Jones, I am finding that as the economy causes staff reductions at newspapers, freelancing opportunities are actually on the rise. Do you think the same may be true of magazines at some point?
     
  12. Inky_Wretch

    Inky_Wretch Well-Known Member

    To get my foot in the door, I'd be willing to do background for you Jones in exchange for beer.
     
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