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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. Jones

    Jones Active Member

    Goldeaston: Well, at least so far, most high-end magazines haven't reduced writing staff -- gulp! -- so that demand for freelance material to fill the void hasn't happened in magazines yet. Plus, there's also been a decline in editorial pages, pretty much across the board, so there's less space to fill in the first place.

    Don't get me wrong -- I think there's still room for good and motivated freelancers to work their way into magazines. I just think it's harder than it was.

    Will that change? I hope so, for sure, but because the economy turns around and magazines start growing again, not because we've started losing full-time staff. I'm selfish that way.

    Inky: What do you think they pay me with? Money?
  2. Inky_Wretch

    Inky_Wretch Well-Known Member

    I always suspected black-tar heroin, 2-for-1 coupons to the strip club and maple syrup.
  3. 21

    21 Well-Known Member

    Not exactly the same thing.
  4. Bubbler

    Bubbler Well-Known Member

    Can I sleep my way to the top?
  5. GB-Hack

    GB-Hack Active Member

    Only if you want to work for Cosmopolitan.
  6. jgmacg

    jgmacg Guest

    A couple of things to add to what The Jones posted:

    Yes, he's insanely talented. And because he's modest and lovable and a mensch he'll mock that in himself, and play it off. National Magazine Award? Ha ha! Waiter! Another round of cherry schnapps for my friends and me and put it on my tab! Now photograph my buttocks!

    The more important truth for those trying to move into the orbit of glossy titles like The New Yorker/Esquire/GQ/RS/etc is that The Jones works harder than you do. Much harder. At everything. That's how he got the job at Esquire. By working his ass off to get it. Now he works those sturdy Canadian glutes off to do better work than his colleagues and contemporaries.

    We can't control the magnitude of our gifts, but we're certainly in charge of how much time and effort we devote to refining them. Updike is a giant, and will absolutely batter you with his work ethic. So will Oates and Stone and Packer and Pierce and Boo and Mayer and Singer - and on and on and on across the range of marquee names in the field. This was true of our late friends Halberstam and Heinz and DFW, too.

    So. First. No matter how hard you think you're working right now, you need to work way harder.

    He's also right in saying that a newspaper background carries no stigma with it into the magazine world. Great writing is great writing, and editors don't much care where you came from if you can deliver high-quality work. That said, the two disciplines share almost nothing in common and are not interchangeable. Newspaper folks often find it impossible to sustain a 10,000-word piece, and many magazine writers can't deliver 700 words on a 20-minute deadline. Apples and oranges.

    Thus the broader and deeper your interest in the craft of writing - regardless of venue - the better your chances of success across a range of platforms.

    Now, to the point of the thread, how do you break in?

    It's different for everyone.

    A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to be sitting around a table late one night with some of the best writers I know, some of the best in America, including The Jones. And everyone at that table had a completely different origin story.

    In my case, very briefly, I just kept submitting work to places I had no business submitting to. I came in over the transom and got noticed. And eventually published. Not so much fearless as clueless, I got into the glossy magazine rotation because I persisted in putting my work in front of people, taking their tips and criticisms to mind but not to heart, rewriting, and putting my work in front of them again.

    The other good folks at that table have all trod their own weird and unmappable paths forward. From the North and the South, younger and older, out of the worlds of fiction or politics or sports. We're very different, so we've all suffered our unique failures or won our peculiar successes. But this we hold in common: every one of us is passionate about the craft of writing. And every one of us from that drunken loving table has a single ambition - to write good sentences.

    Write good sentences and the rest comes.

    That's a terribly reductionist strategy, I know. I sound like Pollyanna whenever I say it in the Workshop here, or in front of a class or to a young colleague. Write good sentences, and the rest - the respect, the fame, the attention, the money, the satisfaction, whatever it is you seek - comes to you.

    How do you break in?

    Write good sentences.
  7. BYH

    BYH Active Member

    ^^^^^^ Like those.
  8. In Exile

    In Exile Member

    In the mid to late 1980s I was doing a great deal of magazine work - small time national and big time regional - when that recession hit. It took a few months, but once the water started running down the drain there was no stopping it, and I went from selling every idea I had to selling none of them in about six months. When magazine pages (meaning ad pages) start to drop, so do most freelance opportunities - my money maker went from 400 pages plus to barely one hundred in less than a year, and when they rebounded a few years later it was with an entirely new, stripped down staff that didn't want anything to do with me or my kind of work. Look for that to happen beginning in the post-December issues. Book publishing is already getting tight, too. All they want are blockbusters or low advance gambles. Some big imprints will disappear in the next 6-12 months. Gonna be a rough few years as a freelancer, because of you are under fifty you have probably not experienced what is about to come.

    Your sentences have to be even better than before.
  9. BYH

    BYH Active Member

    On a much, much, MUCH smaller scale, the same thing happened to me when the bottom fell out of everything (online and print) for a short time earlier this decade.

    You can do everything right and still end up on the outside looking in. Which kinda sums up this whole racket.
  10. funky_mountain

    funky_mountain Active Member

    my favorite days here are when jgmacg and jones post on these kinds of threads.

    now back to writing my average-to-sometimes-good sentences.
  11. Inky_Wretch

    Inky_Wretch Well-Known Member

  12. Jones, jgmacg, etc. - I'm wondering if when you broke in, did you pitch specific stories? Or did you send in samples of your work and ask for a chance to do something for them?

    Not to brag, but I'm pretty sure I've got the chops. I'm working on the credibility. I wrote a feature this summer for an alternative weekly in a major, major, major market. I pitched it myself - and I absolutely loved the editing process they put it through. I mean, these people give a shit about writing and reporting. I'm also THIS close to closing a deal with a fairly major book publisher (agented submission).

    My last day in the newspaper racket will be the day my team plays in a bowl game, so I'll have the rest of the winter and spring to write my book and try to gain some sort of freelance traction before I begin school.

    I mean, is it worth it to try to make myself known to big-name mags? Or just keep trying to pound away at the book and the alternative weeklies? Is a writer's first Esquire/Atlantic/NYT Mag/NYer piece one they submitted on spec?
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