Q. Do you have any tips for networking? I’ve debated asking a fellow freelancer about getting work, but I’m afraid of stepping on her toes.
A. When I started freelancing, I thought that meeting other freelancers was the best way to get gigs. They get gigs, and I want gigs, so they can give me some of their gigs, right? But I quickly realized that other freelancers aren’t the people I should be hitting up for work. (Those are the people who control the budgets — editors, project managers, publishers.)
Networking with other freelancers is a great idea, but you should just approach them human to human. We all have people who we would like to be when we grow up — and the dream networking situation with them would involve porting all their knowledge and connections straight into our brainmeats. But play it cool. If you’re desperate for work and approach everybody as a conduit to finding work, yes, it can be awkward. (Grilling strangers for work leads is never a good look.) Networking, when you’re doing it right, feels like making a new friend — or at least pleasantly interacting with a coworker you like. And when you’ve shown them that you’re cool (even if you’re freaking on the inside), they’ll be much more likely down the road to potentially share leads or introduce you to other people.
The best way to avoid feeling like you’re encroaching on someone’s territory is to realize that we’re all in this together. You’re a freelancer, I’m a freelancer: Let’s get together and dish. An email to a fellow freelancer might look something like this:
Hey, [awesomely successful person]!
I’m a freelancer also living in [your city], working on [whatever you do]. I really loved that project you did about [an awesome thing]. Could I buy you a coffee some time? It’d be great to meet up and share war stories!
Recently I set myself a goal of meeting one new person a week, whether it’s by going to a networking event or reaching out to a specific person. My trick is that I don’t only aim to meet people who I might get work from. Sure, I love to meet editors and publishers, but I’ve also met other writers, marketing people, tech entrepreneurs and nonprofit folks. I love going to networking events where editorial freelancers are in the minority, because meeting people from other fields is really interesting. And as a bonus, I’m likely also a curious specimen to them.
[Tangent: Don’t be that guy who gives his business card to literally every single person at a networking event, even people he didn’t talk to. One deep connection is worth more than 100 shallow ones.]
An acquaintance here in Cincinnati seems to know everybody and frequently offers to help me like it’s no big deal. At first I was like, what’s your game, friend? Who offers to help without expecting something in return? But then I read “Never Eat Alone” and totally got it. Networking is about focusing on what you can give other people. She’s a connector of the highest order. She helps people by meeting everybody and learning what they’re working on, and then she connects the dots by introducing the right people to each other at the right times. As one of the recipients of her professional matchmaking, I can tell you that I have frequently introduced other people to her. The song never ends. (Related: Ann Friedman’s Shine Theory)
By saying that networking is all about giving, I don’t mean to imply that good networking involves divulging all your proprietary info and personal contacts to anyone who asks for them. (I protect my best editorial contacts with all the power of Xenu.) When you connect successfully with a fellow freelancer, what you walk away with might not be a job but a rec of a must-read blog or a referral to another person you should meet or just a new lunch buddy. And when you meet a freelancer in need, you share alike. You’ve been there.
Join me for a casual Google+ Hangout about getting started in freelancing for magazines! All are welcome — both newbies and experienced journalists.
I had this idea from some fellow Kent State alums asking me questions about how I went freelance. And I previously wrote about how to pitch magazine articles and a treatise on how to get paid, so you know this is something I can talk about forever.
It’ll be like a live FAQ, from 6 to 7 p.m. Sunday, March 24. The link is below, and if I get the Google+ Hangout to work correctly, it’ll be available to watch afterward, too!
be forewarned: a lot of these are #longreads. a lot of the links in this edition are amazing older articles that i recently found or revisited.
- A Pickpocket’s Tale (New Yorker) — this guy’s picture is in the dictionary under prestidigitation
- Why the “Friend Zone” is Bullshit (Foz Meadows) — how “nice guys” are the worst
- Getting Over Girl Hate (Rookie) — an argument for love
- The Loading Dock Manifesto (Esquire) — a Cleveland writer on how he lives — amazing writing
- Transit Byzantium (Believer) — an amazing story about a reclusive Cleveland singer-songwriter
- The Percentages: A Biography of Class (Tiger Beatdown) — on growing up working class in Ohio
- The Master Book of All Plots (Brain Pickings) — 1,462 plots catalogued by a dime novelist
- Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek (New York Times) — incredible reporting and an incredible interactive design package
If you follow me, you know I share craptons of links on Twitter, Facebook and Google+. But I realized that they get lost amid all the other things happening on Social Media. So here are things I’ve read and loved lately, some are new, some are not so new. Maybe I’ll post my recommended reading list regularly (I love it when other bloggers do it). I found this stuff interesting; maybe you will, too!
- Jerry Seinfeld writes a crazy old man letter to the New York Times (New York Times)
- The history of airline baggage tag design (Slate)
- A young Mila Kunis in an old Lisa Frank commercial (Racked)
- Truth, Lies and Doxxing: the ethics of online vigilantism (Wired)
- Misophonia: When a chomp or a slurp is a trigger for outrage (New York Times) [it explains SO MUCH ABOUT MY LIFE]
- Hysteria about apartment shortages in New York City, circa 1968 (New York magazine)
- The rise of passive-aggressive wi-fi names (BBC) [Once someone was illegally downloading movies off of my intentionally open wifi network and I got warnings about it, so I had to shut it down and renamed my closed network MPAA Says Hi.]
- Kanye Wes Anderson (a tumblr)
- The 2007 Wired article that led to the film Argo (Wired)
- How to get banned from Costco for buying too many hard drives (Gigaom)
- A series of multimedia stories on the economic wasteland that is Elyria, Ohio (New York Times) [I grew up near here]
- This guy Nardwuar knows how to do an interview (Youtube)
- Confessions of a Michael Stipe (a tumblr) [it’s so weird to follow someone online who was a childhood idol of yours]
- Me Translate Funny One Day (New York Times)
While I was on my crafty book tour, I took a brief detour between Pittsburgh and Cleveland to talk to Jacquie Marino‘s magazine publishing class at Kent State’s journalism school. I love any excuse to visit my alma mater, but I was especially stoked to talk about the current state of magazine publishing and how I went from being an undergrad to having a magazine career. Our discussion focused a lot on pitching, because proposing stories to editors can be really intimidating when you’re just starting out. Here’s a recap of my advice for new magazine freelancers:
What kinds of stories should you pitch?
One of the things Jacquie wanted me to address was the importance of magazine freelance writers having a specialty. Think about prolific magazine writers today—lots of them have a specialty or interest area that they keep revisiting: Rob Walker focuses a lot on marketing and consumer culture, Farhad Manjoo writes about technology, Hanna Rosin focuses on feminism and American culture. I remember being in college and doing lots of profiles and lots of event coverage. That kind of stuff is rarely going to fly when you’re a freelance writer.
Personally, I write a lot about craft, art, design and web culture. I’ve been a participant in those subcultures for years, and when I was in college it first clicked that I could draw story ideas from my experiences. Also, some of the people I met back then are now doing awesome things! (Kate Bingaman Burt and Mikey Burton, I’m looking at you.) Magazines want stories that no one else can tell. When you’re interested in unusual things, you’re much more likely to find them.
And finally, when you’re developing a story for a magazine (no matter whether you picture it as a full-length feature or a tiny front-of-book piece), you need to supply a solid angle. Unless you’ve got a standing relationship with a magazine or editor, you can’t just throw them a general idea (a story about a restaurant, or a profile of a school teacher) and expect them to pick an angle for you. (It’s especially important when pitching major, national magazines that have seen everything—and might be entertaining multiple pitches on the same timely subject.) When you have a great angle with a great idea (Why are there so many new pie restaurants in the area? Or how a school teacher broke bad to get her students the supplies they needed), that’s when an editor will look twice at your pitch.
What magazine should you pitch your idea to?
There are lots of resources for finding magazines and figuring out what kinds of stories they accept and how they want to be pitched:
But before you start sending out the same story pitch to every magazine, you should know this: The more a pitch is tailored to a magazine’s specific audience, voice and needs, the more likely it is to get accepted. So before you even start writing a query letter, you should be able to articulate why that magazine needs your story. And that means not only looking at their writers’ guidelines and Writer’s Market entry, but reading a couple back issues and understanding how they might treat your story.
Sounds like a lot of work? It is!
How do you make contacts at major magazines?
Having a personal relationship with an editor makes all the difference when it comes to getting out of the slush pile. Some writers’ guidelines direct you to email your pitch to a generic editorial email address, where it’s likely screened by an editorial assistant and may never get seen by an assigning editor. One way to get around that issue is to target a specific department in the magazine and figure out who edits it, and find that editor’s email. The other way to get around it is to make some new friends.
Twitter is an amazing resource for freelance writers. Follow editors and writers from the magazines you love, and you can get in on their conversations and see what they’re talking about and interested in. Occasionally editors even post about job openings they have at their publications. I’ve also had great success targeting editors by using LinkedIn. I’m not suggesting that you send connection requests to every editor of every magazine you love. But LinkedIn is a great research tool for finding connections you might have with editors. For example, I discovered that the managing editor of a publication I love actually lives in my city. So I emailed her to introduce myself and invite her to lunch. She works from her home office, so she was stoked at the idea of getting out for once! After a great conversation, she invited me to send her any ideas I had.
That kind of “informational interview” is exactly what you should go for when trying to meet editors in person. They don’t want a hard sell on some pitch, and you don’t want to come off as needy or only interested in them for their job. Editors are people too! :)
How should you pitch your story idea?
In short: However the publication requests freelancers do it. Most magazines have instructions or advice for pitching on their websites under “submission guidelines” or “writers’ guidelines,” most often in the Contact or About section. (Search Google for “submission guidelines” site:URL to find them faster.) The magazine resource links above sometimes include this, but you’ll get the most up-to-date and detailed info by going straight to the source.
When I was in school, paper queries were still de rigueur. (And we even included SASEs for snail mail followups. Ew.) But with rare exceptions, no magazine editor today wants paper pitches. Email is the standard — never call to pitch. The only exception here is if you have an established relationship with an editor, and you know that he or she is cool with phone calls, and you’ve set up a time to chat. Calling to cold-pitch? I’ve been on the other side of the desk here. Magazine editors are usually doing a zillion things at once, and it’s kind of inconsiderate to push your pitch on someone who is not prepared for it. If you need an answer as to whether I want to buy your story right now, or whether you can have the assignment right now, the answer is going to be no.
But you’d never do that, right? Right. So back on the lines of how to pitch your story idea: When you’ve come up with a good match with your story idea and the angle and the magazine, and you’re writing your query letter, it’s best to pitch with a specific department of the magazine in mind. (Need query letter examples? I love the ones Allison Winn Scotch posted here.) It shows the editor you know the magazine and understand how they might treat your story idea. And when you’re a new freelancer (or even if you’re just new to the magazine), pitching smaller pieces is the best way to increase your chances of selling them.
When should you pitch your story idea?
If your story has a time hook (like something Christmas-related, for example), you’ve got to pitch it at least three months in advance for a monthly magazine and six months in advance for a bimonthly magazine. Totally serious — and that might even be cutting it a little short.
Some smaller magazines plan out their editorial calendars entirely each year for the year ahead, so if you have a good relationship with an editor, it’s worth asking when their planning meetings happen so you can get your ideas in before the deadline.
More generally, I wouldn’t send a pitch via email on a Monday or the day after a holiday. Editors are usually crazy busy on Mondays. I also wouldn’t send pitches late on Fridays, because then you’ll be wondering whether they got the email, but the editor likely won’t get back to you until the next week, and who wants to put themselves through that kind of torture?
I hope this FAQ of pitching stories to magazines was helpful. Anything I missed? Post it in the comments!
I found an old issue of this acerbic, New York-centric magazine for a dollar and fell in love with it. Got a good deal on this hardcover from Copacetic Comics in Pittsburgh!
Published: 2006, 304 pp.
Obtained via: Copacetic
Date started: 2.10.09
Date finished: 2.30.09
What I liked: The mid-’80s seem like such a heady time to start a magazine. The economy was good, and the technology was laughably low-tech. The founding editors, Graydon Carter and Kurt Andersen, are recognizable names now—Carter’s the editor of Vanity Fair, and Andersen is a novelist and the host of Studio 360. It seems like everybody who got in on the ground floor at SPY went on to do great things. Sounds like heaven.
I also loved the page scans of notorious articles, and the pranks the staff would pull using only a fax machine and moxie.
What I didn’t like: Once I finished reading, I remembered how dismal the current magazine industry is. Around 1993, the original staff had fled, and the last few years of the magazine were decidedly less funny, hence the title.
What I learned: Staying true to your ideals works for a while. But when the ride’s over, it doesn’t mean you stop moving.