I really enjoy taking care of business in the latter days of December. My inbox and apartment are never cleaner; my goals for the coming months and year never so precisely defined. In the spirit of reflection and goal-setting, I decided to round up some best-of lists for myself:
My favorite books of the year:
I read nearly 50 books this year, but these three, listed in the order I read them, were the ones I couldn’t stop raving to friends about. Reading Sarai Walker’s “Dietland” was like finding a revolutionary manifesto inside an issue of Cosmopolitan. Egged on by an episode of This American Life, I found and devoured Jon Ronson’s “The Psychopath Test,” which led me to even more books, including Luke Dittrich’s “Patient H.M.”, which I’ll probably be talking about for years to come; his dedication and research are an inspiration to me as a writer.
My favorite stories I wrote:
- CSM Passcode: How Social Security numbers became skeleton keys for fraudsters (November 2016)
- CSM Passcode: Dutch art project exposes extent of surveillance, tests limits of law (April 2016)
- Quartz: South by Southwest is officially, aggressively normcore (March 2016)
- Wired: High Rent Epicenters infographic (January 2016)
- Quartz: The Secret World of Membership Libraries (January 2016)
I wrote fewer stories overall in 2016 as compared to 2015, but that can largely be attributed to my contributions to a forthcoming book by Autodesk on the future of design, as well as a renewed focus on long-term projects. It’s really tough as a freelancer to pursue those front-loaded, research-heavy moonshot projects and still pay the bills. I’m still figuring it out.
My favorite stories I read elsewhere:
These were the stories written by other people that made the biggest impact on me this year, for various reasons:
- New York Times: Hesitant to Make That Big Life Change? Permission Granted
- Buzzfeed: How “Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead” Went From D.O.A. To Beloved Cult Classic
- New York Magazine: What Happened When the Young House Love Couple Tried to Escape the Internet
- New York Times: United States of Paranoia
- Politico: How Cincinnati Salvaged the Nation’s Most Dangerous Neighborhood
- New Yorker: Donald Trump’s Ghostwriter Tells All
- The Long & Short: The War on Cash
- Bon Appetit: How to Pair Cheese with Potato Chips
- Racked: The Last Lifestyle Magazine
- New York Times Magazine: Choosing a School for my Daughter in a Segregated City
- Mother Jones: My Four Months as a Private Prison Guard
This Neil Gaiman commencement speech was mentioned recently on NPR and is now available as a book, “Make Good Art,” designed by Chip Kidd. The thing that really stood out to me in the interview was his two-of-three rule (this “secret knowledge” for freelancers starts around minute 14):
You get work however you get work. People keep working in a freelance world — and more and more of today’s world is freelance — because their work is good, and because they are easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three. Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. They’ll forgive the lateness of the work if it’s good, and if they like you. And you don’t have to be as good as the others if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.”
This is so true. I’ve made decisions based on these three attributes, subconsciously, as a magazine editor assigning articles. And I often doubt my abilities as a writer (Gaiman also talks about impostor syndrome in his speech), so I make it my business to always be on time and as pleasant as possible to work with so I at least get that two out of three.
And if nothing else, I can make rad GIFs (jifs):
After hearing Neil Gaiman on the radio, I came up with this hypothetical rule of threes specifically for pitching magazine articles. Everybody knows that to sell a story to a magazine, you need a solid topic with a fresh angle. But you also need at least two of the following attributes:
- Access: Do you have physical proximity to the subject matter, or a personal connection that gets you access where other reporters cannot?
- Expertise: Have you written about the subject before or have an advanced understanding of it?
- Reputation: Are you known by the publication’s audience as a trusted voice or by its editors as a reliable writer?
If you have all three, your pitch is way strong, and you might be a wizard. But if you have two out of the three, you still have a really good chance that your pitch is going to get picked up.
If you’re held in good esteem by magazine editors and have access to people or places, you might get by with being a novice in the subject matter. (Example: Susan Orlean goes to a local cream cheese factory to write about collusion with the bagel industry.) If the magazine’s never heard of you before, you need to have written about the topic before and have access to the right interview subjects. (Example: You’ve been reporting on a local university for years and have all the background info on a recent scandal to pitch an in-depth piece to a national outlet.) Or if you’re a known entity to editors and are an expert in the subject matter, the magazine might help you get access to the people or places of note — or be more likely to straight-up assign stuff to you. (Example: You’ve written about health policy for a magazine many times before, so you’re their first pick to profile the new surgeon general.)
That’s my theory of how to get a pitch picked up. Fellow freelancers, what do you think?
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!
Finished writing my book yesterday at 2:30 p.m. I can’t tell you how much of a relief it is to be done. Well, you know, done aside from the rounds of editing coming over the next few months. Hurrah!
Current word count: 27,818 (out of 30,000)
Trying not to freak out too much about the fact that my book is due in less than a MONTH. I’m starting to break down the remaining stuff to do into manageable chunks. I made up a calendar with weekly goals written on it, for example, my goal for this weekend is to polish up the introduction and first chapter and get the appendix done.
I’m taking a few days off of work in the next month to give myself more time to work on the book. I’m also trying not to completely get cut off from the rest of the world. (Sorry, friends!)
One big problem in getting done with the book is that I keep finding more people I want to talk to! Gotta stop that… After next week, promise.
PS: I’m not writing recaps of books I read for now, but I am still updating my list.
Current word count: 25,035 (out of 30,000)
A little more than a month left until my manuscript deadline, and I have reached my Jan. 1 goal of 25,000 words a few days early! It’s incredible to see the progress I’ve made. The book still has some holes and placeholders, but my to-do list is manageable, and the end is in sight. Of course, after I turn in the manuscript in February, there’s still a few months of editing to come. :)
Talked to more awesome crafters, and after copying and pasting integrating their quotes, I am very near my Dec. 1 goal of 20,000 words!
Current word count: 19,843 (out of 30,000)
My to-do list is still very long, but I feel positive about where the book’s going as the deadline creeps ever nearer. The manuscript is due Feb. 10, and ideally I’d like to be able to turn in something in really good shape, so maybe I’ll aim to hit 30,000 words by January 1 so I have a few weeks to revise and edit.
Probably the biggest thing on my list is contacting the organizers of major indie craft shows. I’d been waiting on that because craft show season is in full tilt right now. But if I wait too long, I’ll be hitting the holiday season when (presumably) people aren’t going to want to be doing interviews. Conundrum!