Everyone wants to be published in the New Yorker. The glory, the circulation, working with prestigious editors and oh, let us not forget the publicity. But, they haven’t taken notice of the short stories I’ve pitched yet. And, so what? There are plenty of other ways to get your name into print. They are a drop in the literary ocean of periodicals and newspapers. Let them find me and my work someday. Wouldn’t that be something?
I remember in the days before J-school, I pitched an article on a famous rock musician to a widely circulated local paper. I had minimal experience writing for papers at that time, all of it volunteer. The Arts Editor was really good to me and within a short time I was holding my first cheque from a well-circulated local newspaper. Those were the days…fast forward almost 20 years.
Between reporters writing stories and freelance reporters pitching ideas they hope to sell competition is fierce in the writing industry. If you are fortunate you either know someone who knows someone in the business, you work at the paper itself or you’ve got a really great hook for the story you query. Papers accepting freelance work were on the decline for a while and with all the digital newsrooms and people flocking to the internet one could easily see why. Still, there’s nothing quite like holding that hard copy of your local newspaper first thing in the morning with a steaming coffee to boot.
I remember the first time I was offered a “real” assignment and I blew it simply because I didn’t see the story the editor saw. Something about prostitutes and politics, red light districts and stuff I think. Hard to recall so many years later but the blur that it is, I wish I had sucked it up and taken the assignment. Who knows, I might have been Editor in Chief by now. I at least would have learned a bit more about municipal politics.
Instead, I plough through endless digital files of articles and short stories, novella drafts and a children’s book that I wrote which was recently released and I wonder what difference walking away from that prostitute story really made, if any at all, for where I am right now as a writer.
There’s something about having one’s own eye for news, what is considered by some as news worthy and what a great story is that makes being a freelance writer a better idea for some than others. As for stories that should be left in the dark, well, that is really subjective. I have to say, I would have found taking direction from behind a desk pushing paper and typing stories other people wanted me to tell a helluva lot harder than throwing my own ideas out there and offering work that means something to me. So that’s what I do.
But hey, I digress. I never worked on staff at a community paper and I think it did me good. I learned the important traits that all freelance journalists, I think should have. How to network. How to nod your head, smile and say yes when really mean $%& you. Then I learned where to pitch my articles and how to write shorthand, how to get interviews with agents and publicists and when to simply say no to story ideas.
Do you prefer writing for yourself or someone else? Do you think, if you had the opportunity you would work for a local or international paper, or maybe you already do, are you happy? Is the life of the freelancer appealing to you for the fact that you can take your own sick days and write whatever the hell you want to write? (That’s not to say it will all or ever get published, but at least you’re doing things your way, right?)
It also gives you a great excuse to delve into practising your photography skills so you can accompany photos with the articles you pitch. Editors like writers that can source their own photos.
I don’t advocate for this ‘vicarious’ professional writer lifestyle if you want a steady income to depend on but rather if you have a steady income and you can afford not to be as invested in what editors think of the work you send them. Not everything you pitch will get published. C’est la vie.
But hey, every now and then, like today for instance, I pitch something to the New Yorker and I wait for them to carpe diem and send me a letter of acceptance. It hasn’t happened yet but that’s not to say it won’t. I believe that every great (and even some not so great) writer/s will see their/her day. In all honesty I have to up my submissions to literary magazines and now that I’ve wrapped up producing my first short Say It Once More With Feeling, I likely will. I’d better get back to work, I have plenty more editors to query while the night is young.