Monthly Archives: September 2009

Don’t Try

My hair has been falling out more dramatically than usual this last week. I’ve been wanting to drink – and have drunk – more than I usually do. My head’s been crammed with junk. Sexy, isn’t it? Frankly I’m appalled that my wife doesn’t have the guts to just get up and leave me.

But then something clicked last night and I realised that there’s a reason for the hair and the drink and the junk: I’ve been trying too hard. I’ve made the mistake of getting seduced by advice on the internet and in books about pitching and for some reason have started to ape said advice. I’m a fool now and I was a fool when I started freelancing, but at least back then I was a brave fool. I’d pitch chaotically and without really researching the publication I was pitching to and I used to land far more commissions than I do now. It’s not that I didn’t care back then – I did – but I think the problem today is that I care too much and have started to approach magazines in a manner that is far too timid and uniform. 

From now on then, I’m just going to be bold and experimental and a little bit sloppy in my pitches and see where it gets me. And I’m not going to read any further thoughts from lecturers at Lincoln university (or wherever the hell they happen to be) on how to approach magazines. In fact, that’s my first proper piece of advice: don’t listen to anyone. Especially me.

I’ll let you know how it goes. 


							

I’m just like George Orwell

I’ve already gone off this blog. You probably have too. But don’t worry, we can go off it together.

There are plenty of reasons why I (and you, probably) have gone off it, the most obvious being that I haven’t really had the opportunity to offer any decent advice so far. I haven’t been able to offer any decent advice so far because I drink too much, am lazy, and have been distracted by a couple of commissions that have come in since the tail end of last week. 

These commissions haven’t come off the back of my so-called experiment. In fact, out of the 21 magazines I’ve pitched so far (Accountancy; Accountancy Age; Accounting & Business; Aeroplane Monthly; Ambit; Art Monthly – you get the idea: I’m working my way through the A’s) only a handful have responded. The responses have been favourable but follow a disconcerting pattern: I’m afraid, they say, that we don’t have a budget for freelancers at the moment.

Of course that’s not the whole story. It could be that my pitches are weak and I’m pitching on subjects that I know little about. Still, I will not be deterred. When I started freelancing in January 2007 I wrote for property magazines (I was borderline homeless) and occasionally about financial issues (I didn’t even have a bank account) and so I reckon I can have a stab at writing about most things. Things were different then though: around eight out of ten pitches would elicit a response and about half of all my pitches would eventually get commissioned. 

Still, I will not be deterred. Out of the 642 magazines I plan to pitch between now and the end of the year, I’m aiming at a 5% success rate. That will work out at 32 features in just over three months, a manageable figure, even with my regular assignments thrown in and with keeping this blog going, a blog that (especially after this dull post) you and I are really going off.

Books v. cigarettes

As regular readers will know – and, to be fair, anyone who reads the title of this blog will know – I’m writing about pitching magazines. God, that’s an arresting first sentence. Stick with me though, as there might be a funny bit coming along. It’s about pitching magazines and I have over 600 more to pitch, yet yesterday I didn’t pitch any.

The reason? Well, a lot of my time was spent setting and up and maintaining this blog, a blog about pitching magazines. So I couldn’t pitch any magazines yesterday as I was writing about pitching magazines. How ironic is that? Pretty ironic, I reckon. Most of the day was spent trying to create the exceptional banner decorating the top of this page. It’s a picture of me that I’ve manipulated so that it not only doesn’t look like a picture of me, it doesn’t really look like a picture of anything. The actual manipulation was a breeze, but then it took considerable time trying to upload the picture to the banner. It took me at least two hours to realise that the previous blog template I had didn’t support what I was trying to do. So I changed the blog template.

That done, you would think I would pitch furiously. You would be wrong: I spent the rest of the day checking my stats, smoking dozens of cigarettes, opening and closing the fridge and seeing how many kick-ups I could do with a tennis ball.

This would be funny if it wasn’t true. It would also be funny if I hadn’t just been commissioned to write two features. This is the scourge of the freelance journalist, or at least it’s the scourge of this freelance journalist. You spend a lot of time thinking about and researching new ideas, pitching said thought-out and researched ideas, waiting to hear back from editors about these ideas and when you land a commission you just start to mess around a bit. George Orwell wrote well about this back in the 1940′s. In Books v. cigarettes (1946) he nails the life of a writer:

In a cold but stuffy bed-sitting room littered with cigarettes ends and half-empty cups of tea, a man in a moth-eaten dressing gown sits at a rickety table. He is a man of thirty-five but looks fifty. He is bald, has varicose veins and wears spectacles, or would wear them if his only pair were not chronically lost. If things are normal with him he will be suffering from malnutrition, but if he has recently had a lucky streak he will be suffering from a hangover. At present it is half past eleven in the morning, and according to his schedule he should have started work two hours ago; but even if he had made any serious effort to start he would have been frustrated by the almost continuous ringing of the telephone bell, the yells of the baby, the rattle of an electric drill out in the street, and the heavy boots of his creditors clumping up and down the stairs”

This portrait still rings truly today. The life of a writer is one of distraction, malnutrition, hangovers and creditors. Even today I could have made a start on one or both of the articles that have been commissioned, or pitched some of the contacts listed in the faintly depressing Writers’ and Artist’s Yearbook, or at least cobbled together some of my previous pitches that have produced instant commissions and published them here.

But I haven’t. I will do later and do so furiously, but first, the latest feature I have to write came on the back of this email I sent:

Hi XXXXXX,

Just a line to let you know that I’m back in London and would relish the opportunity to take on any commissions you may have floating around.

Best,

XXXXX

Simple really. I’ll let you know next time how I managed to strike up a relationship with the features ed initially and how getting work really can be simple sometimes. Actually doing the work, assuming you have any sort of soul, can be much harder. 

Thanks everyone for the comments.

A Complex Plan

Hello and welcome.

I am an idiot. A little over a week ago I foolishly started an experiment. I say experiment, though the word experiment is used in a very loose sense. In fact it’s not an experiment at all, no matter how loosely you use the word: it’s something altogether different.

Let’s start again.

I am an idiot. A little over a week ago I began to pitch feature ideas to every UK magazine listed in the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook. There are 642 of them in total – magazines that is, not Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbooks. The W&A Yearbook, for those who don’t know, is a faintly depressing book – a yearbook, whatever the hell that is – that lists a bunch of publishers, contact details for newspapers and magazines, advice on how to approach television channels and production companies, the details of agents – you get the picture I’m sure. On the front cover there is a quote from Julie Myerson – whoever the hell that is – letting us know that the book is “the best friend an aspiring writer can have” (not true: my best friend is Gary Sams) and on the back there’s a load more guff about it being “a must for established and aspiring authors” (The Society of Authors), “full of useful stuff” (J.K. Rowling) and “packed with tips and professional insight” (The Association of Illustrators).

I’m really beginning to hate it.

I’m beginning to hate it because there’s a shitty introduction by Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan. I’m beginning to hate it because the advice – bar one or two exceptions – isn’t going to help anyone, let alone me. I’m beginning to hate it because it just sits there on my desk all red and yellow and garish, doing nothing. I’m really beginning to hate it because there are 642 magazines in there and I’ve made a decision to pitch every single one. That means I have to pitch Trout and Salmon, Slim at Home, and Black Hair and Beauty. It means that in the last week I’ve already pitched Accounting and Business, Aeroplane Monthly and AIR International. It means, in short, that I am an idiot. An idiot with his work cut out.

A good question here would be “Why? Why would you want to pitch every magazine in that depressing yearbook?”

Well, that is indeed a good question. A good answer is a little harder to come by, but I’ll give it a shot. Firstly, I came up with the idea when I was stoned in Darwin, Australia. Now, if you’ve ever been stoned in Darwin, Australia, you’ll know that a lot of things that strike you as good ideas cease to be good ideas when you’re not stoned in Darwin, Australia. Problem is, I had told my wife about my idea (I think I might have said something along the lines of “I’ve had a breakthrough”) and my brother-in-law about my idea and a few other people and it just kind of snowballed to the extent that I can’t back away from my breakthrough because I’ve had lots of breakthroughs before and mostly they just peter out because they are not really breakthroughs at all, just rubbish ideas. So that’s one reason: I’m sticking with it to prove a point.

Another reason is that it’s my livelihood. Prior to being stoned in Darwin, Australia I was a political speechwriter in St Kitts, the Caribbean. I left that job for reasons far too numerous and complicated to go into now, but the main reason I left that job as a political speechwriter in St Kitts, the Caribbean was to go back to being a freelance journalist. That’s right: at possibly the worst time in history for freelancers I left my prestigious, well paid and more-exotic-sounding-than-it-is job to go back to journalism. And when I was stoned in Darwin, Australia, the thought of hassling my regular editors for commissions struck me as too depressing for words. So I thought I would cast my net a little wider. So I decided to pitch loads of different magazines, and the W&A Yearbook seemed a good place to start. 

I’ll go into some other reasons another time (bet you can’t wait). I’ll go into a lot of other stuff too: who I’ve pitched so far and what their responses have been; regular updates on my pitching success or otherwise; the nature of journalism in modern Britain and the writer I’d most like to fight in a pub car park. 

Until then, then.