Monthly Archives: September 2011

I appreciate that writing ‘porn stars’ in a blog post title could be seen as a cheap way of upping my stats, but this really is a post about a pitch I sent (ages ago) about porn stars. Porn stars. Porn. Big tits.

Back in March 2009 I sent the following pitch to Charlotte Northedge, who at the time was acting features editor at Guardian Weekend. It had been a good day: I’d just been asked by the editor of Square Mile magazine if he could sell one of my features on, I’d been asked by my boss if she could add an extra five hundred pounds onto my invoice to help her ‘sleep at night’, I wasn’t bald and mad and nearly always broke as I am now, and I was a day or so away from flying home to see my wife, because then I had a wife. Oh, and I was in Singapore. Jesus, this is tough. Writing this, I mean. For reasons both too boring and too complicated to go into, I can only really see about eight out of every ten words I write. Anyway, here’s the pitch.

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To: Charlotte Northedge

From: Pitching the World

Subject: Where have all the porn stars gone?

Date: 12/03/09

Hi Charlotte,
Where indeed. I’m out in Singapore at the moment working for [redacted] but have to go to California at the end of this month. I’ve already been commissioned to write a couple of fluffy travel articles, but would ideally like to do something with a bit more substance.
Here is what I’m thinking. Over the last year or so, there have been problems within the porn industry: the rise of amateur sites, free sites, economic vagaries and so on have all left the industry in a pretty sorry state. “So what?”, you might be thinking. Well, my idea would be to visit San Fernando Valley (the porn capital of the world, apparently) and the surrounding areas to track down ex-porn actors and actresses to see what they’re up to now. What are they doing to make a living? How do they feel about their previous careers? What (prostitution?) have they done or considered doing to pay the rent? Are they taking drugs? Alcohol? And so on. I’d aim to interview 8-10 people.
Legs? I’ve got quite a few contacts within the industry from previous work I’ve done for men’s magazines, including the head of one of the biggest porn companies in the world and one of the most well-regarded directors. Both their numbers are in my phone.
Hope everything’s going well there.
Best wishes,
Steve
Oh, incidentally, about 3 months ago I nearly pitched you the exact same article appearing by Tanya Gold in today’s (well at least over here) Guardian. Bummer.

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Rubbish, isn’t it? It’s okay, you don’t have to be kind, I know it’s rubbish. It’s one of the worst pitches I’ve ever sent. Here’s why, in red.

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To: Charlotte Northedge

From: Pitching the World

Subject: Where have all the porn stars gone? [Don’t know. Nowhere?]

Date: 12/03/09

Hi Charlotte,
Where indeed [I sound like a right 1930s prick here]. I’m out in Singapore at the moment working for [redacted] [Who cares? Why am I showing off about working in Singapore?]but have to go to California at the end of this month [Not true]. I’ve already been commissioned to write a couple of fluffy travel articles [Not true], but would ideally like to do something with a bit more substance [Possibly true].
Here is what I’m thinking. Over the last year or so, there have been problems within the porn industry [Have there?]: the rise of amateur sites, free sites, economic vagaries and so on have all left the industry in a pretty sorry state [Possibly untrue]. “So what?”, you might be thinking. Well, my idea would be to visit San Fernando Valley (the porn capital of the world, apparently) and the surrounding areas to track down ex-porn actors and actresses to see what they’re up to now [Dreadful – and dreadfully boring – sentence].What are they doing to make a living [repetitive]? How do they feel about their previous careers? What (prostitution?) have they done or considered doing to pay the rent [Yeah, brilliant; they’re definitely all prostitutes]?Are they taking drugs? [Probably – isn’t everyone?] Alcohol? [What? Are they ‘taking’ alcohol? What is this – the 1930s? Am I my Great Aunt?] And so on [Clearly beyond taking drugs and ‘taking’ alcohol, I couldn’t imagine what else these people might be doing.]. I’d aim to interview 8-10 people [Would you? Well done].
Legs? [I actually liked that bit] I’ve got quite a few contacts within the industry from previous work I’ve done for men’s magazines, including the head of one of the biggest porn companies in the world and one of the most well-regarded directors [Pretty accurate, but I sound like such a dick]. Both their numbers are in my phone [Still sounding like a dick].
Hope everything’s going well there.
Best wishes,
Steve
Oh [Oh, look how casual I am. I’d actually been planning that ‘Oh’ for about four months], incidentally, about 3 [Should be ‘three’] months ago I nearly pitched you the exact same article [Not true, probably. I certainly can’t remember anything about this] appearing by Tanya Gold in today’s (well at least over here) [Yeah, I’m still in Singapore. Look at me, I’m so fucking international I don’t even know what time zone I’m operating in] Guardian. Bummer [Bummer? Far out, we’ve gone from the 1930s to the 1960s].

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Anyway, it received a positive reply which I’ll pop down below. After a week of toing and froing I very, very, very nearly flew out to California to spend a week or two with ex-porn stars, but I ended up screwing it all up. Bummer. But it’s made me think that it might be worth revisiting my archives to dredge up some old pitches and re-pitch them. Laters, potatoes.

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To: Pitching the World

From: Charlotte Northedge

Subject: Where have all the porn stars gone

Date: 12/03/09

Hi Steve,
Good to hear from you. I’m actually not working on G2 any more, I’ve moved to Weekend magazine, but I think the porn stars idea could work for Weekend. My only concern would be how varied their stories would be. If they were doing quite different things – eg. window cleaner, estate agent, pimp – then that could work really well, but if they’re all struggling actors or working for internet porn companies, then it’s not such an interesting story.
So I’d be interested in principle, but it would be great if you could get in touch once you’re there and have more of an idea of who you might be able to speak to. 
Hope all is well with you.
All the best,
Charlotte

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To All the Editors I’ve Loved Before

Dear Editors,

What’s happening? What’s happened to us? Where did we go wrong? Back when I began this madcap, pleasure-destroying project almost two years ago to the day you used to commission me to write things for you. Often I didn’t even have to ask. I’d open up my email account in the morning and there you’d be, all “Sorry to burst into your life like this, but we’d like 2,000 words on whatever” and off I’d go and write 2,000 words on whatever. When I did suggest things to write about, most of the time you’d say yes, but when you didn’t say yes you would at least say no very kindly.

That was two years ago. Now, nothing. Now, a kind no sees me smoking a sleeve of Camel Lights in celebration. I can only imagine that one of two things has happened. Both are bad. Either I’ve been blacklisted by the entire industry, or the entire industry is in such a state that you cannot afford to pay me any longer. But that can’t be it, because I still know a handful of freelancers who make a decent living. Or at least a living.

There might, of course, be a further possible reason. Namely that I’ve become absurdly bad at writing and pitching. That can’t be it though, can it? It might be half true. Oh, and it could be that I write things on my blog like, “Editors make you fuck them in bins and buy them hats before commissioning you,” but I didn’t really mean that, only said that to be funny and it’s not that funny anyway.

Anyway, editors, anyway, fuckos, I just want you all to know that Pitching the World isn’t terribly representative of my work. I care about what I do and have always delivered crisp, attractive, compelling and error-free copy on time. Always. Except for one feature I did for the Independent back in October 2007 about prefabricated housing that was absolute dogshit.

Please start commissioning me again.

Thanks for listening.

Yours sincerely,

Pitching the World

 

A picture of Pitching the World looking rubbish at a rubbish looking party, earlier. This is perhaps why I don’t get commissioned an awful lot, now. 

On Making Love to Ideas

Yesterday morning I made a momentous decision. ‘I’m not going to get out of bed today,’ it began. ‘In fact, not only am I not going to get out of bed today, I’m never going to get out of bed again. And not only that, but I’m not going to even see anyone ever again. They – whoever they are – can’t stop me. I’ll barricade myself in this room and demand that food be shoved in under the door. It’ll make for a slightly inelegant diet – bacon, crisps, pancakes, that sugary rice paper stuff – but it’ll be worth it. Perhaps cream cheese can be squirted through the keyhole. Will cigarettes fit through there? Balls. Well, I’ll quit smoking. But where will I toilet? And who’s going to be squeezing stuff through the keyhole and sliding stuff under the door? No one, that’s who. More balls. Okay world, you win. I’ll get up, but only after four cigarettes and two panic attacks.’

My quickly abandoned (and not at all momentous) decision to remain in bed for the rest of my life didn’t stem from not giving a fuck. If anything, I give too much of a fuck. Or I did. But one quickly find oneself going from giving too much of a fuck, to giving a reasonable amount of fuck to hardly giving any fuck at all. No fuck. Not giving any fuck. The stream of rejections and walls of silence one encounters can get a bit much at times but what really seemed to grate yesterday was that I seem to spend all my time writing about things that I don’t want to be writing about and none of my time writing about things that I do want to write about.

You’ll be delighted to hear that I’ve found a way around it, to beef up my levels of fuck-giving. Let me show you. Okay, so I’ve half-heartedly pitched an idea about going to a Muay Thai training camp in Phuket, training for four or six or however many weeks it takes and then having a semi-professional fight at the end of it. The condition I’m in at the moment, it’ll probably take a year. It’s not a particularly novel idea, but it’s a good one – one I’d really like to do – and one I could write up pretty well I reckon. I’m planning on pitching it around some more (I’ve only sent it to Men’s Fitness so far) but if no one picks it up I’m going to do it anyway. The training and the fighting, I mean. I can’t afford to do it, but I’ll find a way. Not having a commission makes it seem a little pointless, but it will be good for me and I can still write about it and put it up here.

There’s plenty of other stuff out there that I want to write about and if no one is willing to pay me for it I’m going to do it and write about it anyway. How’s that for a plan? Don’t answer. Anyway, you’ll all read it won’t you? Don’t answer. I realise that this way is massively logistically flawed but it got me through the day yesterday and had me leaping from my bed this morning and I’m trying to give the logistical side of it not too much of a fuck right now. Watch this sweary space.

Someone not giving a fuck, earlier. 

“Using quotes to beef up copy is good. Sometimes reading quotes to give your mood a lift is okay too. Fuck, this one’s not going to make it into a book is it?” – Benjamin Disraeli

One of the first features I had published was about buying a property in Brighton. At the time – 2007 – I didn’t know a great deal about writing features, knew less about Brighton, less still about buying property and even less about buying a property in Brighton. Thankfully I still don’t know about these things.

My brief stated that I was expected to write 1,600 words on buying a property in Brighton. This was worrying. I didn’t want to write one word on buying a property in Brighton (although I did want to write two: Fuck This) let alone 1,600. Luckily I had a plan, and found myself in Waterstones on Gower Street copying into my notebook some 150 words from the introduction to Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock, which I then used as the opening part to my feature. “How relevant is the above? How is today’s Brighton comparable to that of the 1930s?” I (probably) began. “Come on – how? Because I sure as fuck don’t know. I haven’t even been to Brighton. I have absolutely no interest in buying a house. I’m really the wrong person to be writing about this.” And so on.

I didn’t really go on like that. In fact, I was just looking over some old correspondence to see if I could use the exact quote I used in the feature and came across an email from the editor saying that my piece – called (and don’t read this next bit unless you’re already planning on killing yourself in the next few minutes) ‘Brighton Up Your Day!’ – had been passed around the office and was one of the finest the magazine had ever published. The magazine has since closed down, perhaps because the entire staff were clinically insane.

Since then I’ve often used quotes when starting a feature, particularly if that feature is about travel or property – two topics that I’ve written way too much about. Quotes, as Mark Twain famously said, are “a fucking brilliant way” to lead into a feature. They make the writer appear better read and smarter than they probably are, the reader picks something up that they can regurgitate and bore someone with later, and they eat up a bit of space.

I don’t really use famous quotations in features anymore.  This is partly because I don’t really write features anymore and I certainly don’t write features on property or travel anymore. But the proposal based on Pitching the World is (at last) being sent off by my agent to publishers at the weekend and I’ve been trying to find a quote to put at the beginning of the book. At first I considered this:

“No  great achievement is possible without persistent work.” – Bertrand Russell 

Or this:

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”  – Calvin Coolidge

Or even this:

“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” – Stephen King

But then I thought I don’t really agree with any of the above. And Pitching the World could well turn out to be an anti-achievement book. There’s persistence, but the only real persisting going on is my persistence at not persisting at anything. Does that make sense? Who cares, check this out:

“I think I’ve discovered the secret of life – you just hang around until you get used to it.” – Charles Schultz

This is I love. Seems pretty accurate too. However, the following may be more appropriate for a book about writing:

“You don’t try. That’s very important: not to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more.” – Charles Bukowski

Good, isn’t it? Well I think it’s good. But I think the following is the quote that will be going inside the book, assuming it gets picked up.

“You tried your best and failed miserably. The lesson is: never try.” – Homer Simpson

Whose side are you on? Are you with Bertrand “I think I’m a ghost” Russell, Calvin “Who the fuck is Calvin Coolidge” Coolidge and Stephen King? Or do you take the advice of a cartoon character, a woman beating alcoholic and Charles Schultz? Let me know. I reckon you’re somewhere in the middle.

Ivory vs. cardboard

Just over two weeks ago, a good thing happened. Sometimes I know when a good thing is going to happen. I find that I stop feeling like I’m made up of right angles or bits of old cardboard and start feeling like I’m made of ivory or pure running water or something and then something good happens. I know: strange.

Anyway, I was headed to the house I’m staying at in the Mallorcan countryside. I was walking in the heat along an old dirt track that looked like it had been lifted straight from the Bible and gradually felt myself shift from old cardboard to ivory and when that happened I thought to myself, “Something good is going to happen soon.”

When I got back to the house I checked my computer and saw that lots of people had been coming to Pitching the World via Twitter. I hunted around Twitter and saw that an editor whose magazine I like very much had called it “The best blog on the internet” and a writer whose work I admire very much said that he “Agreed.” This made me go a bit heady. Finally, I thought, I’ve somehow managed to convince the editor of a magazine that this is the best blog on the internet, even though it clearly isn’t. Perhaps I’ll be able to crowbar this information into one of my future posts. People may see how happy it’s made me and may want to copy the actions of the editor I like and the writer whose work I admire. That would make me happier. And if people were to do that then I may give them money and hats and fuck them in bins. Something for you all to chew over.

That’s not the good thing that happened. I know, I know, it’s completely compelling but watch out because this next sentence is going to completely blow your mind to pieces.

After I read what people had been saying about me on Twitter I checked my email. (Told you.) Among the usual guffs and bits of old cardboard that usually suffocate my inbox was a little piece of ivory. The company that I used to work for were asking me if I had the time and inclination to go to the Caribbean for a few weeks to work on a project involving “crime, recidivism and gang culture.” Good money, all expenses paid etc. etc. – would I be interested?

“I would be interested.” I wrote back. “I mean, I am interested. I’d love to come and help. I love crime, recidivism and gang culture. Actually, I hate crime recidivism and gang culture. Is that better? Oh God, what’s the right one? Whatever the correct answer is, that’s what I think. Just tell me the right answer and I’ll think it – that will be my answer. Forever. See you at Heathrow on Monday.”

See? Do you see what can happen as a freelance writer? One minute you’re all cardboardy walking down a dirt track wondering what to do with the rest of your life and where your next sleeve of Camel Lights is coming from, the next you’re being whisked off to a Caribbean island to make everything okay for everyone and getting paid lots of money to do so.

Regular readers will know that this isn’t being written on a Caribbean island. Regular readers will know that something along the way got fucked up (or rather that someone along the way got fucked up) and that instead of being on a Caribbean island interviewing gang members I am, in fact, still in Mallorca and writing a 5,000 word report (on a Sunday) about voting behaviour.

It’s actually all rather pleasant and stimulating. And it’s made me think that doing corporate work is perhaps the way I should be heading. For me, freelance journalism is tough at the moment. Anecdotally, freelance journalism is tough at the moment. I’ve heard of a handful of people in the last week alone who have either given up or are on the verge of giving up. Rates are low and dropping. Editors make you fuck them in bins and buy them hats before they commission you. Accounts departments spend all their time laughing and masturbating at you. All very grim and seedy, I’m afraid. Whereas in the corporate world they pay you several hundred pounds a day – sometimes more – for doing cool, interesting work and they will even pay you money before you start working. I kind of love it.

But I kind of love writing for newspapers and magazines more. You just have to find the right ones. Luckily for you and for me I’ve been researching the right ones and I’ll be popping back on here in the next couple of days with a list of publications that pay very well and/or very quickly.

Imagine: real, practical advice.