Monday, March 16, 2009

How High is the Magazine Ceiling?

Question of the day: How hard is it to break into magazines? How much tougher is it in this economy?

Piggy-backing this onto last week's magazine post. The answer to this question is going to inevitably vary from writer to writer. As I said, in my case, I broke in relatively easily by pure fluke, but then, even once I had a few credits, it took a really, really long time to establish myself as a go-to writer and/or a writer to whom editors brought ideas rather than having to pitch them myself. But I think my experience is pretty unique in terms of ease of breaking-in, and from friends' anecdotes, I think it can truly be all over the board: right away or years later.

I'm hesitant to say that breaking in to major magazines is difficult because I think it's a very doable goal, but the truth is that there is a difference between difficult and unattainable, and I think you need to keep this difference in mind if you're aspiring to break in to magazines. I think that if you have the stomach for a hell of a lot of rejection and the fortitude to ignore said rejection and the tenacity to keep pitching, pitching, pitching, AND an ego-less personality in which you don't mind taking smaller, less prestigious jobs, AND you're a good writer, then by all means, I think this is a very viable goal. And I don't mean that sarcastically at all. I think to make it in this business, you really need to have a personality that can endure the peaks and valleys, and if yours meets the above criteria, yeah, then certainly, over the long run, I do think you'll break in. But you have to KNOW that it's not going to be easy, and you have to be okay (and not whine about it when things aren't okay) with all of this.

Has the economy made it tougher? I'd say so. Editors simply aren't assigning in the way that they were before, so even long-time writers are seeing their regular pieces drop off. For a newbie to crack this force field will undoubtedly be tougher, but again, not impossible. It really depends on how much you're willing to hustle and how wide you're willing to cast your net and how many rejections (or silences, as often the case may be) you can stomach.

I really, really hope this doesn't come off as a negative post. It's not meant to be. At all! Remember again, that there is a difference between difficult and unattainable, and if you don't shy away from a challenge, this one is certainly within reach.

Thoughts? Am I a negative Nelly or just a realist?


Anonymous said...

Nope, not negative. It sounds really similar to trying to break into book publishing -- or acting, or anything else subjective and highly competitive. Thanks.

Lisa Bakewell said...

Not negative at all, just very truthful. Someone breaking into magazine writing today, definitely needs to know that it can be (probably will be)tough and that tenacity is a key factor to their success. Thanks for the great post, Allison.

Anonymous said...

Realistic, and I wish more people would listen. I tried to stop a gal who's never written for pay a day in her life from selling off her current stock on eBay. She's just sure she can start making money doing her dream job in a matter of weeks.

People with 20 years of experience aren't making money right at this very second, so it's just hard to see her give up an income to chase this. She can be the most talented writer in the world, but this isn't a smart move for March 2009, KWIM? said...

Not negative because you also state that it's doable with a lot of persistence. I'd say that makes the difference in every endeavor! BTW, I can't wait to read your next book.

Anonymous said...

This is more of a query-specific question than anything, but I'll pose it here, anyway. I have what I think is a great idea that's been (tentatively) picked up by a national mag for a short FOB piece. I'm thrilled, but I'd also really like to write a longer version of the piece for a regional magazine -- a totally noncompetitive market. The story would be different enough that I'm not just re-pitching the same thing. What's the etiquette here? Am I OK to pitch to the regional mag if it's a totally different take on the story, or should I wait to see what happens with the national mag? Thanks for any advice you can offer!

Eileen said...

Nope- not negative. I think it means writers are going to have to an even better hook, a fresher approach to a topic etc. You are going to have to fight that much harder to stick out.