Monday, January 15, 2007

Does Geography Matter?

Many successful writers live in New York City and while there are obvious advantages to proximity to this major media market, NYC is prohibitively expensive for some writers and seems like the internet may have leveled the playing field on some level. Do you think its feasible for a writer in a secondary market like Boston or Philly to make a decent living writing full-time?

Great question, and one, I think, with a surprising answer. Which is this: I really don't think that NYC-based writers have much of an advantage at all. If anything, given our high cost of living, we might actually be disadvantaged.

When I got your question, I took a quick look at my address book to determine where most of my writer friends live. Here's what I came up with: several in Chicago, several in New England, a few in Philly, D.C, LA, SF, various random parts of California and the Midwest, Long Island, and Brooklyn. A paltry number of us actually live in Manhattan. Surprised? You shouldn't be. Hell, some of my friends even live in Europe.

As you hinted, the internet has become the great equalizer. I can count the number of editors I've met in person on one, okay, maybe two hands. Nearly all of my relationships have been built via email, and nearly of my correspondence is carried out this way too. So most editors don't give a flying fig where you live, as long as you're accessible. Another bonus? Many of the writers who do live outside of the city plan visits to NYC and make a point to schedule meetings with their editors, something I don't do nearly enough because, well, I live here, so both my editors and I fall into the trap of thinking, "Oh, we can do coffee at any time." And meeting with your editors is definitely a great way to land assignments, so if you live in Timbuktu, just plan an annual trip, and you're set.

Finally, don't forget that some of the biggie magazines don't even operate from NYC these days. Many of Rodale's mags are housed in Emmaus, PA (where???) and Southern Progress, now an arm of TimeInc, operates out of Birmingham.

I often beg my husband to give it all up and move to Southern Cal - nude babies on the beach, lingering warm afternoons, lazy work schedules. Alas, he's a New Englander (never more so during Red Sox season, sigh) and just won't cave. But if I could, I'd happily move anywhere in the world (anywhere that's warm, that is), and I'm confident my career wouldn't be affected one bit.

So...where do you all live? Think it affects your success?


Susan Johnston Taylor said...

Allison, thanks so much for posting answers to more of my questions. It's funny that you mention Emmaus, because that's where my boyfriend grew up - who knew it was a mecca for magazines? My parents are the same way about New England, but one day the weather/snow just got to them and they moved out west.

Anonymous said...

I actually grew up in the Midwest where I freelance. Then I moved to Chicago for a year where I started my writing in-house with a publishing company that produced IT oriented magazines (Chicago is a trade magazine heaven). I recently moved to Jersey so that I would be near the city to visit editors, but not pay for the outrageous Manhattan apartment fees.

Great post!

Unknown said...

I'm in the "secondary" market of Boston, and being here hasn't hurt my marketability for all the reasons Allison. I go to NYC about 2x a year, and yes, most everything is done via e-mail.

Two other points: being from "out of town" is a benefit in that you bring your long-distance editors a different perspective. New York editors, for example, want and need stories set beyond the five boroughs, stories that haven't been covered in the NYT/WSJ/WP/BG. Second, with anecdote-heavy service stories, editors want to quote real people outside the northeast. If you're in the midwest, deep south, etc. it seems like you have a slight edge with your pool of local contacts. Just slight though, as the Internet makes it a lot easier to extend a writer's reach!

Larramie said...

Great question, great post and great comment from diana. NYC is basically small and isolated from the rest of the country and certainly needs different perspectives. Love the Internet for leveling the playing field with almost everything, including publishing.

Trish Ryan said...

When you get tired of the cold, point out to your husband that ESPN's "The Sports Guy" - a consumate Red Sox fan - now lives somewhere south of LA. Red Sox Nation is global, and they sell those Curt Shilling jerseys in short sleeves for a reason :)

MDiskin said...

I'm in Atlanta, another secondary market. Lots of opps for freelancers here -- there are quite a few local and regional mags of all stripes, including several high-end glossies. I also do internet consulting out of town, and it's easy to troll for sources in other cities -- one of my consulting clients became a source for a recent parenting story. Email and the internet are a great leveler, of course. I'm lucky that my in-laws live in NJ and NYC so I can visit editors and family at the same time when needed. It's the best of both worlds!

Anonymous said...

I moved to western Massachusetts a year ago after almost thirteen years in the Boston area. I don't think the new location has limited me; in fact, the cost of living is much more reasonable here, so that certainly helps!

Alison Ashley Formento said...

Having lived in L.A. enduring brushfires and earthquakes, I find the NY area much more grounded. Literally and otherwise. I think the NY energy is tremendous, but appreciate my midwest roots and west coast experiences. That said, emailing has changed many industries and will continue to do so--live and write where you can thrive.

Liz Lewis said...

Living in New Zealand sometimes seems like living in Timbuktu when it comes to trying to sell story ideas in the States. But with perservance and email, the distance can only get smaller with time. And once I line up some New York editors I'll have great excuse to New York. Thanks for reinforcing to me that I don't need to live in New York. Cheers, Liz

Anonymous said...

You had me laughing with this one, because I used to work for Prevention and lived near Emmaus. How weird to have one of the country's top mags out of nowheresville! (Though now they have editorial offices in NYC.)

I'm in upstate NY and keep myself pretty well occupied with freelance work (at a competitive wage :)), so I'd say it doesn't make a difference.

Anonymous said...

I'm in E.B.F. Kansas (trust me, you don't want to even know where that is) with such little access to anywhere that counts, I may as well live on Mars. And still, even working part-time (kids), I've managed over three years to carve out a pretty decent income from top-tier markets (to me) via email alone.

Editor meetings. Hmmm.


Ellen said...

In answer to your question, "Where???": Emmaus, PA is just southwest of Allentown and about 2.5 hours straight west of New York City.

And no, I don't know why it's out here, either.