MIGHT AS WELL THINK BIG, THE ODDS CAN’T GET ANY WORSE
By Joe Moore
A COMPARISON Of SKEPTICISM AND OPTIMISM TOWARD APPROACHING MAGAZINES AND VAUNTED, LOCH NESS ONLINE CLIENTS
Somewhere long ago I read that 90% of freelance submissions to major, literary/sociopolitical magazine editors is mis-marketed.
That means you should only concern yourself with the remaining 10% of well-connected, repeat-published, agented-and-book-contracted competitors who probably have lunch time martinis with fellow-alumni editors. Look upon this as a challenge.
I sent 2 short stories to the titular magazines. 3-month response time for Harper’s.
As for The Paris Review it will depend on how impatient they are to contact me after they read the story.
ANSWER ME! MASS E-MAILING PROPOSALS, RATE OF RETURNS AND CONDOLENCES.
So, a bitter comparison occurred to me before anything else: Is the inquiry-return ratio the same for conventional, e-mail freelance pitches the same as with approaching established, prestigious, magazines? Or even worse?
This would be the “name” magazines who are philanthropic enough to at least outwardly conduct open submissions and pay what the writers are worth, like I understand the elusive, high-paying, Portrait-Of-Dorian-Gray freelance clients do.
APPLES AND ORANGES?
Maybe so, but I’m focusing on the odds—-the likelihood of being noticed by online assignment pitches or by nationwide magazine editors, which I accomplished on a small but motivating scale.
FOLLOW SUGGESTIONS OF MAGAZINE EDITORS WHO SEE POTENTIAL IN YOUR WRITING. AS FOR ONLINE EDITORS, I ALSO HEAR IT HEAVILY DEPENDS ON WHO IT IS
A few years back I sent a short story to The New Yorker (This was before they went to online submissions.) After the allotted turnaround time, although they sent the story back I also received a small, handwritten note from one of the editors (or intern first readers?): “Good story, watch the tenses.” (Later review showed in some paragraphs I mixed “is” and “was.”)
Magazine editors sometimes include hand-written, encouraging remarks, even if it’s 2 or 3 sentences, which is a sign of recognition compared to the standard form letters (or hoot-owl e-mail in-boxes eagerly cracked open in excited anticipation of 4-or-5-figure, contracted-in-concrete, Maltese-Falcon freelance clients contacted through those means.)
FIND YOUR MOTIVATION (IF YOU FLUCTUATE IN THAT AREA LIKE I DO) WHERE YOU FIND IT
In my case I was a little too early put off by the conventional, blow-a-message-through-a-tube, e-mail, client-pitching results, although I did receive a pleasant communique` from a lady representing a music-review site in northern California.
She was kind enough to summarize my website-sourced writing sample as “proficient,” politely stating that she was looking for somebody who has written for music festivals.
The Microsoft Word Works Dictionary identifies the word “proficient” as a 16th-century French-Latin word originally meaning “progress” before morphing into its’ modern definition of “highly skilled.”
(I thought “proficient” meant sufficient or adequate until I looked it up the other day, long after the fact, and thought maybe I should continue learning about freelancing. The obligation of working for others is a secondary element.)
Now I could either recognize the darkly humorous irony that no progress has been made during the pitch session or wish this editor many flowers and bottles of champagne in her life.
A motivating evaluation, and I sent a thank-her e-mail for responding.
PITCHING ASSIGNMENTS TO AN INSECTAN DEGREE
Now that I’ve updated the writing samples on my blog I’ll be sending out several antennae very soon.
Looking back earlier this year, to get a positive return from the actually small number of would-be clients I contacted, should have influenced me to send more out (individually written and modified along the way, of course) for the law of averages to goose more responses.
I recalled the advice of Bamidele Onibalusi regarding pitch expectations: have a “failure mindset,” that is, supervision by the logical section of your brain (so that you’re not discouraged by initial results) to realize that most pitches in the early stages will be unanswered. Everybody goes through it (well, maybe not everybody.)
I took the New Yorker’s editor’s note and the music-site e-mail as signs of potential, then got frustrated and quit 5 months ago, intentionally for good, and in recent months have even mentally congratulated myself for not having expectations of success, no matter what my effort or how long, only to vaporize into ignominious failure.
Now that I’m interested again I will bone up on successful freelancers’ blog posts and training materials and even send out some pitches to clients who meet my standards.
I’ll look at it as a case study of comparative or relative freelance pitching in somewhat different mediums—it was kind of fun to print and paper-clip the stories, old-school-stamp-up the manila envelopes and enclosed return envelopes, as the required submission format for the 20-page, 3,500 word qualifying attempts for TPR and Harper’s.
As for the outcome of equivalent, e-mail-based freelance assignment pitching, people aren’t sending humble entreaties to potential clients because they don’t think it will work.
I have until December for the magazine results. I’ll make comparisons (in my mind, anyway) with a batch of homing-pigeon-delivered pitches to job boards, if boards are still a recommended move.
Because of the recommended daily pitches (20-25) alone, the breakdown will have a higher ratio of e-mail pitches to magazine pitches because:
- There is said to be more high-paying websites than high-paying magazines, and even reports from the high seas of freelancing of long-term, 5-figure, semi-mythical “anchor” clients.
- I shouldn’t have to hit that many magazines with the short stories, unless the early observations of this treatise are the literal truth.
- There are those—and I’m not one of them—who can write, proofread, edit (if the last 2 time-consuming functions are even necessary) and manually or electronically send out 20-25, 3,000-word short stories and essays a week, re-adjusted from the impossible daily accomplishment in view of the inverse short-email/complete short story differential.
I’ll write and edit other projects, or I plan to, anyway, we’ll see what happens—months-delayed essays, freelance training, etc.
Or I can wait out the entire 3-month time frame with nothing else being written or sent out, e-mail or traditional, just hanging on the ambitious but dubious outcome of these 2 side jobs.
KNOW YOUR INTENDED WRITING MARKET
I sent The Paris Review the now-toned-down, quasi-humorous, short story (middle-aged domestic discord resulting in a 3rd-party, alley-murder mystery) that I got the New Yorker note from.
One reason I chose TPR is because from reading some of their authors/interviewees (Steinbeck, Ellison, E.B. White) and seeing on their website that T.C. Boyle was first published there indicates this magazine has more room for individually different writing styles.
The one I sent to Harper’s is a radio-transcript-format, satirical story about a Michael-Savage-type radio host operating in Seattle.
One of the recurring bits of advice I’ve read about pitching is that the editors, online or otherwise, are inundated with repetitious material so you want to stand out, which can be accomplished by the way you naturally write or with a conscious effort to write a unique pitch.