Monday, July 27, 2009

Annoying Tales of Freelance Writing, Part I

Aside from reading books and watching movies, sometimes our intrepid blogsmith moves away from his comfort zone and attempts to drum up work as a freelance writer. The following is the first in a series of posts detailing the perils of this job.

Earlier this week, a big thing happened. I got my second essay published, this time in Gelf Magazine. I'm very proud of the essay, "Browsing for Godot," which features interviews with Susan Orlean, David Sedaris, and Chuck Klosterman.

Seriously, I'm just relieved this thing ran somewhere. I would have been happy if it was in the circular for FoodTown. I began writing this essay in Fall 2007 for Publishers Weekly, which published my first essay earlier that year. Initially, the editor was very psyched about it, so I started making phone calls, wrote a draft, and sent it off.

Then I wrote another draft, and another. PW eventually said no thanks--the essay wasn't concrete enough. So, I worked on it some more--trimming the fat, reworking points, contacting more sources (namely Sedaris), and consulting friends. I passed it back to PW.

Again, no taker.

Then, after an encouraging word from a few friends, I began shipping it around. Salon politely said no thanks. Slate never got back to me. The New York Times Book Review passed, as did The Chicago Tribune. The Philadelphia Inquirer ignored me like I was a $15.00 screening of Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. My editor at The Star-Ledger said there was no room for essays.

At this point, I was determined to get this essay published somewhere, so I turned to Gelf, a great Web magazine that covers the overlooked. (They're also one of the few places that does fantastic interviews with sports writers.) The editor there, David Goldenberg, loved it, but wanted some additions and revisions: cue more phone calls, more red pen wizardry, more starts and stalls.

Then another editor joined in, Adam Rosen (an ever-patient gentlman), who had more suggestions, which led to more revisions and tinkering. So, after all was said and done, the essay you now see went through two years, at least a dozen revisions, and at least that many query letters.

So, what did I learn?

Nothing is ever given to you as a freelance writer. I really wish they would teach this in journalism classes. If you're a freelancer, you better be prepared to scrape and bellow and pound the pavement. Sometimes you get lucky, but more times than not you better be prepared to hear the word "no" more often than "yes." (NOTE: Oddly enough, days after this piece ran, I got two freelancing jobs with suprising ease.)
Still, the satisfaction of hearing 'yes," and then seeing the final product is pretty bloody fantastic. It's an awesome feeling.

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