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Chutzpah: Cracking the Glossies
Sometimes, you write a piece and it comes easily. You edit it, reread and you know, you just know, it's good--New Yorker, The Atlantic or Smithsonian kind of good--well, almost.
You know it's good enough to be in print--preferably glossy.
Last year, I reached a watershed writing for local markets. According to the freelance gurus mandating: "Start local, get some clips; do the regionals and then, go for gloss," it was time to move further afield. The problem was, I didn't know how, or with what. I struggled to find a niche writing creative nonfiction after a brief stint as a small-town reporter.
"Write what you know," the gurus suggested.
I sat at my PC and in two days, cranked out a 3,000-word essay about my first year living in Minnesota after moving here from Australia. The piece was light-hearted, telling how language and cultural differences between Minnesota and Australia led to humorous situations. I gave it to my Minnesotan husband--a member of a stoic breed known for its tight wrap on emotion--tears rolled down his face. "This is great," he said. "You have to send it somewhere."
But where? I opened my copy of Writer's Market and found a publication, a glossy Twin Cities magazine, in print for 20-odd years. The guidelines stated to query by mail and wait six weeks for a response. Pay rates were good--payment on acceptance--even a coveted kill fee. My essay, purely about being new to Minnesota, had limited market appeal and this magazine was my best hope. I started to write a "killer" query.
Two days later after numerous unsatisfactory attempts at the perfect pitch, with the gurus remaining strangely silent, confidence in my writing career waned. Frustrated, I visited the magazine's Web site, hoping to find inspiration. The managing editor's photo appeared on a page, the very person to whom I'd spent hours trying to write a query. I scowled at her and clicked the image. An e-mail window popped open. Taking a different tact, I rapidly tapped a few chatty lines about my essay and myself, closing with, "If you're interested in reading what the Wal-Mart woman said (an incident in the essay) please contact me."
I spell-checked and let the mouse cursor hover on the Send button for a while. Tempted, but then I pictured the gurus with pained expressions whispering, "How gauche." Switching to the draft query, I tried rewriting it in the same style as the e-mail, but what sounded good in that medium, however, sounded contrived in hard copy. I went back to the e-mail and filled in the subject line: "An Australian Asks For Your Attention."
Knowing I risked a fatal encounter with the Delete key, but of the opinion, the e-mail was quirky and my essay backed my bravado at least, I hit Send. I ignored the gurus swooning and went to bed.
The next day, annoyed with my impetuosity, as were the gurus, I checked my e-mail, sure I'd be the recipient of a curt, "No Thanks." There was nothing.
Late afternoon, a trickle of e-mail downloaded and I saw the editor's name on a header. I clicked it nervously and read the four-word response: "Absolutely, send it over."
I wrote "Thank You", attached my essay and prayed.
Two days later, another e-mail popped in the Inbox. She loved it. It was "funny and dear, and entertaining". Would I mind reworking it a little to suit the department and could I provide some artwork?
Yes, yes and yes! Having captured her attention, I complied with protocol that would keep the editor--my editor--happy. I rewrote the piece as per suggestions, sent off the artwork and signed the kill-fee clause contract. The whole deal took just four days--in less time than a mailed query would have appeared, if at all, on her desk.
A check arrived within 30 days and the issue with my essay three months later. A Letter to the Editor was printed in an issue; and then, another. The assistant editor called one day and asked if I would like to write regularly for the magazine.
I began contributing small pieces for a modest fee. Over the months, I received letters from readers and even phone-calls--much appreciated gestures boosting both my confidence and my career. Editors, mollified by the sight of a substantial clip, more readily handed out assignments.
"You just got lucky," the gurus said, smugly. I agreed. An editor doesn't care to have her e-mail inbox overflowing with queries if the guidelines say U.S. mail. Neither does she want pieces submitted by writers who haven't familiarized themselves with the magazine.
But sometimes, just sometimes, it's a little chutzpah that makes the sale of a good article--yes, glossy good--a little easier.
C.S. Paquin is a nationally published writer in both the business and humor markets. Cheryl has a Master Of Arts in Journalism and has been writing freelance for over five years and contributes regularly to publications in Minnesota. She is editor of www.WritersLounge.com, and author of a new e-book: 101 Paying Markets for Essays, Columns & Creative Nonfiction, available at: http://writerslounge.com/101_markets.html