Dan Baum and the half-empty glass

Dan Baum, a writer who’s worked for Esquire and The New Yorker, talked with the Renegade Writer blog about freelancing and the future of the magazine business.

A couple things caught my eye. First, I always feel a bit lost when I’m working on a freelance piece and someone I’m interviewing asks me who I’m writing for. I always feel a bit sheepish saying it’s a freelance article that doesn’t have a home yet. Baum, a big advocate of writing a piece for a specific target magazine, has another approach:

When you are calling people and you don’t have an assignment yet, how do you convince them to talk to you?
I say, “I’m working on a story for The New York Times Magazine.” Or “I’m working on a story for Wired magazine.”

So you don’t let them know you don’t have the assignment in hand?
No, I say I’m working on a story for Wired magazine and I am. My relationship with Wired magazine at that point is none of their business.

What do you do if they ask when the publication date is?
I say “I don’t know, that’s out of my hands; it’s above my pay grade.”

He also has some bleak things to say about the current state of writing for magazines:

Do you worry about competition — other writers coming in and horning in on your gigs?
No. For one thing, we’re kind of out of magazines. I think in a way, it’s over. I think the days of being able to make a living as a magazine writer are rapidly coming to a close.

That is so sad.
It is. I’m not boasting here, but I should be able to get work, right? I was on staff to The New Yorker for 3 years, I worked for Rolling Stone for a long time. I have written for the biggest and most prestigious magazines out there and I can’t get work. Magazines are closing, they’re shrinking, they’re going from 12 issues a year to 10 issues a year, and they’re going from 300 pages to 140 pages.

Anyway… interesting, motivating, and despressing, all in one tidy little article.  Check it out.

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