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I got a good pitch in the mail the other day. The story was well-written, the topic was appropriate, and I thought it was something my readers would enjoy. The writer was congenial, praised the quality of our magazine, and seemed excited about working with us. It was pitching 101, down to the sign-off.
Then I told the writer—who was obviously an experienced freelancer—how much we could pay him for his story. His reaction was to insult the price, insult the magazine, and then to insult me.
I'm the editor of SJ Magazine, a lifestyle publication that covers Southern New Jersey. We're small and we're local, but our readers love us. Most of our writers are local, too, and they do a great job. They might not all have the experience that professional freelancers do—many of them simply write part-time—but they know their subjects, the region we cover, and what kinds of stories I'm looking for.
The problem with a lot of the pitches that come from professional freelancers is that they don't understand what magazines are like on the local level. I'm not talking about the New Yorks and Washingtonians of this world. I mean The Ozarks Mountaineer, Pensacola Today, or the Yellowstone Journal—all great magazines, all with specific regional targets.
So if you're thinking of pitching one of these regional magazines, here are five things you should consider before approaching an editor like me:
1. Know the region. We have a great website. Check it out to see what kinds of town we cover and try to get a sense of what we consider our region. If it's still confusing, just ask. We're generally friendly folks.
2. We're small and small staffed. At SJ, two people run the editorial. If you're emailing the general inbox, you're talking to me.
3. The story must have a current local angle. Always. I don't care if the guy you're profiling went to kindergarten in Haddonfield. What's the angle now?
4. Our budget is as small as our staff. There is a tiny bit of wiggle room, but I'd much rather pay our core group of writers more for a story than someone who's going to land once and spring away.
5. You can ask if we buy pictures, but the answer is probably no.
So if this is the way it is with local mags, and the pay would be considered by some to be meager, why should you keep us on your pitch list? A few of my writers have placed stories in bigger outlets, and some are professional freelancers, but they still keep throwing ideas and stories at SJ, and the out-of-area freelancers I've worked with have been happy to come for the opportunity even if the pay is low. Why? A few reasons:
1. We can be the fast track to bigger outlets with bigger wallets. We can break the West Coast writer into the East Coast market. The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Magazine, Delaware Today, New Jersey Monthly, New Jersey Lifestyle, Philadelphia Style, and Bucks are just a few of the publications that are less than a two-hour drive away. And, of course, the New Jersey section of The New York Times is just the tip of the New York publishing iceberg that juts out somewhere up there, too.
2. We don't have a high rewrite factor. If you're nursing a wound from an editor who mangled your copy, we might be the right outlet for you. It's rare that I'll send back a piece for a rewrite or extensive revisions. I might ask a question or two for clarification, but unless the piece is not what I was looking for in any way, I won't send it back. We don't have a big enough staff for that level of extensive editing. What we save in money, you save in time.
3. Make localism your calling card. National publications are often looking for those stories that lie a bit off the beaten path If you're writing for the local magazine in your area, it keeps you plugged in to the region and forges connections that could be subjects for pitches to bigger outlets.
4. Instant feedback. You don't have to cut through layers of associate editors to get to me. I have a very fluid give-and-take relationship with my writers, and they feel at ease when bouncing ideas off me.
It's not that I don't want pitches from professional writers. I welcome them. In fact, I just bought a piece about a globe-trotting, longtime South Jersey resident for our December issue from a guy in the Midwest who knew our market and what to expect. And this summer, I worked with a writer from New Orleans on an article about the Beatles in Atlantic City. These writers brought a different viewpoint to the table, and both stories worked in the publication.
Oh, and that writer who thought I needed to be put in my place because I couldn't pay him buckets of money for his precious work? His article appeared in a magazine that's sent to residents on the Jersey shore. I know they pay less than we do. I guess he didn't mind being "insulted" by someone else.
Jen A. Miller is the editor of SJ Magazine. Her work has also appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Transitions Abroad, and Student Leader Magazine.