Beyond Guest Blogging: Pitching Media Outlets
Stacy Morrison: Okay everybody, I think we're going to try to get a little settled. And I'm going to try to get my microphone to work. (Testing Mic)
I'm going to start out loud with my voice. You guys all can hear me in the back, right? Cause I'm loud, that's why I got this job. I'm Stacy Morrison, I'm Editor in Chief for BlogHer content, programming, side pictures, some of those other stuff. Thank you so much for being here, for the completely amazing BlogHer'12. Are you guys having a great time so far?
I've been a blogger since 2006, and still, the first BlogHer I went to was 250 people, and I still can't quite believe what it's become. Especially since I just joined the company in January. And I'm so flattered that you all came for me... no, I'm not. But before I went to BlogHer, I was magazine editor for 22 years, last editor, chief of Redbook magazine. So this is one of my favorite panels to run, because I see writing from both sides of the divide. And full time digital has been a total blast. I'm so honored to be able to introduce you to, these amazing women who all work in really different spaces and do great things. So without further adieu, to my immediate right, which is confusing, so I'll just say this women, is Susan Spencer. She's the editor and chief of Woman's Day, she just recently took over, it's been about 6 months now.
Susan Spencer: Yep.
Stacy Morrison: Before that, she was at the very successful All You, where she was responsible for a hugely successful blogger outreach program. You did many different things with bloggers. As far as content, working with their site, and contributing to the magazine, so she's bringing that to Woman's Day. So that's an opportunity...
Next is Lynn Jordal Martin, who is the opinion editor at FoxNews.com. Don't judge... (laughter). She will speak to that matter, and I know we are very proud of being an diverse and open community and I think it's super fantastic that she's here, so she can explain more about that. And next is Jamilah King who is News Editor at colorlines.com. For those who don't know, it's an absolutely smart, focused website that has issues that relate to diverse communities: news, politics, you name it. I love it, I go there and I feel smarter. I recommend you do the same.
So, without further adieu, let's talk about you. I wanna know why you are here, besides me. So, how many of you have written for a blog other than your own? Perfect.
How many of you have ever written for a magazine? How many of you want to?
That's what I thought.
How many of you have written for a national media outlet? How many of you want to? Okay, you're in the right place.
How many of you have been paid for your writing? Whoooo! Great! Fantastic! I'm still waiting for someone to pay me for my writing.
So what I am going to do is I'm going to have each of these women, tell us about their media property in a sentence of two. Just the very, very basics before we get to the fun stuff, like what they're looking for. And then we'll move through questions, you can raise hands at any time, I want this to be a useful back and forth session. And I'll definitely make sure we make time for questions at the end.
So, without further adieu, Susan.
Susan: Great, first of I just wanted to say thank you so much to Stacy for inviting me and hello to everyone. So I was at, last 6 months I've been editor and chief of Woman's Day magazine. I brought this integrated print copy, this is our September issue. Woman's Day has been a trusted source of information for women for many generations. We're 75-years-old this year. We cover everything that women service magazine covers, healthy, beauty, food, you name it. Our audience is about, when you pull it all together, is about 20 million women. And online we have our website, womensday.com, has 14 million page views a month, so a pretty nice size.
Lynn: I'm Lynn Jordal Martin, like you heard from Stacy. I'm thrilled to be here, I'm a huge fan of BlogHer, and we're just starting to partner a little more. I think we're going to do some really great things in the fall. Stacy is right, don't judge! FoxNews.com, is of course, the website of the Fox News Channel, but it doesn't have exactly the same audience as the TV, as you can imagine has a broader audience, and it reaches people all over the world, through our website. The opinion page alone is getting about over 4 million unique visitors a month, and we are the 39th largest website in the united states, and growing. We, of course, have competitors, CNN, and MSNBC, especially. But we are making a very broad push to break our own stories, and lead the news, in unique and excited ways. I was just telling Jamilah before we started, we're doing all kinds of Opinion's Page. On Saturday I am going to be publishing a piece, this is so fun. This is why it's so fun in the news business. Marilyn Monroe's death, the 50th anniversary is on Sunday, and of all things, Ayn Rand wants -- yes, the Ayn Rand -- once wrote a piece about Marilyn Monroe, that is so beautiful that I was stunned by it. So we're going to publish that on Saturday, and mark the 50th anniversary of her death. But we have a huge range of subjects that we like, especially in opinion. So I've published pieces on stop making your dog so fat, to national security to women in Afghanistan, to trafficking. Pretty much, you name it, I've published it. And I'm especially interested in hearing from you, because I'm looking for fun ways to approach feature subjects especially. Don't think it's just politics, because we are looking for a wide range of content, and we're having fun doing that.
Jamilah: I'm Jamilah, and it's great to be here with you all. I don't know how many of you are familiar with Colorlines, if you are. Great, great to see you. So we are an online news publication, and we've been around for about 15 years. We started out in print, and now we're completely online, we're all digital. We focus on race and politics, so that means, meaty, heady stuff. The economy, and you now, what's going on in color communities. But it also means some of the fun stuff, we also cover pop culture. We just published a piece on fix your bikes, why Latinos in LA like fix your bikes, and that was great. So yeah, we're here, we're excited. I'm really excited to hear from you guys, what your experiences are.
Stacy: So of course...this isn't on again? I'm just going to shout...
So of course, we all had chats on the phone before we met, and I'm going to go ahead and start with something that I think you guys are really going to love, before we talk about the nitty gritty about how you get your writing out there, I want to start first with, I'm just know seeing, with eyeballs, someone I work with everyday. Oh my gosh, hi!
So um, we want to start with the fun stuff, why are you guys so great, why are you so valuable? What is it that real life editors are looking for, that you offer? So anyone of you want to start with that? Maybe, you Jamilah?
Jamilah: Yeah! So the reason I love BlogHer, is that I started out as a blogger. I started as a blogger in college, I felt that the platform was amazingly, it was amazingly independent for me. It helped me develop my voice. I also think as an editor that it's really, really great to hear from other people. Especially in my business when you are talking about communities of color, when you're talking about communities that don't often get a lot of attention in the media or perhaps the right kind of attention. So we are really, at Colorlines, are really, really excited to be introduced new voices, we're interested in getting new opinions and forming relationships with our readers, and having them be a part of the process. Because after all, it's sort of a collaborating process.
Lynn: Well, there are a couple of things I wanted to tell you. One is I am, of course, interested in expanding to more women's voices. And believe it or not, foxnews.com has featured, in the opinion section has featured a lot of women. Some of them are contributors on the air already, like Katie MacFarland or Judith Miller. But, some of them are people I have discovered on my own, different authors I like that I have tried to develop, but I want to expand women's voices as much as possible, so here you all are, which is wonderful! The other thing is, I grew up in this tiny town in Washington State, and I have just come back from a week's vacations there to see my family, and there are so many stories out in the rest of the country, that I feel like we sometimes completely over look, don't understand or miss, because we're in this giant New York, Washington echo chamber. So I'm really interested what's happening in your community, what's happening in your state, in your house. There are things going on we'll never know about, because we're so insular. I try to avoid that, but I can't really help it. I look sometimes at my hometown papers, in the morning, you know just to say, "what's going on?" and sometimes I find stories that way. But you can bring stories to me, that I can't find any other way, and that's exciting . And those stories need to be told, and you are the vehicle.
Susan: I agree everything they have said and would just add, I think that what you bring to me as a magazine editor, is just a very real and authentic voice. I mean, we work with professional writers, and we have many of them writing our stories, but I think the voices that bloggers bring is, it adds an authenticity. I think that the authenticity is very relatable, especially in women's magazines. I think a lot of Woman's Day, and women's service magazines, because they want to see themselves in that magazine. It becomes a sort of wonderful place and a forum to get a, to get that relationship going. I also think that you are a wonderful, as Lynn said, a constant source of content. You are constantly generating great ideas and great stories, and really that's what we're always looking for. We're just looking for the edge, that wonderful story.
Stacy: One of the things I want to add, from my own experience, when I took over Redbook magaizine in 2004, I used your voices to show my company that the way women were talking about their lives, their marriages, their children, their hopes and dreams had really changed in away that they felt very nervous about letting go. And I think in all media, it's that cross over, that's such an exciting moment. I think back to the days when Maureen Dowd, first wrote a story on the front page of the New York times, that started as a feature article about what someone looked like and everyone went, "Ahhhh." Like the world was ending, and of course, what we know now is that there is such power in story telling, in a lot of ways, I actually think that storytelling is the new currency of our culture. And that it has the ability to really fix and transform a lot of the, the weird, sort of sick poison that we're in, in some places right now. Bad economy, hard times, no jobs. What do we do? We tell our stories, and that's what you guys bring of such value.
So let's get to the really interesting and cool part. How many of you are intimidated about approaching a news organization or a magazine with a story idea? Right? It feels weird and scary, like you are trying to reach out and talk to a big blind wall, and that the wall is not at all interested in you. It is true that it's very overwhelming to manage a very, a high volume of requests and interests. I know that at Redbook, I did have the same thing.But I will tell you, I did also find two stories with people who reached out to me with a blind and cold on Facebook. And one of them, I actually assigning tout to a big feature about Rock and Roll Mama, by Lindsay Maines who is a member of the community, and I left the magazine before we published it. But it was really cool, she just did the exact right thing. So we're going to talk to you about, what's that. What is the exact right thing that makes your ideas stand out? Anyone want to start?
I'll start. I am, I'll date myself a little bit too. I'm a TV producer, I spent 10 years at CBS news, and I briefly worked at Martha Stewart Living, and then I came back to news, which I missed. And I have been at Fox News for about 12 years, although I did have a brief stint at a dot com for a year. In Westboro, Connecticut where Martha used to be based. The thing that has always sort of bothered me, is when people pitch me, some of the pitches are just fantastic, and others so off base. I used to produce a show about the media for Fox News.com, for Fox News Channels. I would get a these letters like, "How about an exercise segment on Fox Newswatch?" and I would think, "That is so far field from what we do." it was like the person hadn't even bothered to look at the product or people would say to me, "Gosh, my client what would be a great guest on your show" and I would say "We have permanent, we have permanent hosts and permanent panelists, we really don't have guests". So it really bothered me that people didn't really know the product. So of course, for my websites, and everybody elses, I think you need to spend some time there. What have I chosen, what have I published, and not like one day, but maybe two weeks, or over the course of the months, visit four or five to get a range of things. It needs to be freshened, but I have this section Editor's Pick, and I have some really interesting pieces in there. I try to highlight pieces that maybe people haven't found as easily on the website in general, and that would be a good place to go to, on any website, the editor's picks. Like, what do they really like? What are they singling out? But definitely know the product. In my case, that doesn't mean that you have to have a certain political point of view, but other things. What I am publishing about every other topic?
Susan: I would add that as well, but it's not just, your talking about spending a couple of weeks with your product, and I'm talking reading 6 months worth of my magazine. You really can't just pick up an issue and sort of understand completely what we're doing. You have to see through the arch of...We know how particular column is being developed over the course of a couple of months. We just launched a new column, Personal Finance Column, in the September issue, and it's the kind of thing where you need to track that column, and see where we are headed with it, over a couple of issues. I think also when you pitch, but knowing, I think knowing the magazine is one thing, but knowing a particular section of the magazine. Saying to yourself, or in the letter, "This article would go in this particular section." Says the editor, I've been reading your magazine, I know what you are looking for, I think I know what you are looking for, and this is what I am going to aim for.
Jamilah: I would add that, and it almost sounds cliche, to write what you know. I think an example from Colorlines would be a woman who pitched us about an idea about a black owned bookstore, and her family had owned this store in San Francisco for 60 years. It was the oldest surviving bookstore, and it wasn't quite a fit for us two years ago but....I don't know how many of you are familiar with Human Books in New York City. It was one of the last black bookstores in New York City and it was recently announced that it was going out of business. And so two years later, I was like, "This person would be great to go and have a conversation with this bookstore owner about the specific challenges facing back bookstores". I would say know what you are writing about. I think it's important to be tied to the news cycle, but also see what you can relate to. I think what Stacy said about storytelling is incredibly important. The stories you know best are the stories you live.
Lynn: The other thing I would say, is tell me who you are. For example, Newscorp which owns Fox News and many other media entities. Also, owns Harper Collins books, and I've been working with a lot of, a lot of Harper Collins authors. And someone who was sent my way was Kathy Maxwell. She is a romance writer, so she writes for Avon Book, they're in print. So at first I'm thinking, "Gosh, a romance writer for something I was working on that had to do with Flag Day." But Kathy is also a former naval officer, and she is a great writer and she has written a lot of successful pieces for me. So if I have that background, I can say, "Ahh, that's why that's a fit". Or you could say, "I wrote a blog that looks at kids between the ages of 3 and 6, we focus a lot on manners. One of my most successful pieces was about this, and I was wondering if you would be interested in running a re-worked version of it, that is 800 hundred words?"
Stacy: That's such a fantastic tip, the idea of thinking about what have you already written that was a huge successful piece. Think about why did it engage, what were the comments about, what was the debate. Then think about where's the outlet for that work. Re-worked pieces is something people don't know exists. And I know. I wrote a book two years ago, and I'm still milking that baby. I'm taking all kinds of chunks from it and re-worked it. I had an essay I wrote back in Martha Stewart Living, and the editor is a friend, and she said, "It's going to be something new, right?" And I was like, "It was this one scene, and this anecdote relates to home and building a new home for myself after my husband and I ended our marriage, but I'm writing it new for you. But the scene exists in the book, but it's a whole new piece." And then I was like, "Yesss!" That's a fantastic tip.
Lynn: Yes, of course, and The Pioneer Woman has been huge and I think if you say, "I live in Montana, I live 50 miles from Missoula and we raised sheep, and in my spare time I do XYZ, and my focus is on this", and I think, "Oh that makes you unique. The thing Susan said, and Jamilah also backed up, this notion of authenticity is so powerful. That really shines through. If you have an authentic voice. That can really come through, and we're looking for that.
Susan: And I think, in the actual pitch letter, having that voice come through, is really the best. The editor who receives the letter, it's not even a letter anymore, it's an email. The editor who receives that email gets a sense of who you are as a writer, as well as who you are as a person and your background. So you really have to let that voice come through in that pitch letter, to make sure you are very present in that letter.
Stacy: You guys, you probably and again, I don't know how I turned out to be one of the older people in the room, it's still shocking to me. There used to be this book called What Color is Your Parachute. It was the whole idea about making the perfect cover letter. At the time the idea of a perfect cover letter was, take any side of you that is a human being and erase it. Now, it's the exact opposite and literally four sentences, the first three sentences in the opening paragraph that you send are what trigger our brains our to say, "I'm interested and I have enough time for three more". How many of you open emails, you start to read it and you move on? And then a week later, how do I have 145 emails that I sort of read, but didn't read it, just processed. That is what inboxes look like when you are editors.
Audience question: (Unable to make out full question )...What you would pitch to someone in that three for sentences maybe one of you?
Stacy: Yes, absolutely. I'll start with one. This was a letter to get a job, but my first sentence was, "I want to work for you!" And it ended up being a very useful letter. Probably a little terrified, and thought like, maybe it was a little too ballsy. But then my next sentence was because I love this thing about your magazine, and then my next sentence was, because I am this person with this education and this passion. Obviously not everything can be constructed to be topic, or I love your magazine and...But it's the idea of thinking of what would be the first sentence of your article be...
You are writing your lead...
Jamilah: I think for us, because we are so closely tied to the news cycle, there needs to be something, what is it about this thing now. I think that I often do read pitches and go on, because if you wait until the second paragraph you get into the why is it important now. So definitely relating to the news cycle, is really, really important.
Lynn: For me, what Stacy said, just sounds ideal, and maybe the fourth sentence would be, "My topic would be kids and manners and my angle is it's impossible to teach them"
Stacy: And then I would want to read it.
Lynn: Yes, and then I would want to read it. I am hoping from this community, not so much, to get tight, tight, to the news cyle, but to get more features. But if we are doing the news cycle, we know it moves fast. And I think we all know that. For example, I am not interested now about TomKat, that is over. At least for the moment, although I did see that Suri wants to live with Daddy but I don't know if that is really true. And I mean, I have to admit, I did read that. But when it comes to the news cycle for example, our biggest story, sadly, recently was the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado. We're still covering the story, but most of the obvious angles have been used up. For me, sometimes too, the weekend breaks it. Like, if the story was big on a Thursday, I'm not really going to be able to get much out of it by Monday. And some people will say, "Gosh, Charles Crownhammer is writing about it a week later", but he writes a syndicated column that's run by the Washington Post. He can do what he wants because he has to fill his column, every week on a certain day. But for our purposes it's over pretty fast.
Lynn: Right, and working at a monthly, we're not really part of the news cycle at all. So I think you have to realize that when you are pitching that I am not looking for the top cut article. What I'm going to do is 6 months down the road, I'm going to think about how that incident was relevant to my readers in some way, so that we would end up doing a story on, not even the survivors on Aurora, but how women cope in traumatic situations. So we can't be first out of the gate, but we can provide context, and that's what monthly's do, and really really well. I think for me in the pitch letter, another thing that is important is talking about how you are going to structure the story and how you are going to package it. To me, that's almost as important as the overview or that lead, that punchy first paragraph. Because we don't, I don't think anyone in magazine publishing or magazine editing right now is sort of printing columns of words, except The New Yorker. You need to think really hard, as hard as you think about your topic is, and why you are the right person to write, you need to convince the editor that you are thinking about what it will look like on the page and how it is going to be packaged. When I say packaging I mean, is it going to be a Q and A, is it going to be a story is, I don't know, somehow visually different, is it captions or something like that. You really have to think hard about what that's going to be, and if you can put that in your pitch letter, and I'd say in the third paragraph, you're giving the editors something to work with, something to think about.
Stacy: One insight that I think we will try to appeal here, this is a new idea from things we have talked about here, is how we spin stories, because I think that in the conversations I have had with women who are new to publishing, they are always floored by how we literally sit there with one idea, and we keep going, "more, more more" until we find the thing that feels fresh, new, and I have a writer who works for it, it's still relevant in the news angle, I still have time to get it in the issue. So when I took over Modern Bride magazine, which is a magazine I took over in 1998, so I asked for the line up which is the story line up, and I am not kidding you, it was a turn around job. When I got the lineup, it said, "Weddings Dresses 8 pages, Wedding Dresses 8 pages, Bridesmaids dresses 8 pages..." and I said, "You've got to be kidding me." People would say to me, "Are you bored? It's the same thing every month." I said, it's never the same thing every month, it's this amazing, fantastic thing in a woman's life where she gets to really think about what's her best idea of who she is, and how does she make the ceremony about her partner, and wedding dresses if you are a dress person. Cause I always said you have to pick one. You're a bride who is into music person, or a dress person. So our stories started to be, you know, modern wedding dresses, and princess galas, where we would do some crazy thing with the biggest tulle skirts we could find. And that's what we mean about spinning, so you have a topic, but what is the sub-topic? It's the sub-topic that makes it a new point, but on the map. And that's a really interesting part. You know in Redbook magazine, we did how to lose weight every single month, cause we have to put it on the cover, but I never wrote a cover line that said, "How to Lose 10 lbs in three seconds" but I tried every month. But every month we would find a new way to talk about the idea of taking care of yourself and how to make it feel fresh and new, and not the same. And I did that for 6 years straight and still had ideas when I left.
Susan: I joke with my staff, that I have been in magazine publishing for 25 years now, and I think I have done 50 stories on sleep. And so, when my staff and says, "Let's do a story on sleep, I fall asleep." Stacy is right, especially women's magazines, we all kind of talking the same language, we're talking about the same topics, we know what women want to hear about. We know what people want to read about, so we kind of go to those topics again and again. So you as writers, when you are pitching us, if you can come up with that little extra angle, you know "two glasses of wine before bed" makes you sleep -- there's my article.
Lynn: The other thing that goes with the news business, for me and I think for Jamilah. You know, some of the news business can seem like this crazy roller-coaster but there are predictable, and I'm sure some of this spills over, well, I know it spills over into women's magazine too, but there will always be a Fourth of July, there will always be a Flag Day, there will always be Christmas, there will always be Thanksgiving, there will always be Labor Day, there will always be back to school, there will always be back to school. So I am always on the hunt for those kinds of pieces, and there is a way to spin those things, with a fresh take on a traditional observance. The woman I mentioned before, Kathy Maxwell, the naval officer who writes romance novels. At first I thought, "Why would she be writing about flag day?" But she wrote a beautiful essay that we put at the top of our website for a couple of hours because it was so beautiful, and it said something about what our flag means to all of us, and she had this great spin on it, and there was going to be a flag day anyway, and I was in the hunt for a flag day piece, but she was unique, and she was a great spin. And you can be thinking right now about Christmas pieces and I could approve it now and hold it until December 20th. Those are always going to come along.
Stacy: Question in the back?
Audience Member: Unable to hear the question.
Stacy: What I am actually saying, is it boys, or is it demographics or is it boys? For Redbook, people asked all the time, you know who is her reader, and I was like, "18-60" and this week, she's 42. But I have a funny story I want to tell you. Close your eyes, I want you to imagine a young woman who is a single mother, she has two kids, she has no high school education. Alright, we're all having an idea, and if we're politicians, they're having lots of different, weird ideas. It's Princess Diana, but Princess Dianna is not who you just thought of. Demographics are mislead. And what we really do in the work that we do, is about channeling. I always say I am a professional empath, it's my job to feel 10 million I'll never be, and make them proud of that reaches them. That's why demographics are a piece of it, but reading the issues, the news step. I always say it's like putting on a sweater to get into a voice. You know I could probably write for Popular Mechanics, or Popular Science and then turn around and write a piece for Glamour. I mean, I know which one would be more fun to write, but it is an interesting thing I do, putting on the voice. Any comments?
Jamilah: I would just say again, it is about authenticity. So what was said earlier about there will always be a back to school time, there were always be college graduation, you know, I think when you get in that mode, you just naturally target certain audiences and that's really cool.
Lynn: This probably sounds really strange to say, but I'm not really concerned about demographics because we get picked up by Google News, and that will reach audience that one would think Foxnews.com is not going for, but my job is to bring uniques. So I want more individuals to come to foxnews.com who might not be coming from predictable places. So I am kind of excited to have something different, that might lure in a whole different group who might say, "I didn't know this site but I might come back" or I'm going to come back or I'm going to book mark it. So that's the kind of the approach I am going to take, which may seem counter intuitive, but that's my take.
Stacy: So I'm going to review a couple do's and don'ts that we talked about, because I want to finish this short list to make sure we get to what I think are all the main meaty points about who they are, how you reach them, and so...When we all talked, we all talked about definite do's -- know the publication. We talked about the idea fantastic pitch letter, keep your voice. Here's a new thing I want to throw out to you guys, do a little bit of research and find the most recent statistics and surveys that back up your opinion. Because then you are giving us more reason to say, "Why yes!" I didn't know that!
Lynn: I think you have to, you have to back it up with some research, if you are doing reporting, a reported story. If you are doing a profile, on an inspiring women, then maybe you don't need that actual evident research. But it has to be new research, it can't be something pedaled 6 months, it really has to, I need to feel like you are a good reporter, that you really can get out there and find the latest and greatest.
Jamilah: I think statistics are important to show that the story is bigger than one community or one big. You have to universalize the story in some way, and having statistics help do that.
Lynn: And the other thing is, I am the opinion editor, so everyone has an opinion, like Mother has an opinion. That doesn't make for always make for a great opinion piece, just a straight opinion. Sometimes that can turn into more of a rant, than a commentary or an essay that might persuade or entertain people. So the more statistics that are in there, the stronger the piece is. As both of esteemed panelists said, the statistics make me think, "Oh maybe I should publish and opinion piece about this" And it's true, the more current the better. The thing is, I may not have heard of this or that, statistic, but once I see it I think, wow, that's great, not only could we do an opinion piece on this but we could do a news story.
When you think of yourself as a personal essayist, or you know, someone's who out there doing this storytelling thinks "How does statistic relate to my life?" Here's an example, when I wrote my book about my divorce I started doing a lot of writing. I had a lot deep thoughts about the whole way our culture supports, or does not support divorce, actually makes it eve worse, and more unpleasant. I got interested in this whole thing of being a single mother, and all the different things that come at you when you are a single mother -- don't get me started about politics this year -- both sides made many mistakes. So I was like, how many single mothers are out there, and the percentage was much bigger than even I knew, being the editor of a national magazine who had done all these stories about the changing shape of the American family. I knew that less 1 in 4 household were husband wife and children, I did not know that nearly 50%, this was back a few years ago, because now it's more than 50%, but 50% of children born to women the age 20 and 30 are single mothers. I was like, "There you go," so I have this personal story about these things I want to say, and about how we do divorce in our culture. And I wanted to have people help me honor my marriage, not marry it, I wanted them to help me let go not be angry at my ex-husband for ending our marriage. Then I had these great statistic. So that's sort of the context, so you can think about your personal story, and how does that attach to shifts and changes that are happening in culture. Because I think the thing that is so important about the blogging community, is we are actually starting catalogue stories that were never told. I mean that's one of the reasons it's so great that Jamilah is here and something that I keep wanting to launch and do more and more on BlogHer.com is, for us to tell our stories, and then to turn to someone who is not at all like and say how can I help you to tell your story and do this. I think that's very much the work Lynn's doing, work that you're doing, and even you in the magazine with the idea recontextuzling the idea, what does it mean to be a modern women.
Susan: And you are really on the frontlines, you're out there. We just, in our September issues, just did a profiles six bloggers, who are all Mom's and they're all money saving space. So we have this article, where these bloggers are giving us these amazing tips about how to save money, in their every day life. When they go shopping, the food store, the drug store. And they're on the ground, you're on the ground. You're out there, you're there. You're doing those things, and bringing it back to us, and giving us the ability to share it is really valuable. So you are really valuable to us.
Audience Member: Unable to hear beginning of question....reworking, and submitting and they will get considered? I'd always thought if it'd already been published that it would be a problem, or not?
Jamilah: I think it's the general idea. It's that experience that you keep pulling and finding new insights from.
Stacy: And also, if it's been published on a site that is not your own, that's very different. And at that point you would have to say, this piece was published on a much smaller news site and include the link, oh boy nothing makes an editor more upset, and I'm sure everyone of us has had it happen. You see something quite like, or a person who is involved in the story. I know I did this huge piece at Redbook and the woman I featured about frugal, was actually about living for a year without any spending money, and what she and her family got out of it. Aside from being cranky, and not being able to buy new stuff. She was interviewed by Good Housekeeping that month. How she did not tell me that? I still don't know. And I was so upset that I have forgotten her name which is good. What I think, so that's the difference, it's really thinking about your blog, about your pieces, that have been in your distribution universe and thinking and looking.
Audience Member: So not published somewhere else?
Stacy: It could be something if it's very small and different, but you have to be able to be upfront about it. Say, I want to rework it this way, or that kind of idea.
Lynn: Ron Williams and I frequently work together and he wrote a piece for thehill.com, he write's a column for them once a month, about Condoleeza Rice, and why she'd be a good vice president candidate for vice president with Mitt Romney. Then we had this big rumor on the reporter, definitely she's on the short list, so we took that piece, factored in the fact that it was all the buzz in Washington, and we sort of, what we would call in the new business, we retopped his column. Freshened it so the first two paragraphs were sort of brand new, and we went into the rest of the piece, and it could stand as a stand alone piece, and then at the bottom we said, "This piece, a slightly different version of this piece was featured on thehill.com. And we left it at that, and that's how we reworked it.
Stacy: Anymore questions before we move on to anymore do's and don'ts?
Audience Member: What kind of relationship do you want from people pitching you? If you know them, and they've taken stuff before, or some stuff that hasn't made it, but you are interested in them, how often do you want to hear from people and when does it become stalkery?
Stacy: Well, let's just say my tips before we through it out here is, advice I always recommend is to ask how often. So if you actually get an exchange, and there is some kind of thing, and they say, "No thanks, not right now." You can often say, "Can I be back in touch with more ideas, later" and see if they say yes. You can ask for guidance. But a lot of it is just watching the rhythm of the response. When times like, times between responses because it didn't hit like the iron, and sometimes what's best to do is not even think about that as a rejection. It's just like, "that one didn't hit," it's sort of like a dart board, you just gotta keep on throwing. It's rare, I find, that querying, gets annoying. It's if you are trying to have a larger conversation and relationship with me, because you think if I get to know you that it will change how I react to your piece. And I know why people think that, I totally get it, but um, you know, I have a lot of friends in the community, and I have friends on with pitches many, many times, and we just never got it right. So even though I had people I really knew and wanted us to come up with an assignment for Redbook. So I think, just keep sending your ideas in, if you get feedback, then respond to it, but don't actually think it's all about personal relationships. Because it isn't. It's about the idea.
Susan: I completely agree with that. I think that you have to again, understand, from the editor's point of view, they are getting a lot of pitches, number one. And when they get a good pitch, it's not like, "Oh yes, I'm going to do this". It's has this story run before, right? what month can this run in, and I would like to put it in this section but there are already 6 stories assigned for this. So there's a whole bunch of different things that have to happen, that are really, and have nothing to do with the quality of your idea but really has to do with what is going on in the magazine. And sometimes it takes time to sort through that and try to figure out where that piece is going to go and when it's going to run. Do we have the budget? Do we have the budget to do this justice to do the art? Do we another story like it? It's just, there is a lot of variables.
Lynn: In my case, the news cycle is such, the way we run our opinion section, that I always have to serve the front page. I am always interested in features, but it may be a busy, busy news week, so I'm doing something on national security, or the presidential campaign, so I might not have had a chance to read your piece, but it's not my top priority because I'm working day of news stories.
Jamilah: I would just say too, that build relationships with editors, but if you do have a personal relationship, do not take rejection personally. It isn't, like everyone has been saying, it isn't about you. It isn't even about us, it's about the larger publication, about what we have going on at that particular moment or month.
Stacy: We did make a list, cause I know it feels bad, I'll get to your question in a second. So it's when ideas don't work, it really isn't personal. It's so rarely personal. I'm happy to tell you where we get a pitch where we say, "Oh this person shouldn't even be writing!" Like, it just, it's really, really rare. Yes, misspellings make us crazies, but we don't even totally judge on that...
Stacy: See, you're in magazines, and I'm on the web, I've lowered my standards. I can finish it after it gets published! That's what I meant, that's what I meant. You definitely can't when it's on the press. What it is for me, I can erase the spelling, but I can't replace the story. That's the thing I feel. Here's the quick list.
What you don't know: You don't know what we've already published. You don't know how we experience the news cycle. You don't know how hard we worked in advance for certain things, like maybe she already her holiday opinion pieces because you were so awesome after the panel that she got fully booked. You know, you don't know if the tone isn't quite a match, but it's not that it's so off, or so close, it's just like a "not quite." And we all suck the almost great idea everyday, where we get a pitch, but it was so close, how, how, how can I fit it in? The truth is, we don't always have the time to send the encouraging email and say this was a great idea. So every time you get a rejection or a no answer, and it disappears into the void, into the cone of silence. It is probably being read if you are following submission guidelines, and it's all about creating the opportunities for someone to say yes.
One question here, first her.
Audience Member: I have two both, really quick questions, I think. Do you prefer to always get pitches, or do you accept a completed piece? And then also, and this probably mostly for the monthlies, but maybe everyone. Is there are specific time that you are more likely to read a piece, when you have more down time during the month, or something like that?
Susan: I'm sorry, I don't mean to laugh at that. There's just no such thing as downtime in my world. In terms of a finished piece, versus a pitch, you know, it's a little a bit of a hard question. It really depends on what story it is. If it's a reported story about say, the newest advances in health care or something like that, then no, I would not like to see an entire thing, and I would like to shape that and have new research come into it. If it's more of a profile of an inspirational woman that you have met, then sure I'd like to see that. But I don't think that one wins over the other in the end.
Lynn: I completely agree with that. I try to tell people to tell me a pitch me a couple of sentences for their own sake. I feel bad if they've worked on it and written on it, and it doesn't work. It could go either way, if you've already written and you know you are going to be pitching it to someone, I'm okay with reading it. It is faster to read a three sentence pitch than it is to read an 800 word submission, and that's one of the other things. We, I feel strongly about some of the writing on BlogHer is fantastic, but it's not tight as we would say. It's very, you know, as many words as you want, kind of meanders around, that takes awhile to make it's point. Some pieces that I just loved the idea, as I started to read the piece, I thought ugh, this just lost me because it goes on for 2000 words, when it could have been 500. So try to stay tight, and really say, "I'm really gosh, am I omitting needless words, am I being clear about what I am try to say?"
Stacy: I want to give you each of you an exercise to try if you are really interested in writing for mainstream media. It is very humbling and very useful. Take a piece of yours that you really love, and take it in half. I have as an editor, and it is the most brilliant learning. You will learn, you have rhythms in your writing that you don't even know. I apparently, as I said, I wrote a book, and I had the humbling experience of having it handed back to me, I didn't know I tend to write things three ways. As in three times, because I like the rhythm of three. When you are cutting a piece in half, you start to see, and you start to see, that you'll say things like, "well actually, what I realized is" and then "somehow I started to feel," and you can cut all those words out. So it's a fantastic exercise, to know how to both focus, and what's the meat of your writing, and it teaches you that you have an inherent architecture that you have in your work that you might not have notice as you were writing it. It's an incredible skill. I mean, I've had to taken 10,000 word pieces written Pulitzer Prize writing winning authors and bring them down to 3800 so that would work in Marie Claire magazine. And I did it and the pieces were still great. There was some crying some times. There are moments what I've said in the past, and now, we must kill our babies and we bow our heads, and we say it was a beautiful sentence and it doesn't belong in this piece.
Okay, let's go to questions.
I have a question when you get to the point, I'm actually being featured in Weight Watchers as a fitness expert, yay! It didn't even occur to me to ask anybody for money. I was just excited that I got the opportunity, I just wanted the exposure. I think that's a big mistake that bloggers make all the time. We do guest posts with each other all the time, but when you are talking about not so much to a news organization, but to magazines, when do you broach delicate subject of "please pay me"?
It's not delicate, it's the main thing. So, most websites and news organization as we know, aren't paying. Lynn's not paying. Jamilah?
Jamilah: We do pay.
Stacy: Yay!! BlogHer does pay when we take your whole piece and syndicated. It's not something you could send your kid to college on, but we do pay. And magazines do pay, because the economics are different.
Lynn: I'm sorry, I just want to be clear, are you talking as a source as writing the story.
Audience Member Answers, Unable to hear.
Right, in outreach, when someone says, "We'd love for you to do something," you say, "That's great! Is there a contract? When's the due date, how many words and what's the fee?" And even if you were so excited that you jumped up and said yes, before you hand in the piece, or as you hand it in, you say, "Here's the piece, we didn't talk about money, I'd love to know what it is you're paying," and they come back and say if they can or they can't. Then you decide if you can or your can't. It's not that you shouldn't write for free when it's the right opportunity for the right placement, of course you should have done it. It would have been great if you would have gotten paid for it, but you couldn't say no to that opportunity. And I've written a lot for free, and I'm, you know, an official professional for 11 years. Because I felt it was somewhere I wanted to be, and it was an audience I wanted to talk to.
Stacy: More questions? Back here in the green?
Audience Member: You all have eluded to this a lot, but one thing that was sort of mystifying when I started writing, I've occasionally been able to write for regional publication in my area, is the editorial calendar. It was really counter intuitive for me to understand that you know, the Hanukkah story or the Christmas story, she needed it in October, so I had to pitch it to her in July. And so I'm just wondering, if you can talk to us about the editorial calendar and the timing?
Susan: I think we have different... I mean, at Woman's Day, we work three months in advance. So we're really looking for pitches for a particular month, 5-6 months in advance. I think that's fairly typical of Women's magazines.
So we had Christmas in July. A lot of Christmas right now. We've been eating a lot of sweets lately, for Christmas.
Truthfully, I could take a themed piece the day before, and the day of, if I was really desperate. But I'd rather not. Maybe a month out. Maybe two months. I mean, as far as I can work, it would have been wonderful to have the flag piece approved and everyone thrilled three months before. So it is flexible. So if you think you have a great holiday piece, see me after.
Jamilah: I think for us, we're very small publication, so our staff is like half a dozen folks. And so we try to do a lot in house, and sometimes it just doesn't work, people get sick, people get married, people you know, have lives. So sometimes we do need that pitch right before the holiday or right before something is going to happen. Um, and that works.
Stacy: One last comment I want to make that have talked about, that I think you guys need to know, and Jamilah talked about this. We collected thoughts, like it does land, what happens is, if you can get yourself positioned where some of your pitches even that you think you've heard no seven times, and there really are these magical moments where the stars align and you are like, oh my gosh, something just happened in Iowa relating to a restaurant and there was that food blogger who, and you go through your email like crazy, because you're like I know a food blogger, Iowa. We don't always remember anything else, but we'd be able to hold that out. A lot of it is, just the magic of opportunity. As I always say to people, get the energy spinning in your direction. I know I always feel like, when you are looking for a job, the more like you are to get the job, even if it doesn't intuitively make sense. So it's the same thing, so get get things spinning, get pitches going, get out there and try it. Just keep going, and you'll hit it eventually.
I think we have to have the last question.
Audience Member: This is kind of going along with what we are talking about right now, and I realize it will be different for each of you because you have different publications. You don't want us to pitch at the same time, multiple publications. Let's say you are pitching to a magazine, and you don't hear anything. How long is it appropriate before you can pitch that idea to something else?
Stacy: (other panelists agree) I say about a month. I think that's fair. Because it's really true, you could get an idea and really like and not get to it right away. But by four weeks, it's gone cold.
One last question.
What about when publication or networks pitch you and want money from you to be featured on their site?
Stacy: They are charging you?! That's not good. That's something new for me.
You know the Who's Who in America boats, you are already who's who and you don't need to be in the boat.
Super smart questions! Thank you!