Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
I grew up in Vancouver and studied English at UBC. While working in communications, I completed an editing certificate through Simon Fraser University and began doing freelance editing work on the side. I was always interested in how editorial fit into the larger publishing process, and so after working for the Magazine Association of British Columbia for three years, I returned to SFU to do the Master of Publishing program. I moved to Toronto recently to intern in the editorial department at McClelland & Stewart as a part of my graduate studies, which led me to my current position as the publishing assistant at Coach House Books.
It’s been almost three years since the 18th edition of The Canadian Writer’s Market, updated by Joanna Karaplis, came out. How does the 19th edition reflect changes in the market since 2010?
One of my priorities for updating the guide was to give due attention to some of the business models and publishing platforms that have taken off in recent years, including publishers that specialize in e-books (such as Iguana Books), print-on-demand (e.g., Frog Eat Frog), and self-publishing (e.g., FriesenPress). The guide recognizes that in addition to applying for grants and awards, authors may seek to finance their writing through crowdfunding websites such as Indiegogo, or participate in collaborative publishing efforts such as those at Deux Voiliers, a small press where authors, editors, and artists pool their skills and resources to bring books to market. Certainly, there have been consolidations and closures in the market since the last edition of the guide was published, but many launches, as well; as noted in the introduction, there are currently almost 2,000 Canadian magazines listed in CARD Online, as compared to 2010 when there were roughly 1,800. (Users of previous editions might also notice the 19th edition also has a spiffy new cover design, by Andrew Roberts, that reflects changing technology!)
Can you tell me about the process of updating the guide?
I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the framework established by editors of previous editions, including Sandra B. Tooze and Jem Bates. At the outset of the project, I reviewed some of the statistics, reports, and information available through resources including The Writers’ Union of Canada, CARD Online, StatsCan, Masthead Online, Quill & Quire, and the Book and Periodical Council of Canada, to get a current snapshot of the industry. I also spoke informally with a handful of writers, as well as editors and educators, about how the book might be made more useful and relevant from their respective points of view. I then reached out to publishers and editors across the country to find out what kind of writing they’re looking for, how they prefer to receive it, and their rates and payment terms. Often, this information is not readily available on a company’s website, or it’s difficult to find, or outdated, and this is where a central reference helps make the researching and pitching process less opaque. I would suggest that to complement the information found in The Canadian Writer’s Market, writers would do well to attend networking events and participate in the discussions happening on writer-oriented blogs, listservs, and community forums to share information. I should note that I also had assistance from a former colleague, Rachel Geertsema, with updating the awards section of the guide.
The book has a rich directory of Canadian consumer, trade, business, farm and professional publications and newspapers, plus educational resources, writers’ retreats, literary agents, writing contests and grants, organizations and more. As you were researching, what did you find especially useful, compelling or surprising?
What I found most heartening, while doing the research, was the numerous venues for underpublished and emerging writers to get their work out there, including cultural and literary magazines that have launched in the past few years, such as Sad Mag, Lester’s Army and Poetry Is Dead, and small independent presses such as The Workhorsery and Invisible Publishing. Corresponding with the staff at these organizations, and reading through their respective submission guidelines, I found their enthusiasm to be both palpable and infectious! Also, the sheer number of B2B magazines is impressive. We list nearly 300 in the 19th edition—everything from Canadian Pizza Magazine to Manure Manager to Canadian Funeral Director Magazine. B2B is a fast-growing sector, and although it can be a harder market to break into, your persistence, when combined with your passions, could pay off here.
There is no info about working for corporate clients, marketing companies or other agencies. Why doesn’t the guide cover this type of writing?
Indeed, opportunities abound to write for clients outside of traditional publishing channels, and these can be quite lucrative. However, the size and shape of this market is not readily defined—at least not within the scope of this particular guide. I would suggest writers interested in entering these markets connect with groups such as the Professional Writers Association of Canada, the International Association of Business Communicators in Canada, and the Canadian Public Relations Society. I would add, also, that writing for the professional and trade publications listed in the guide could potentially lead to other projects down the line.
As a freelancer myself, I feel like writers today need to arm themselves with a huge amount of information in order to make a decent go of it and protect our assets. The book’s introduction features sections about querying, copyright, taxes, libel and other topics. Based on your research, what are your top three tips for new freelancers?
1. Know your audience. I heard consistently from magazine editors that writers should avoid telling their readers what they already know, such as rehashing already-overworked topics or interviewing the usual suspects. Read several recent back issues to understand the magazine’s tone and focus, and consult their media kit and audience profiles.
2. Follow submission guidelines to the letter. I know this is obvious, but it bears repeating. Forgetting to enclose a SASE or submitting a whole manuscript instead of a query letter indicates to an editor that you might have trouble sticking to a word count or meeting deadlines.
3. Brush up on your photography skills. Even if their magazines employ professional photographers, many editors mentioned they were looking for high-quality photo support from freelancers. If you’re multimedia-savvy, you might also pitch video, slideshows, or podcasts as part of the package.
Network and get to know the editors.
Always submit well-written copy on time and to length. Do it again and again and the work will come your way.
Mara Gulens, Director, Publications, and Editor-in-Chief, CMA Magazine
Networking is vital. Attend industry events, join professional organizations and sign yourself up for listservs. Make the most of your time at events by having meaningful conversations with a few people rather than trying to meet as many people as possible (think quality over quantity). We work in a very small industry, and meeting editors and other writers gets your name out there and establishes relationships that can lead to work.
Cara Smusiak, Managing Editor, Canadian Family
CSME’s great because A: it’s cheap and you learn stuff; B: it’s a night out once in a while and freelancing can be very lonely; and C: you’ll meet working editors who aren’t necessarily the Top of the Masthead types but rather the hard-working assigning and knowledgeable pros. Networking with these people will always be your BFF. Not only will you find out about stories, you’ll get early warnings about mat leaves, contract jobs, and other “non-story” editing assignments, with which you can feed your family while you’re working on your prize-winning Toronto Life story. Whenever I was freelancing, my kids ate better and my wife slept well partially because I was active in CSME.
Peter Carter, Editor, Today’s Trucking
I wish that writers knew that, in this fast-paced age of online publishing, the speed at which they respond to editors’ emails could significantly impact their chances of getting assignments. I sometimes have stories to assign that I need turned around in a day or two. When considering which writer to reach out to, I hesitate to choose the guy who I know usually takes a full business day just to write me back. Because, what if he says no? Then I’ve lost an entire day.
Kim Shiffman, Managing Editor, Connected
1. Know what the work is worth—and what you’re worth. Connect with other freelancers (TFEW is a great resource) and ask what they would charge and/or have been paid for similar work in similar markets. What is the size (and presumed wealth/budget) of the client? Take into account your level of experience (if you’re a newb, no, you don’t deserve the same rate as someone who brings 15 years of experience to the table). And then figure out what the work is worth to you. Is it an opportunity to do a story you’re passionate about? To work with an editor who is particularly open to helping new writers get great clips? To help an indie publication that you believe in? All of those factors might mean that you’ll work for less than if you were writing marketing copy for Dow Chemical. Run the numbers before you get on the phone to discuss rate with the assigning editor. And if you think the work is worth more, make your case. You may succeed. You may not. But you definitely won’t get if you don’t ask.
2. Don’t personalize professional interactions. This one is tough, because lots of people on the other end of the equation (editors and publishers) do personalize it, taking it as a personal insult if you ask for a higher rate or stand up for yourself in an editorial discussion. But behaving professionally—and by that, I mean not emotionalizing or personalizing conversations about money, editing changes and other issues—will get you further in the long run even if the person you’re talking to isn’t behaving as professionally as you are. If you need to blow off steam, do it after the call or email with a trusted friend or colleague (not in a heat-of-the-moment Facebook post, tweet or message board rant). Does that mean you shouldn’t tell colleagues about poor behaviour by particular editors or clients? No. But do it rationally, calmly and after a cooling-off period. And remember, whatever you share is likely to find its way back to that editor or client, so be prepared to stand by what you say.
3. It’s better to work for free on something you love than to work for free on something you don’t care about. If you’re going to give away your time, do something you care deeply about, not crap work. Think of it this way: you’re about to give away hundreds of dollars’ worth of editorial value. Is this editor or brand really the one you want to give this gift to?
Kim Pittaway, freelance journalist, editor and consultant
1) Never miss deadlines. Unexpected delays and interview blow-offs happen, but you almost always know before the due date if you’re not going to be able to make it. Most editors will happily grant you a little extra time, as long as they know long enough in advance to prepare for it.
2) To make it as a professional writer, you have to act like a pro. The people you need to interview are generally going to keep office hours, so you should too. (That’s not to say you won’t end up working evenings and/or weekends as well. When it rains, it pours.) Always prepare in advance for interviews (i.e., don’t plan on making up all your questions on the fly). For in-person interviews, show up early (or at least on time) and dress appropriately. A CEO won’t likely take you seriously if you’re in a T-shirt and shorts, but a musician’s likely to be put off by a three-piece suit.
1. Check your facts and send your sources. More and more, editors are also fact-checkers, and if you submit a piece that has the facts pre-checked, and if you provide URLs to your sources along with that piece, your editor will love you (assuming those sources aren’t Wikipedia, of course). Please, please, please attribute any statistics, research findings or other questionable “facts” to a source. Not only will your editor want to know where you found that information, but your readers will want to know, too.
2. Don’t steal other people’s work. This may seem like a given, but I’ve seen far too many writers—amateur and professional—submit work that they claim is original but actually contains passages copied verbatim from websites or other published sources. After all, plagiarism doesn’t just mean the entire piece has been copied—it could be as small as a paragraph or sentence. Accidents can happen when you’re gathering research from various sources, so be sure to note where you found your info, and whether what you’ve written is a quote or your own writing. And if you need to quote another publication, attribute it (see #1, above).
Tammy Burns, Online Content Manager, Travel+Escape
Swallow your pride. Become known as someone who does really good, quick rewrites. When the editor tells you that you have to cut 200 words so that the designer can have some precious empty white space on the page, just smile and say, “Of course.” That’s how a one-off job can be parlayed into a career.
James Chatto, Editor, Harry Magazine
Editors, do you have more tips to share? Writers, what has helped you survive and thrive?
Research the magazine and its readership before you pitch. Be prepared to answer the question, “Why is this important for our particular readers?” And the other question, “What’s your angle on this subject that makes your story important?” Personalize the pitch and follow up two days later. Don’t sit there waiting to hear back.
—James Chatto, Editor, Harry Magazine
Whether you’re writing a pitch, a cover letter or an article, I think the first sentence should make the reader want to keep reading to the last word. It should be infused with passion, emotion, humour, intrigue—something that is gripping and creative. I often receive cover letters and pitches that start off with biographical information—and let’s face it, that’s usually boring. Don’t bury the lede. Start your pitch off with a scene or an anecdote, and once he/she is hooked, outline the details—why it’s a good fit for the magazine, who you’ll interview, and information about your skills and experience. Of course, once you’ve established a relationship with an editor, pitching may be as simple as “I have this idea…”
—Cara Smusiak, Managing Editor, Canadian Family
Google, then pitch. The internet has become saturated with the same service journalism topics over and over. Even if you think your idea is timely and original, chances are it’s been covered. Before sending your pitch, do a quick search and make sure you’re pitching something unique and new for the brand. Or, find a way to twist “5 Ways to Lose Weight” with something unexpected. This goes for both print and online pitches, since print stories are always repackaged for online, too.
Think graphic! I could kiss writers who pitch story ideas alongside ideas for charts, infographics, puzzles, cartoons…anything of visual interest that helps translate the concept to readers. Also, the magazine industry is on the cusp of interactive tablet editions becoming the norm, so if you can think of graphic concepts for your pitches, I would hazard you’ll be more successful in years to come.
—Colleen Fisher Tully, Senior Editor, Fresh Juice & FreshJuice.ca
1. a) Be persistent but polite (and never one to the exclusion of the other). Chase your stories and own them, package your pitches and push them, sell yourself—you are your own best advocate and quite possibly (observed with apologies) your only friend. Re-approach after suitable periods of no response; on average, one week. Never send an email without first proofing. Do not rely exclusively on email—use the phone, too (and, particularly if leaving a voicemail, speak succinctly). COMMUNICATION is possibly your greatest asset.
1. b) Be willing to take “No” for an answer. If an outreach fails to yield the response you expected/hoped for, use intuition coupled with the ability to read between the lines to discern when to accept rejection. This can be accomplished with aplomb and can (sometimes) put you in better standing; in any case, it needn’t be equated with the permanent shutting of a door. Worst case, request (politely!) permission to re-approach another time. With more on-the-job experience, it will become easier and easier to discern where is the proverbial line, not to mention stay on the right side of it.
2. Make sure your story sizzles; still, keep it short and sweet. Be your own editor and reader: Don’t pitch a story that doesn’t impress you. Suss out (or inquire directly about) your editor’s preferred pitch model, and deliver exactly on those terms. My own pitch preference is, typically, one targeted overview paragraph with maximum three supporting bullet points. There are, of course, exceptions—you are, after all, a writer, and if you’ve truly “got it,” you’ll probably be able to make yourself exceptional at all levels.
—Gary Butler, Principal at EditButler, and freelance print and web editor
Next time: More tips from editors on how to survive and thrive in the business.