When a magazine folds, the “what next?” stories you hear tend to focus on the publisher and the editor—maybe even the sales director. Rarely do you hear from the columnists and steady freelancers who”ve come to count on that publication as part of their livelihood.
Yet they”re the ones most likely to be blindsided by the closure. They”re less likely to have been privy to the end-game plans and see the wall at the end of the tunnel. As such, they”re suddenly and, without warning, missing a market for their work.
Recently, I was on the other side of it. When Indy Men”s Magazine—the nearly five-year-old regional that I edited—folded, I knew I was leaving some terrific freelancers in the lurch. Freelancer Nick Hall, for instance, was my go-to guy for automotive coverage. With clips from European Car, Winding Road and AutoWeek, his column in IMM was by no means his bread and butter (with jam, of course; he”s British). It was, however, steady work.
“We all have a tendency to be a little lazy and not look for other outlets if we have a few sweet deals,” Hall says. “It”s when one of those deals falls apart that we hit real trouble.”
His advice: “Spread your eggs into many baskets as early as possible. Look to similar titles to the one you”ve just lost—even competitors. They”re bound to have seen your work if they”re a competing title, which is half the battle. And they might be delighted to have you on board.”
Another IMM contributor, Hank Nuwer, has been there, too. For a while, the author of How to Write Like an Expert About Anything and writing professor at Franklin College, earned steady work at the online pub Streetmail. “When that folded, well, first you cry. Then you haul out the Rolodex to put the word out with former editors—and even former students who might now have jobs—that you”re available.” Everyone understands the volatility of the magazine market. Don”t assume that the failure of a publication will be seen as your failure.
Nuwer encourages writers to watch for signs of trouble with their existing markets. Slow pay, staff reductions and delayed response can indicate problems. Don”t wait for your e-mail to be bounced back as undeliverable to start looking around for other work.
And remember, the closure of a market can actually be a boon. Writer John Marchese was one of the core writers for 7 Days, a New York rival to The Village Voice, that died in 1990 after a two-year run. A number of its editors migrated to The New York Times, where Marchese picked up his first assignment for The New York Times Magazine from a former 7 Days junior editor who then became editor of the The New York Times” Sunday Style section. Marchese wrote for her there for two years.
And that wasn”t all. Marchese stayed in the Rolodex of Lucy Danziger (now editor of Self), writing for her through a number of publications. And Will Dana, another 7 Days editor who”s now managing editor of Rolling Stone, signed Marchese to a contract when he was at Worth and also used him during his stint at Details.
“I look at editing as a legal pyramid scheme,” Nuwer says. “The editors all go somewhere else.”
He”s right. In my editing career, I”ve tried to take the best writers to wherever my next editing job might be. When IMM folded, I had a clear idea of which writers I”d want to work with at future publications, which ones I”d recommend to fellow editors and which ones I”d just as soon forget.
The trick is to cultivate a reputation not just for the quality of your work but also for your timeliness, your flexibility and for being someone who”s easy to work with.
Lou Harry says that when a magazine folds, you can land on your feet if you”ve built a good relationship with editors—after all, they have to move on somewhere, too. Have you ever landed a writing gig because of your relationship with an editor who”s switched publications? Tell us about it. E-mail your response to email@example.com with “Disappearing Magazine” in the subject line, or post it at the Writer”s Digest Forum.