The Incredible Disappearing Magazine

When a magazine that you freelance for folds, it could put a squeeze on your wallet. But if you play it smart, it may also open up opportunities.
Author:
Publish date:

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 writersdig@fwpubs.com with "Disappearing Magazine" in the subject line, or post it at the Writer''s Digest Forum.

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Chasing Trends

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Chasing Trends

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so this series helps identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake is chasing trends in writing and publishing.

Lessons Learned From Self-Publishing My Picture Book

Lessons Learned From Self-Publishing My Picture Book

Author Dawn Secord shares her journey toward self-publishing a picture book featuring her Irish Setter named Bling.

Poetic Forms

Crown of Sonnets: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the crown of sonnets, a form that brings together seven sonnets in a special way.

25 Ways Reflective Writing Can Help You Grow as a Writer (and as a Person)

25 Ways Reflective Writing Can Help You Grow as a Writer (And as a Person)

Reflective writing—or journaling—is a helpful practice in helping understand ourselves, and by extensions, the stories we intend to write. Author Jeanne Baker Guy offers 25 ways reflective writing can help you grow as a writer (and as a person).

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Being Followed

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Being Followed

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, let your character know they're being followed.

Amanda Jayatissa: On Spiraling Out in Suspense

Amanda Jayatissa: On Spiraling Out in Suspense

Author Amanda Jayatissa discusses the fun of writing "deliciously mean" characters in her psychological thriller, My Sweet Girl.

3 Tips for Writing a Memoir Everyone Wants to Read

3 Tips for Writing a Memoir Everyone Wants to Read

A memoir is an open window into another's life—and although the truth is of paramount importance, so too is grabbing hold of its reader. Writer Tasha Keeble offers 3 tips for writing a memoir everyone will want to read.

Zoe Whittall: On Personal Change in Literary Fiction

Zoe Whittall: On Personal Change in Literary Fiction

Bestselling and Giller Prize-shortlisted author Zoe Whittal discusses the complexity of big life decisions in her new novel, The Spectacular.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 582

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a transition poem.