how do i not screw up this potential writing opportunity?
January 13, 2012 11:57 AM   Subscribe

How do I not screw up this potential writing opportunity? Or is it too late?

I'm a senior English major. I took a writing class last semester, in which I received high praise from my professor and (I think) the opportunity to write an article for the magazine which he edits. Awesome, right?

The problem? I really want the opportunity, but I'm totally inexperienced in these matters and unsure how to approach the situation without being too pushy or presumptuous. And obviously at the same time, I want to give a good impression of my work ethic and enthusiasm...

Basically, last semester, during a mandatory one-on-one meeting (which everyone had to do), he told me he was very impressed with my writing, and he'd be interested in giving me the opportunity to write something small for his magazine. Sort of a trial run, low-pressure, and he'd get back in touch with me about it in a week or so. Never heard anything else about it.

I wasn't sure how to bring it up again, so I arranged a meeting to discuss the final project. We did so, and at the end, without any explanation or details, he handed me a packet of information about an interview subject, and very vaguely told me about an anniversary issue which might include an article about that person. The implication (I thought) was that I could write the article... but he never directly said that, nor did he give me specific details about deadlines and such. Again, he said he would contact me later when he knew more, and I get the impression that this would be for a summer issue, so not necessarily the very next one or anything.

When I emailed in my final project, I also included a few comments on the materials he gave me, and a fairly open-ended question about deadlines/requirements.

He never responded to the email, but when the final grades came in, I did at least make an A in the class...

How do I broach the subject again in a professional manner? Did I already miss my opportunity? The holidays are over, and my last semester is about to start. Should I arrange a meeting?

Does he no longer want me to write the article? Or did he simply overlook my email because he's busy, etc.?

I have ZERO experience with things like this, just undergrad and small retail sorts of jobs, so please forgive my ignorance...

On the one hand, I feel that taking the initiative is good and important, but I also don't think I know enough about what he wants to really do that. In other words, I feel like I need an official assignment and deadline before I go out there and just interview this person. Or is that totally off base in the magazine/professional world? I want to be sure I preserve the professional reputation of his magazine as well as mine.
posted by happyjuice to Work & Money (10 answers total)
Don't worry, the magazine world runs on just going out and talking to people for potential stories that may or may not happen. You should be OK.
posted by steinsaltz at 12:00 PM on January 13, 2012

You broach the subject in a professional manner by sending him another email, one that has specific questions and action items. Welcome to the world of freelance writing, where editors are often hard to reach.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:04 PM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

You send him an email, thanking him for this opportunity and then ask specifics:

How many words?
What format?

This is what pros do. Do your homework, read the magazine and esp. features like the one he's suggested to you. Research the subject, make an appointment to do the interview (in person, over the phone, on Skype, whatever) and go for it!

Editors, even non academic ones, can be incredibly vague. Don't be shy. Not a time to be tentative. Seize the day, etc..
posted by Ideefixe at 12:15 PM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'd send him another very concise email after doing a bit of followup research on the subject.

Dear busy guy,

Back in X month we discussed Y story (brief details to jog his memory on the subject, he may have forgotten altogether!)

I did Z followup on the subject (showing initiative) and need some feedback from you on the priority of this story (on spec? or for an upcoming issue?) blaah blaah blaah (message: i'm busy too need a tiny bit of direction)

He should appreciate your effort so far and will hopefully fill you in a bit more. You are trying to make his life easier and advance your portfolio/career/cv/whathaveyou.
posted by freq at 12:16 PM on January 13, 2012

Yeah. Just follow up in writing. "Hey [Professor], you mentioned there might be room for this article. If that opportunity is still available I'm happy to go ahead and interview [subject] and write something but I would first need some guidance on word count, due date, audience, etc, and I want to make sure you haven't assigned someone else already to avoid [subject] getting too many phone calls. If you still think your magazine needs this article, please let me know how you'd like me to proceed."
posted by olinerd at 12:17 PM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dollars to donuts this magazine has an actual managing editor, who does all the work your busy professor blows off. Talking to that person would be a HUGE help.

Other than that, with this kind of thing? The writer that turns in the piece gets it published. It's a pain in the ass to deal with pieces in development; it's a lot easier when you've got a magazine to fill to put a piece in that's on your desk. (The corollary of this law is the old "If you want to work at a magazine, just arrive at the office.")
posted by RJ Reynolds at 12:31 PM on January 13, 2012

He's busy. You need to be more forward and direct in your communications. Sending in some vague comments with your final project is pretty roundabout.

Can't you give a phone call instead of e-mail or in person meeting? I think you've been depending too much on him to put everything into your lap. If you want to do this, tell him! Just straight up say

"I really want to write an article for your magazine, it sounds like a great opportunity. You mentioned XYZ as a possible topic. Should I go ahead with that, or is there another topic you'd like me to write about? When is the deadline for the anniversary issue, and how many words are you looking for?"

Don't set up your question as "do you still want me to write an article for you?" - he's already told you he does.

If you can't call him on the phone, e-mail him again, it's a lot faster than arranging meetings and this deadline could be right around the corner. You won't seem presumptuous, you will seem motivated. If someone has forgotten to get back to you, you need to re-contact them, opening with "Just checking in on XYZ that we discussed - I know you're very busy, so at your convenience could you let me know about the status on this?"
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:51 PM on January 13, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone so far for the help.

Just curious about the etiquette... if I take the initiative and get in touch with the subject myself, should I characterize myself as a freelance writer or as affiliated in some way with his specific magazine?
posted by happyjuice at 1:01 PM on January 13, 2012

You can say "I'm writing an article for BLAH magazine" and leave it at that. People don't usually care what your exact employment status is.
posted by Jess the Mess at 1:13 PM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Don't call! Busy editors hate being called (though professors probably more forgiving). Do email several times until you get an answer (but don't be insane like emailing every ten minutes: once a week is probably OK). Chances are, he forgot and these people are used to being relentlessly pursued if people are interested in writing. And don't assume you've gotten the assignment: you want to be clear what he wants, what they pay (unlikely anything in this case, but in any case if you want to get paid for writing eventually may as well start with the assumption that it's something), what the deadline is, type of story (feature, Q&A, review, whatever) and word count.

Vagueness and lack of follow up are definitely not useful qualities in writers and when busy people ask you to do something and you don't follow up, they're not going to waste their time following up with you because they'll assume you're not interested and ask someone else.

And yes, once you have determined the professor has assigned this to you, then contact the subject and say "I'm working on a story about X for Y," and if they ask, say you are freelancing but the piece has been assigned to you.
posted by Maias at 2:44 PM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

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