how do i obtain a writing career in los angeles?
July 7, 2007 9:59 PM   Subscribe

job filter: how can i get a job, in los angeles, that will afford me the luxury of health insurance? how to write a cover letter that will get my foot in the door?

i have a master's degree in writing and am a hard worker.

However, I am having a difficult time finding a writing-oriented job that pays well: economically, emotionally and intellectually.

after having tried academia, i learned the political life required of a scholar is not something i am particularly fond of, so i moved to los angeles, in jan., with the dream of becoming an arts writer/critic.

thankfully, i found a part-time position that *just pays the bills, but expenses are thin, my teeth are sore and i'd like to go to the doctor...

my work history: teaching college english/writing for five years, various museum jobs, book store jobs, theatre jobs.

since moving to la, i've applied to over one hundred writing/editing job, as well as jobs in the arts industry (galleries, studios, etc).

in return, i've gotten two interviews for editor positions for large business aggregates. both interviews were long, tedious processes which required me to dress, act and speak professionally, as well as pass proofreading tests, which i did very well.

i tried. i thought i did well.

apparently not.

additionally, i've submitted clips and resumes to many local magazines - gotten a few gigs - of the ilk of promo blurbs for art ezines (unpaid), and one full-length article on a local art exhibit (for which I haven't been paid and frankly, do not to ever be). i would like to pursue this kind of work, but have come to a dead end. does anyone have any suggestions about how to go about getting PAID writing jobs, preferably in the arts field?

i fear the fault of my career decline is caused by my cover letters - which i write according to the books that tell you how to write cover letters: personal, intertextual (aka showing that i have researched the company) and suggestive (of my professional abilities).

does anyone have any suggestions about how to write a cover letter that doesn't make me sound like a) a tool, and/or b) a bore?

or am i not getting jobs because i don't know the people i need to know.

OR am i not getting jobs because i don't "follow up" my application. - is this practice common in los angeles? is this practice common if one applies to work at an art gallery?

i appreciate any tips or tricks about how to get a gallery/writing/museum jobs in la. preferably one that will allow me to obtain health insurance. thank you.
posted by seeka to Work & Money (21 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: 1) Unorthodox cover letter/introductory e-mail style that has gotten me multiple jobs before here.

2) Are you sure you want to stay in LA?
posted by mdonley at 10:20 PM on July 7, 2007 [4 favorites]

Also: capital letters.
posted by mdonley at 10:21 PM on July 7, 2007 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I second the cover letter mdonley recommended. I used that format last year looking for writing/editing jobs in L.A. and had about a 50% response rate to my resume, despite not knowing anyone and having the necessary skills but almost no experience doing the magazine job I landed.

If you're looking to network, have you tried Mediabistro events?
posted by serialcomma at 10:50 PM on July 7, 2007

let me get this straight: you've got a masters degree in writing, you're looking for a writing job, and you're seeking advice on how to write a cover letter? You know how that sounds, right? ;-)

OK - below is an excellent template for a cover letter. Usually the #1 problem with cover letters is that they're trying to obey all the billions of rules that all those books say you *must* do or else you're wasting your time, and in the process the writer forgets that the reader is in fact a sentient - and bored as hell - being with over 100 other cover letters to read.

With this in mind, the 3 golden rules of cover letters are:

1) put yourself in the position of the person who's going to read it. If your cover letter's boring, you're going to bore that person. What kind of cover letter would inspire you to show interest in someone?
2) your cover letter is not a formal document - it is a 100% gilt-edged sales device. The purpose of your cover letter is, at the very least, to get the employer to want to read your resume - at best, to get them to want to hire you: use it as such.
3) write between the lines - don't write, "hey, I'm really great and I really want to work for you," but write things that will make the reader think, "hey, this dude's really great and I really want to work with them."

With regard to your other questions:

a) if you don't already know the people you need to know, then that's a mute point. I mean, if somebody else posts, "yeah, it's because you don't know the right people," then how can that possibly help you? It's an unfortunate catch-22 that of course the very people you need to know are the ones you will meet once you get your foot in the door. But that just puts you in the same boat as everyone else who's trying to get a foot in the door - it doesn't give you a distinct disadvantage.
b) hell, what have you got to lose by following up? Imagine it this way - even if you don't get the job right away (or by following up), all communication is an opportunity to embed yourself - even to the smallest degree - in the mind of someone who may employ you. Maybe not now, maybe not even in the next month, but somewhere down the line someone is going to need somebody like you, and if in their mind they can match some sort of personality (yours) with a position they need to fill, then the chances are they're going to be digging out your file.
c) do not try to conconct in your mind polarized causes for your lack of success - again this cannot possibly help you in any way, and in fact can only serve to undermine the very task you are trying to complete (think The Myth of Sisyphus).

OK - here's that template:

A Cover Letter is to:
Encourage the reader to take your resume seriously
Set the reader's expectations of what will be in the resume
Persuade the reader that you are a suitable candidate for the job
Indicate evidence for the claims you make about yourself

In writing a Cover Letter, you should try to:
Capture the reader's attention
Express what you need to say as concisely as you can
Convey a positive attitude of reasonable confidence
Avoid grammatical and spelling errors

The first paragraph:
Identify who you are, what job you are applying for, and how you heard about it
Perhaps provide a brief summary of your main "selling points"

The middle paragraph(s) can address two main themes, perhaps in separate paragraphs, in whatever order suits you best:
Give details of why you want to join the organisation and do that particular job - sound keen and enthusiastic - show that you've found out about the employer and the job
Say why they should be interested in you - give your main selling points
Deal with any negative aspects of your application - if you can justify any weak points with a genuine explanation, this can be included

The final paragraph:
Restate your interest and summarise your suitability
Perhaps ask for an interview, mentioning dates when you are available or unavailable
End the letter on a polite and optimistic note

Hope this helps - good luck!
posted by forallmankind at 11:27 PM on July 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've been a hiring manager for several different kinds of publications in L.A. (newspapers, online, entertainment). If you were sitting in front of me and said exactly what you wrote here, my takeaway would be "this is an unfocused person."

the dream of becoming an arts writer/critic

These are questions I would ask you:

* What art? Music, movies, paintings, sculptures, dance?
* What publications? Newspapers? Zines?
* What are you passionate about? Professional non-fiction writing isn't just about writing. It's about being passionate about communicating things to other people.
* What do you want to do? You're obviously not going to be the L.A. times art critic tomorrow. But you could be a stringer. You won't make much money, and it won't give you health insurance. But, do you want to, say, start a magazine and work really hard and maybe contribute to the artistic voice of a community? Or do you want to write a few gallery reviews, go to some parties and get paid lots of money for it?

These are rhetorical questions for this conversation; you have to answer them your own way. But if you're unfocused, it will inflect everything you do.

OK, but let's say all you want is a somewhat meaningful job right now.

* It's probably not the cover letter. It might be the above unfocused-ness shining through. Companies with job openings want you to solve their problem; they're not interested in paying you to expand your horizons.

* Pick a publication you like. Go talk to an editor, not an HR person, and ask their advice.

* Call some temp agencies. Many of them will be the hiring agents for bigger companies and will have contracts available for line editors and whatnot, especially for software firms.

* Go to a big, big company. I'm talking about major employers in the media and entertainment industries -- EA, Warner Bros, Viacom, etc. These companies are always hiring at every level. On a lark, I just did a job search on "editor" on and and found several hits for jobs in SoCal that sound valid for you to look at.

Don't stress about cover letters. Stress about determining exactly what you're after first.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:30 PM on July 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Companies with job openings want you to solve their problem; they're not interested in paying you to expand your horizons.

That's some of the best job-seeking advice I've ever heard... I wish I could go back in time to pass it on to my younger un(der)employed self.
posted by scody at 11:52 PM on July 7, 2007

Do you give good google?

If you're easily googleable via your real name or your email address, what's showing up to people. I ask because, and I'm hesitant to point this out since this isn't English class and all, but if I was hiring a writer, and googling them turned up this post with its voluntary lack of capitalization, I'd be immediately turned off. If they can easily find your blog or other writing on the web, and it's not crisp and clean and ready for publication, that might be an issue for you, as well.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:37 AM on July 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

I hire securities analysts -- basically applied reporter/writers -- and I can say that a cover letter can't get you hired, but it definitely can get you rejected. Have a couple of friends who have good jobs critique your letter to make sure it isn't so bad, or desperate-sounding, or inappropriate, as to be sinking you. You don't have sufficient perspective to make that call for yourself.

Beyond this, the goal of your cover letter is to whet the appetite of the hiring manager: not only to take a bite (open your resume) but to chew (to read your resume charitably, informed by the desire to meet you first aroused with your cover letter). In my experience, concise and concrete pitches work best: the basis of your interest, and the basis of your belief that you can succeed in the job.
posted by MattD at 6:51 AM on July 8, 2007

Response by poster: just a note about capitalization, since it seems to be rubbing everyone the wrong way. my friends and i made a bet to write only lower-case for a week and monitor the reactions. you'd be amazed at the results...
posted by seeka at 6:52 AM on July 8, 2007

While I don't have any concrete advice, I wonder why you moved to Los Angeles. Have you considered other cities with more major publications, like Chicago which has two major dailies and an excellent independent weekly?

Please capitalize. It hurts.
posted by mzurer at 9:07 AM on July 8, 2007

I work in online news, before that, I worked in newspapers, magazines and other writing jobs. The #1 way people got hired was having been interns for us. Interns were not just 20-year-old college kids, one of our interns right now has a master's.
posted by GaelFC at 9:15 AM on July 8, 2007

I know nothing about getting writing jobs in major markets like LA. I'm a writer and a teacher (so there's lots of competition), so my strategy has always been networking rather than relying on covering letters, which are a waste of time.

Rather, use the covering letter as a marketing tool. The writing must be tight, dynamic, speak to pain or benefit, highlight/explain some of the stuff you put in the resume.

If you sending resumes to everyone in town, your response rate will be low (10%)? And perhaps one of those contacts will give you the job you want. So 1% of those resumes will work.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:40 AM on July 8, 2007

I do, however, work for an agency in Tokyo, itself a large market. I translate for television (ever watch a popular tv show on G4 that features fishermen conquering obstacle courses? That's all me) and produce advertising copy for the big boys. I got this work through networking. So I never worry about stupid cover letters.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:43 AM on July 8, 2007

I've found full time writing jobs without networking, in smaller markets. I have to concur with what scody highlighted. When I write a cover letter, I try to imagine what the hirer would consider the worst part of the job -- and gently drop hints about how I'm particularly equipped to deal with that.

Also: I thought this recent post about finding writing jobs was interesting, though it does not mention cover letters.

Apologies if this hoses your wager, but I counted two proper uses of capitalization in the OP...
posted by gnomeloaf at 11:28 AM on July 8, 2007

What NOT to do on a cover letter (using actual examples I happen to have on my desk right now):

Don't tell me what my company is. ("XYZ Inc. has a vision - one that combines creativity innovation and excitement.") I know exactly what my company is because I work there. You do not. Telling me how what my company is relates to you is fair game, however. ie. "My commitment to creativity and integrity is in strong agreement with what XYZ Inc. embodies, as you stated in your mission statement etc."

Don't ask me questions such as "Are you looking for a enthusiastic, proactive team member?" Gee I never thought about that, but that'd be pretty keen!

Don't copy and paste copy letters. It's obvious that you just replaced [COMPANY NAME] with XYZ Inc.

Don't waste my time with hollow phrases such as "I am a team player and very results driven." Anyone could write that and if it's not there I wouldn't notice. It doesn't mean anything to me.

Don't forget to let other people read your cover letter. I've never outright rejected someone for a typo, but they've turned a maybe to a no and a yes to a maybe. Remember this is a writing job; if you can't write a letter with a week lead time without typos, I can't trust you to write anything in an hour without errors.

*This is more an excuse to vent about the shitty cover letters I'm getting than anything else.

Also, I don't care if someone sends a thank you note or not after an interview, but I have colleague who won't hire someone if they don't send a thank you.
posted by OrangeDrink at 12:19 PM on July 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

oh and objectives. I hate objectives. Unless it's "To begin work as an Account Associate," which I would allow.
posted by OrangeDrink at 12:32 PM on July 8, 2007

Well, while I don't have a masters, I just moved out to LA and was looking for a magazine job, ideally writing about music or politics. What I found was that the market's smaller here for that kind of work than in New York or Chicago (or perhaps I don't have the connections here, and with everything spread out, it's harder to find the boutique publications that pay decently), and that the larger institutions seem to be low-balling and looking for recent grads with long commutes and no market experience.

The couple of things that I did were a) broaden my search. I ended up with a lot of interviews for online media and fairly few for print, and I found very few jobs with writing in them; b) looked for broader freelance opportunities. I found that there were a lot of places willing to pay for coverage of LA events and media that weren't based in LA. If I hadn't gotten the job that I did, I'd probably be trying to survive as a net-media-exporter.

Oh, and finally— When I looked at the LA Times positions that I'd be qualified for (and obviously, we have different resumes, but I worked as a music columnist for about five years), I saw that they were being classed as independent contractors, with weird hours and no health insurance. Instead, I took a job as an editorial assistant and wham-bam-health-vision-dental. It's lower on the totem pole socially, but it pays more and doesn't demand a lot of my off-hours time.

But feel free to shoot me an email and we can get a beer and bemoan the state of LA media, especially magazine writing. I can name ten cool music mags based out of Brooklyn that I coulda been hired at if I lived there, and have only found Arthur here.

One more thing— having looked around at my options as a music writer a couple of times during my tenure, I'll paraphrase something Scott McCloud told my class when people were asking him about how to best get a shot at breaking into comics— Your best option for getting a reliable music writing gig is to be famous for something else first. I mean, even Chuck Eddy and Robert Christgau got the boot this year at the Voice.
posted by klangklangston at 12:33 PM on July 10, 2007 [5 favorites]

Mod note: historical note: that was comment number one freakin' million, klang!
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:12 PM on July 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

Aww, jeez, man. I wish it were more special and junk. At least that's something I can put on my MeFi Scouts sash when I go to jamborees...

Now, if only Metafilter was one of those sites with the flashing banner that gave a free iPod to the millionth comment...
posted by klangklangston at 3:41 PM on July 10, 2007

klangklangston -
Now that you are the famous 1,000,000th writer, your next job search should be a cinch.
posted by Cranberry at 10:58 PM on July 10, 2007

I worked as a full-time professional music writer and section editor for two years and currently earn about half my scratch as a movie/DVD critic, so I've been on both sides of the table. Some things:

1). The cover letter is overrated. I didn't read my freelancers' cover letters unless their clips interested me. So that means:

2). Clips! Clips are all that matter. Could you find someone to honestly evaluate them? (I'll do it through email if you'd like). When I worked as an editor, I would usually read the first paragraph of the first clip and know if I wanted to use someone or not. The huge number of people who want to make a living writing about the arts means that you have a lot of people to climb over. You do this by a). standing out with original, well-edited clips and b). acting like a professional.

4). Your expectations of being fufilled and insured at the same time are fairly lofty. The best route to do that is to spend time as a freelancer becoming some editor's go-to person. You become a go-to person through a willingness to take bad assignments and last-minute assignments and turn them over in style. I spent a year or so doing that (somewhat fufilling) while working a dayjob as an advertising copywriter (insured but hellish). Then, when the editor quit I was in position to take over their insured, fufilling job as an alt-weekly music editor/columnist. Then I got sick of it and now I'm an uninsured freelancer again. Thus is life.

5). Chuck Eddy and Christgau may have gotten the boot, but Rob Harvilla stepped in, and the only thing he's famous for is being a highly original writer and really nice guy (and he publishes me, which is swell). Writing about other people's hard work is an easy living, and lots of people want to do it. Many do it for free on blogs (or almost for free at Pitchfork). If by "arts" you mean "fine arts," you're working in a very small nitche. Klang's right about the shift to uninsured contractors -- I'm one right now. Getting paid full-time (with insurance) to do it is being at the pinnacle of the field. It ought to be really hard to get there.
posted by Bookhouse at 7:57 AM on July 11, 2007

« Older Cheap flights -- do they exist in general?   |   Outdoorsy adventure near Manhattan Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.