Annals of Freelance Writing: It’s Now Easy to Sell a Story But Where Has All the Money Gone?

Avery Comarow, a veteran editor, took exception to a recent post about a Washingtonian editor angrily reacting to a freelance writer who had complained to the magazine’s publisher about her treatment:

“I handled freelance writers at a science mag and would have reached for the phone to apologize 30 seconds after hearing from above that I’d let a writer fall through the cracks–not because I wanted to get my boss off my back but because there’s no goddamn excuse for treating writers like that. I’ve BEEN a freelance, been treated that way, and fumed helplessly because I knew I wasn’t going to get satisfaction from story editors puffed up with their own busy tinpot importance.”

“Editors Puffed Up With Their Own Busy Tinpot Importance”

Avery Comarow responded with some outrage to yesterday’s post about an editor’s dark reaction when a writer went above him on the masthead to complain about how she was being treated:

“I handled freelance writers at a science mag and would have reached for the phone to apologize 30 seconds after hearing from above that I’d let a writer fall through the cracks–not because I wanted to get my boss off my back but because there’s no goddamn excuse for treating writers like that. I’ve BEEN a freelance, been treated that way, and fumed helplessly because I knew I wasn’t going to get satisfaction from story editors puffed up with their own busy tinpot importance.”

Dear Writer: If You Ever Again Go Above Me to My Boss…

Editor 1 is me, the magazine’s editor; Editor 2 is the magazine’s articles editor, who works mostly with freelance writers. Writer 1 is someone who has written several books and wants to write articles for the magazine and has communicated that to Editor 2. Like many articles editors, he is too busy to please everyone and frustrates some writers.

Writer 1, a few months after submitting a story proposal to Editor 2 and not getting a response, is at a Washington social event, meets Phil, the magazine’s publisher, and tells him of her dissatisfaction with her treatment by the magazine’s editors. Phil suggests she call me. I get the call and write a note  to Editor 2:

Writing Narrative Journalism: “Your Heart Is Part of the Story”

Journalist and author Madeleine Blais talking about narrative journalism at a Nieman conference:

In narrative non-fiction in some way the writer is part of the story.

Two separate skills are required: social skills to hear people and the ability to sit still in isolation and come up with something worth reading.

Facts are important, but just as important are emotional facts.

The bigger the story, the more scaled down and miniaturized it should be—John Hersey’s Hiroshima, J. Anthony Lukas’s Common Ground, Katharine Boo at the Washington Post.

When Those Harvard Alums Come to DC They’re Much More Than Outgoing and Gregarious

Jonathan Zimmerman, a UPenn professor, wrote about “The quiet bias in college admissions” in yesterday’s Washington Post. The column’s lede: “Do Harvard and other elite universities illegally discriminate against Asian American applicants?”

He says he’s not sure about that but “there’s another group of people who definitely face routine prejudice in college admissions. They’re the quiet types who keep to themselves….I’m talking about introverts, of course. And if there’s one thing we’ve learned from reports on the recent lawsuits against Harvard University’s admission system, it’s that introverts routinely get the short end of the stick….Harvard’s ‘personality evaluation’ favors people who are outgoing, gregarious, and comfortable in the spotlight.”

Bringing Life, Humor, and Honesty to Service Journalism

Today’s Washington Post business section pulls together excerpts from the buying-a-car columns of Warren Brown, who died recently at the age of 70. Lots of newspaper and magazines run such how-and-what-to-buy pieces but rarely with the life and humor that Brown brought to the Post. A few excerpts:

I’ve driven thousands of cars. But no one ever followed me home. No one begged me to stop for photographs, or pleaded with me to linger in a mall parking lot to placate a friend who was trapped at a checkout counter, and who would “just die if she couldn’t see this”—the 1998 Volkswagen Beetle.

Ford named the car “Aspire.” That’s a good thing. Had the company called it “Inspire,” it would have violated truth-in-advertising laws.

The 1997 Buick LeSabre Limited is an old folks’ car. It’s big and roomy. When it moves, it galumphs— bounding along highways in a self-satisfied, triumphant manner.

The styling is governmental. It would fit nicely into any municipal, state or federal vehicle fleet. That is our first impression of the 2008 Ford Taurus Limited AWD sedan, a full-size car designed to haul parents, children, police, perpetrators or politicians. Even with its bright, bold, three-bar grille, the new Taurus appears devastatingly official.

My mother, Lillian Gadison Brown, always wanted a Cadillac, but she couldn’t find a dealership that would sell her one—not in segregated New Orleans, anyway.

Bush 41 on the White House Tennis Court: “Unleash Chang!” “Vic Damone!”

In 1990, when George H.W. Bush was President, I went to a George Plimpton speech in DC and Plimpton described what it was like to play tennis with President Bush at the White House. He said President Bush liked to shout out self-motivating or celebratory phrases while playing.

When he wanted to motivate himself or his partner, he would shout “Unleash Chang!”

When something good happened, President Bush liked to shout “Vic Damone!” which meant victory. (Vic Damone was a popular big band singer and television entertainer.)

What did “Unleash Chang!” mean?

A Good Editor Has a Good B.S. Detector

Ross’s ability to detect falseness of any sort and in any form was one of his most important attributes as an editor. He was naturally drawn to what was genuine, authentic, real, true. His eye and his ear—and another sense or two that he peculiarly possessed—were affronted by a word, a phrase, a sentence, a thought, a bit of information, a line of dialogue, a short story, a piece of reporting, that was not the real thing, that was in one way or another specious, spurious, meretricious, dishonest.”

—William Shawn on Harold Ross, from Brendan Gill’s book, Here at the New Yorker

How Kent Haruf Wrote So Well: Pull a Wool Cap Down Over Your Eyes

Back in December 2014 I wrote about the strange things writers will do to get the words flowing. Truman Capote wrote in bed with cigarettes and coffee handy, Graham Greene took an amphetamine twice a day, Thomas Wolfe wrote naked, Oliver Sacks went for a swim before writing. That same month, Kent Haruf, the novelist, died and these were the first and last grafs of his New York Times obit:

When the Typewriter Knew the Good Old Days Were Gone

By Jack Limpert

It finally happened. On Saturday morning, Jack came into the office, took me off the desk, carried me out to a car double-parked on L Street, and drove me away. I’m now on a beat-up typewriter table in what seems to be a basement office in a house. No car horns, lots of birds singing, and a dog that looks at me and occasionally barks.

Not a surprise but still kind of sad. Sure, I was being used less and less, but I still felt useful–I was always really good at short notes.