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Biting the Big Apple

I don’t usually get nervous when I fly, but this trip to New York was different. I had a suitcase of brand new clothes, a laptop, addresses to three different magazines and enough adrenaline to fuel the plane.
Just one week earlier, I’d raised my hand in the final class for new freelancers and asked, “Exactly how vital is a trip to New York for a freelancer’s career?”
Instructor John Rosengren, a veteran Twin Cities freelancer and regular New York visitor, said, “Well, it’s possible to have a good career and never go to New York – but going there can open up new doors.”
I sat back, relieved. The New York magazine scene intimidates me, and the movie “The Devil Wears Prada” didn’t help. I’m not a hipster, I’m not cutthroat, and I talk like a Minnesotan. Finally, I had reassurance I could survive within the confines of my comfortable nook.
So the next day, when my boyfriend announced he’d purchased tickets to New York and we’d be leaving the next week, I froze. Was this my chance to go big-time?
LynnKeillor-NYCI panicked. Then I plunged. I picked up my copy of the “Writer’s Market” and looked for New York-based magazines I could contact. I had three main criteria: magazines that would realistically meet with me (no New Yorker, no Cosmo); magazines for which I could reasonably write (could I think of at least two story ideas?); and magazines marked with $$$$ – the highest pay ranking.
I settled on three magazines, including a conservation publication. I e-mailed each of the editors, introduced myself, gave a couple of credentials and asked for a brief meeting.
I didn’t have to wait long for a response. That afternoon, I heard back from one magazine and, yes, the editor had time to meet. A few days later, I got a call from another, and we scheduled an appointment.
With tactical assistance from Rosengren, I planned my meetings. I prepared an envelope of clips, a résumé and a letter for each publication. I tailored the clips to each publication and showed a variety of writing styles. While I was at it, I made a package for the third magazine. If I wasn’t able to secure a meeting, I figured I could drop the clips with the receptionist.
Rosengren explained his approach to a meeting: Give the clips, ask what kind of stories the magazine is looking for, and ask the best way for a new writer to break into the magazine. The real key, he said, is in the follow-up – sending a query within a week, while the editor still has you in his or her mind.
After a whirlwind shopping trip to update my wardrobe, I was ready.
The meetings went far better than expected. I got about 45 minutes at one magazine and met several editors. I spent about 20 minutes with the editor at the next magazine. I even got about five minutes with the editor and publisher of the third magazine – and I didn’t have an appointment. I walked away with business cards, sample issues and a better picture of each magazine’s market and readership.
I also realized that, even though this was New York, the editors were the same hard-working people I know from home, and all have the same goal of providing a quality publication to their readers.
And, as a reward for a job well done, I treated myself to a backstage tour of Radio City Music Hall and thanked my boyfriend with tickets to see the Rockettes. OK, maybe that was another treat for me.
With a clearer idea of what each magazine wanted, I sent queries the following week. The best news: Not only did I get a nice tax deduction for the trip, but I’ve since received two story assignments. I also feel I have more confidence as a freelancer, and I look forward to making another trip to New York.
Tips for a New York meeting:

  • Ask for just five minutes of an editor’s time. If you get more than five minutes, consider it a bonus.
  • Prepare a package of clips and include information about yourself – a résumé or writing credentials.
  • First impressions count. Be on time and dress professionally.
  • Be realistic about how much you can fit in. Distances can vary greatly between offices. If you’re on a tight schedule, plan meetings with a map in hand.
  • Find out what articles the magazine wants, the best way for a new freelancer to break in and a bit about the readership.
  • Ask for a couple of back issues, especially if it’s not a typical newsstand magazine.
  • Follow up within one to two weeks with a query.

Lynn Keillor, of Minneapolis, is a lifetime outdoors enthusiast who has worked nearly 12 years writing for the snowmobile publications of Ehlert Publishing. Currently she is writing freelance for various snowmobile and outdoor-related publications. Contact her at keill003@umn.edu.
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