Friday, October 19, 2007

"Why don't you write for gun magazines?"

Flatteringly, I get that question all the time; often followed by "What you write is a hell of a lot better than what I see in those rags" or some other such half compliment/half indictment of the magazines themselves.

Well, a lot of it is stuff like that mentioned in this piece by Dean Speir of The Gun Zone. Dean was a freelance writer for several gun magazines, and I believe still does some work in that direction.

He and I disagree about a lot of things (like the safety of Glocks for example), but we agree on one thing: The magazine publishing business, especially the Gun mag publishing business, is a sick joke.

I was a "professional freelance writer" (and wow what an oxymoron that is), for various magazines in the late 90s up through the final collapse of the .bomb. I've written under my own byline, I've staff written, I've ghost written, I've done work for hire; I even co-authored a couple of professional textbooks on information security (7 out of 25 chapters, plus the study guide, workbooks, instructors guide etc...). I also did some work for several RPG publishing houses.

The writing part of it was often fun, and emotionally satisfying. The rest of it, was, quite frankly, painful.

Just managing to actualy get paid on a piece was a chore; often taking longer and requiring more effort than actually writing the damn things. Half the time they wanted to pay you, at least in part, in copies (this is very common with small magazines, and specialty publishers).

And then there was the editing.... It's amazing how a well meaning copy editing intern can completely change the entire meaning of a piece just by changing a couple words she didn't understand the placement or use of into something "more grammatically correct".

Then there's the space crunch "Hey Chris, I want 2000 words on [insert x here], by Thursday; think you can get it for me?" Of course Thursday comes and I deliver my 2000 words and "Oh, now I only have space for 700, can you cut that down in the next hour?"

The only way to write what you want is to do it on speculation (theres two kinds of writing "on spec". The good kind is writing "to specification", or "on assignment" where you get paid whether it gets published or not. The bad kind, and the kind most often referred to, is writing "on speculation" where you write something, and send it out hoping they'll like it and pay you for it); otherwise you're going to get bird dogged for bullshit; and they'll want you to write it in "their voice" and to their editorial view.

The only good part about it USED to be the money, but these days even that is crap. In the mid 90s, I was getting $0.35-$0.75 a word for small magazine stuff, and publishing several 1200 to 2500 word pieces a week. These days, rates around $0.07-$0.09 are common for small publisher, small circulation magazines; with some genre mags paying as low as $0.03.

note: top tier magazine rates are FAR higher for their regular feature writers. $2-4 a word in some cases; or more if you are a "big name". Advertising copy, or "business writing" also pays in the $0.50 to $2.00 per word range.

In the genre mags, if you're lucky you'll pull a couple hundred bucks for what used to be a 2000 word feature (and even that is a big drop from the 70s and 80s, where mags featured far higher content to imagery ad advertising ratios) , but is now a 700-1200 word "featurette" with a couple of 1/3 page pics, and ads thrown in around them .

So, no thanks. I'll stick to blogs, where I write what I want, when I want; and where I can make a piece as long (or less frequently as short) as I want.

...And don't get me started on specialty book publishing. It's even worse than the magazines.

Honestly, if someone came to me who I thought I could trust; and who I thought ran a good business (Dan Shea for example); and they said "Chris, we'd like to pay you a small but reasonable fee for a half dozen 1200 to 2000 word pieces a year" yeah, I'd be up for it.

I'd also be up for winning the lottery in every state simultaneously.

I think the latter is more likely.