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"I was Changed By Rock and Roll"

Musings on shows and introspective resolution. Yeah right.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Freelancing is dating with words instead of kisses

The definition of success for a freelance writer is different than most fields. As far as I can figure, it’s basically this: you need to be in demand. Like dating, you can’t appear too desperate, or you’ll scare your potential client off; but you need to be persistent. You need to let them know you’ll be around when they need you, but give them space to start missing you.

In other words, there’s a reason I’ve been both good and bad at it.

So, after a great day of teaching 5th grade (which I will get to in due time, hopefully with some audio files to soothe your soul), I was supposed to have a meeting with A.S., an editor at a magazine that I’ve been wanting to write for since I was a wee lad (or at least since I knew what rock stars looked like.) He and I had spoken on the phone, he told me to come in Friday afternoon, I’d called back and left a message that I’d be there at 3:30. Great.

On the train in, I envisioned being led around the office and introduced to each editor. I’ve done this before and it backfired. Like walking into a room full of women and losing my voice (which has also happened before), my mind just went numb. So this time, I prepared:

“This is the editor of the new bands section,” AS would say. And I’d reply: “Why haven’t you covered ALO or Giant Drag?”

“This is the editor of the feature well.” “I’m surprised you haven’t done a story on rock-cruises.”

Of course, they’d admire my moxy. And I’d get a story.

But here’s the thing: AS wasn’t there when I called.

There’s nothing sadder than a freelancer being told to leave an office in Manhattan. Unlike, say, being fired from your financial job after being caught stealing from the coffer, you’ve failed before you’ve succeeded. Coupled with the editors at another major publication not calling me back all week – well, I was more than a little bummed. In fact, with no work coming up this month and looking ahead to winter holidays, I was starting to think that maybe this trip was a reminder to me that I’ve been living the charmed life way too long.

I sat down, called mom, she tried to help, just made me mad. And then: Rachel R., who is often my voice of reason.

She gave me a new number to try, a friend of a writer friend at the magazine. And when I called, he answered the phone.

And I told him one of the saddest things I’ve ever told anyone: I had an appointment, and AS wasn’t there.

Now, I know reading this this is not paramount to: Your dog is dead. Or: this isn’t working out. But when you’re a freelancer and you tell this to an editor, you get one of two responses: sympathy, or your funeral at the mag.

Thankfully, this time, I got the former.

And I went into the bigshot’s office. And he came out in the uniform I’d wear to spaceland – ratty hoodie, ratty jeans, ratty sneakers. And I’m dressed sharp. And I think: he’s just a guy. He’s no bigshot. I can do this.

He looks at my book. We talk. He’s nice. And responsive.


I walk out on a high that’s the exact opposite of the low I felt before. And I call the other office, the one full of the people that have been blowing me off all week.

They answer this time. And I say: “Hi. I’m still in town. I wanted to stop by before I leave. I’m at (insert name of mag) office now.”

And they sound impressed. And they invite me over. And I meet with them. And I tell them I’m a fan. And they grill me about what they do. And they tell me that, maybe next year, I will be able to do it.

And I’m happy. Because, like dating, it takes a string of rejections – even from the same person – for a little success. But when that success comes, it overpowers those rejections, and you don’t care that you were blown off and left for dead before. Because now, they know what your face looks like.

In a couple months, I may have a byline in one of these magazines. Or maybe not. But I’m patting myself on the back right now.

Because: I tried.

And the trip was worthwhile.


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