Do I Hit for the Fences and Risk a Strike-Out, or Go for a Safer Single?

Posted on July 11, 2011


Today, I’m sending a story idea to Cosmopolitan.

I think.

Or maybe I’ll send it to Bitch. Or Bust.

What to do?

As a writer, I have been really lucky. I’ve interviewed NHL coaches and Olympic gold medalists, NBA players, world-renowned chefs, high-ranking elected officials and nationally known writers. My stories have featured everything from five-star restaurants to hermaphrodite horses to controversial real estate developments to Napa Valley wineries to tantric sex to the riderless horse at Arlington National Cemetery. I loved horse racing, and for 15 years I got paid to write about it. Now, I get published in even more and better horse magazines around the globe, as well as award-winning city magazines in towns I respect, travel magazines, animal health magazines, human health magazines, sports magazines, alumni magazines. I work with skilled editors who challenge and inspire me. And I make a decent living from all these articles and my “day job” at Ohio State.

Like a lot of writers, I write for magazines and newspapers that circulate in the thousands, not the millions (or even the hundred thousands). They are not be household names outside the region or area of interest they cover. They pay comfortably–even generously, I think–in the hundreds, not the thousands. I admire and appreciate my friends who have written or do write for Sports Illustrated or Entertainment Weekly, or The Atlantic or Vanity Fair or, more recently, Mother Jones. But they are not me, and I am not them, and their accomplishments–and mine–fill me with pride, not envy.

But I have a story now that I think would best fit one of the big players. The question is: Do I go for it?

It’s a female-focused story–one of national significance and emotional power. My first thought was to pitch it in the market where I feel the most comfortable and my experience might show me to be most qualified. A terrific magazine like Bitch, “the feminist response to pop culture,” circulates to about 50,000. It’s a slick publication, with compelling, well-written articles, and a strong voice for women. I’d be honored to write for it. Then there is bi-monthly Bust, “For Women With Something To Get Off Their Chests.” It pushes 100,000 on the circulation. It’s edgy and hip, and I feel smarter reading it.

And then we have the big dog: Cosmopolitan.

I tell my students Cosmo, for “fun, fearless females,” doesn’t take freelance, which isn’t exactly true: It just takes a very little of it from well-established writers. And as arguably the world’s most widely circulated magazine (2.5 million-plus) it pays those writers quite well.

This story would fit any of those magazines well, but their readership overlaps, and each one buys all rights. So I can only realistically pitch to one. And if that one doesn’t accept it, so much time may have lapsed that the story really isn’t so much a story anymore.

What is a girl to do?

There is no guarantee Bitch or Bust would buy this story. I would be amazingly fortunate if they did. But I feel like they would, at least, be open to the pitch from an outside writer with a steady stream of good quality experience in a way the monster magazines often are not. But this really could be a Cosmo story, and I don’t truly come across  too many in my line of writing that fit that table of contents.

One pitch has the potential to be a solid base hit if I make the connection. The other is a 102 mph fastball that will take a lot of luck and the right configuration of stars to hit.

But if I connect on that one? It is headed straight out of the park.

What to do?

Posted in: Journalism