To the Young Writer Seeking the Star Position
Thanks and kudos to Karen for reaching out. She recently sent me a note on LinkedIn, explaining that she is a recent college grad, trying to get a foot in at a particular publication.
I find that the best way to make the connections you’re after is by making your presence known. I’ll bet you’re thinking, “Well, right. That’s what I’m trying to do. But how?” It seems you’re off to a good start.
My answer is twofold. 1) The truth is that you need to start somewhere, so roll up those sleeves and get ready to work. I’m guessing that you’ve realized this by now, but most writers who are fresh out of college are not snatched up by The New Yorker. Look at your favorite publications, and then the number of people who are writing for them. These are highly coveted positions. That said, perhaps you are one of the very talented and lucky few who can break into the place you wish to be, and if this is truly your dream, then absolutely, you should go for it. Also, take note of the writing styles of your favorite writers as well as the audience. Some readers are more sophisticated and have high vocabularies, for example, while others–perhaps not so much. Additionally, think about language and jargon. Are you talking to a specific industry or enthusiast? For instance, foodies expect you to not simply know food, they expect you to be the authority–and they expect you to speak their language. That’s why they come to you. So, should you emulate someone else’s style? Nope. Not if you want to stand out and make a name for yourself. We all have our influences. Use them wisely. This takes us to part deux.
2) It’s an old adage. It helps to know people. So how do you get to know people? You network. And by the way, there are all kinds of networking groups; just search good ol’ Google. Try one. Try three. Not all of them will be a good fit, but keep trying. Find groups that not only interest you, but that actually help you. Make friends with like-minded people, and people who are doing what you want to be doing–or working where you want to work. Be patient with people, and with yourself. Be friendly, kind, polite, and focused (a.k.a. “professional”). Keep your eyes on the prize, and be mindful of who you’re spending time with. In other words, while Darren might be cute and fun to talk to, he might just be interested in taking you out on a date. Maybe dating Darren is what you want, but if you’re more concerned with getting the job you’re after–Darren can wait. You’re probably better off talking to Joan, who happens to be the creative director at your favorite publication. Getting the picture? So… what do you say to Joan? Good question. Do you know what makes her tick? Hey, maybe she’s a writer, too. Maybe she’s written a book or has given an interview. Start with a question about something that interests her–a subject she has written on, perhaps. It’s been said that we work with people that we know, like, and trust. In the end, it’s all you, Baby. Get them to know you, like you, and trust you. And don’t hesitate to reach out to your top dog. If you want to talk to David Remnick, ask him if he’s got twenty minutes for you. You might be pleasantly surprised. Have your questions ready.
Last but not least, I will add that it’s good to be flexible and open-minded. You may have your heart set on a particular desk right now, but keep in mind that things change, and sometimes this includes our dreams and goals. I’ll leave you with the words of John Lennon:
Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.
Good luck, Karen, and thanks for the note–and by all means–SEIZE THE PREY.
Here’s the song for today’s post (kinda cheesy, I know; but on the other hand, I am always and forever a HUGE Paul Newman fan. ;)):