It sounds gross, but networking can really help your writing career. Fortunately, almost all my networking has been accidental, because the thought of joining country clubs or going to symposiums still makes me want to puke. For me, it was simple. I just like funny people, so I read funny stuff. Then occasionally I reach out to the authors. (Back in the day, McSweeney's used to give email links in the bylines, but now with Twitter and Facebook, contacting people is really easy.) Around 10 years ago, all my best friends suddenly started becoming humor writers I met online. I got to see where they published, and that gave me ideas for places to submit. It also gave me insight into how to achieve "the voice." (See elephant in Rule 5 as placeholder, then jump down to Rule 3. Better yet, just go to Rule 3.) And sometimes some of my friends and acquaintances became editors and actually came to me for submissions. (That would be the case with my friend Matt Tobey, who works for Comedy Central. Of course, I repaid him by naming a borderline moronic character after him in my forthcoming novel.)
I should also mention that none of these rules I'm giving apply strictly to humor writing. Maybe you want to write for science and nature journals? Then sure, go ahead, make buds with other people who get wet thinking about photosynthesis. It can only help you. And even if it doesn't help your career, you'll make a new friend to keep you company while you both mutually masturbate to documentaries on the Discovery Channel.
One last note on networking -- if you do get the chance to speak to editors or writers with the hope that they can help you land a piece somewhere, there are two rules: 1) don't get offended if you're ignored; and 2) do NOT ask them to read your blog. Why? Well, for the most part, blogs are half-baked, lazy forms of expression only half a step more legit than a dream journal or shoebox diorama. But there's another reason. Remember our most important rule? Yes, learn the voice. If you've got your eye on a specific site, don't waste a writer's time by pointing them to an amorphous collection of stuff. YOU pick the one piece that YOU think is the best fit for where you're trying to get published. Right there, you've already shown yourself to be someone who understands the value of a freelance writer -- someone who can generate content for the specific needs of a site.
#1. Apply the Rejection
Here's the last rule: Get ready for rejection, and apply it! If your work is being judged by editors, there's a good chance they're more experienced than you and have proper insight into the merits and flaws of your work. But here's the thing -- even if that's not true, it doesn't matter. Even if their opinions are wrong-headed and short-sighted, they're still right. Because it's their magazine, and whatever they want for it is the right answer. You can let that make you bitter, or you can let that liberate you. The more experience you get, the more avenues you have to publish, and odds are, the more liberated you'll feel. You'll know what belongs where.
I've written before about Cracked's rejection of a mean-spirited (but satirically justified and amusing piece, in my opinion) of Amy Winehouse within hours of her death, but what's important to stress is that there was never a fight over it. I liked the piece, wanted to see it reach a large audience, and was disappointed, but I never had any misconceptions about the decision. Cracked's rejection was correct, because the piece was not in Cracked's voice, and Cracked's readers who have been nurtured on that voice would not have accepted it. Furthermore, the rejection led to further reflection and the publication of a related piece that I enjoyed just as much and was appropriate for Cracked. The Internet lets you feel like an all-star with your own Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or Pinterest (if you suck), but those feelings are not helpful for freelance writing.
If you get rejected, learn from it. Don't argue. I mean, maybe if you have a real relationship with an editor and there is a disagreement about what you're trying to achieve with the content, it's possible a discussion could lead to compromise and edits, sure. But most of the time, especially in the early stage of yay/nay submissions, just take their comments for what they're worth and think about how you can give them what they want next time. That really is the name of the game.
--Shout out to David Lindley, who read this article over my shoulder as I wrote it on the train and asked me if I was a writer right after I wrote that paragraph about people asking me if I'm a writer. Weird, huh?
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