On Asking Favors From Writers & Editors

2015 was one wild beast of a year for my career and I could not be more grateful to have spent it writing  essays and articles that I'm proud of, a book that I care about, and meeting a lot of talented and kind people who work in the same industry. It was also the year in which I went from being a writer sending a lot of pitches and asks for small favors to a writer who gets asked for a lot of advice and help from strangers, acquaintances, and friends. So pitches and favors are different animals and should be approached differently. A pitch goes to a professional editor whose job it is to read it. You want to be courteous to them and not waste their time or yours but in some sense, they're expecting it. Asking for favors is different because it typically requires that people go out of their way to help you, to labor on your behalf, and to not be compensated for it. That means you should be even more gracious when you ask for them and even more grateful when you're given them. So without further ado, here are some favors I asked and why I think they worked:

Favor 1: Advice on Writing About My Past

Recipient: Charlotte Shane, freelance writer and notorious hot mean bitch, no prior engagement or introduction

What I Wanted: I had not yet "come out" as a sex worker and I wondered if it would hurt or hinder my career and had Charlotte recommended to me by journalist Melissa Gira Grant who knows Charlotte.

Email to Charlotte

Results: Charlotte and I emailed quite a bit about the ups and downs about writing about sex work online, resulting in me eventually choosing to out some of my past in the sex industry which has been really rewarding because I was able to write about labor more broadly in a way that was important to me. We also became very good friends who walk into parties looking like The Two Meanest Girls at Sweet Valley High.

Why It Worked: I had a pre-existing referral from a friend, we had something fairly unique in common, it was complimentary but not gushing, and we had a shared experienced in media that she was willing to help me navigate.

What I Didn't Do: I didn't ask direct, invasive questions about her decisions and left it open-ended to give her space to share what she wanted to. I didn't do a bunch of the weird shit that people do when they write to sex workers either like pretend I had any idea what her life was like or ask about how to get even better at it.

Favor 2: General information on writing for TV

Recipient: Cord Jefferson, TV writer and former Gawker staff writer and freelancer, no prior engagement

What I Wanted: To get a basic idea of how transitioning to TV writing from digital media would go, what I should know, what I should write, who I should be trying to get to know.

Email to Cord

 

Results: Cord responded that he'd be happy to answer my questions and so we met for drinks and he told me about his experience in TV writing and listened to me talk about my show concept and gave constructive feedback. I used that feedback and am now in the process of talking to producers and other TV executives about buying the show.

Why It Worked: The most important thing I did  was I asked if I could ask questions before I asked them so he absolutely had an out that didn't require him to feel impolite. I can't stress this enough. I found Cord because there was an essay of his called "On Kindness" making the rounds and in looking for more of his writing, I came across the fact that he had gone to LA to write for TV after his digital media career. I made clear that I wasn't clueless about his present career by mentioning it to show I had done my research.

What I Didn't Do: Ask 20 questions from the get-go that would just be disrespectful of anyone's time, I didn't ask for his agent's contact info or any other favors I hadn't earned. I pitched it as an informational meeting and I kept it an informational meeting.

 

Favor 3: Inside knowledge of hiring at The Racket, a then promising website under the First Look Media umbrella

Recipient: Michael Pielocik, writer and comedian had been hired there, we had no previous contact but a mutual friend told him I would be writing to him about the roles

What I Wanted: An interview at The Racket (to know my chances of getting one)

Michael First Look Email

Results: Michael told me what kind of clips to put together for an application and an email address I could send them. The website never launched but Michael and I remained in touch and it was good practice for asking for things when I don't feel entirely comfortable doing so.

Why It Worked: Based on his humorous web presence, I didn't take a formal route in asking for this information and because he knew I was coming through a friend, I was able to state my intentions more clearly. That I clearly read up on him showed that I respected his position enough to be worth engaging with.

What I Didn't Do: Ask him to read my resume directly, ask for a direct email for where to apply without first establishing a rapport with him and demonstrating that I might be a good fit, or email him without first looking at his website, background, and interests.

Favor 4: Pre-blurb for my book proposal

Recipient: Leslie Jamison, author and columnist, we were friends in graduate school at Yale in 2011 and 2012 but our relationship had gone mostly to email after leaving grad school

What I Wanted: When writing a book proposal, it is often suggested that you get other writers who are familiar with your work to write a pre-blurb that gives you credibility and demonstrates that established authors vouch for you and have the potential to blurb your book or review it when it actually comes out.

Email to Leslie

Results: Leslie wrote an exceptionally thoughtful and specific pre-blurb about my work that I put in my proposal and that I have every confidence was one of the reasons that it sold well to a major publisher.

Why It Worked: The primary reason it worked was that Leslie is a generous spirit and we already knew each other, I don't deny that this did some of the heavy-lifting. But I was also earnest and noted my respect for her time at a time when her career was absolutely on fire and I appreciated her work without being over-the-top in my praise of it. I was also every bit as awkward as I was as a graduate student in real life because while I didn't want feign more familiarity than we actually had, it would have been weird if I showed up really formally in her inbox.

What I Didn't Do: I didn't pretend that there hadn't been a seismic shift in her life in the time between knowing her in graduate school and her becoming a best-selling author but also tried not to dwell on it. I also didn't overload her with information in the body of the email but put the book proposal material below the signature for her to peruse if she wanted to.

These are just four of several favors I've asked over the past few years. I have very similar ones that resulted in no responses but that at least made the effort to respect people's time and show that I wasn't just firing nonsense into the ether. The thing is, most people want to be helpful. Sometimes they are too busy to do favors or they can't actually give you what you need but when you contact people with respectful, appropriate asks and opportunities for them to decline, you'd be surprised by how much you can get out of them.

Also, as Charlotte noted when I asked if I could write about our first email exchange in this post, people might very well be seeking a favor from you at some other point:

Charlotte you sucker

 

 

Helping More By Saying "Yes" Less in 2016

Please come along with me as I take a trip down Media Memory Lane. This is the story of how I felt locked out of media circles so that when I finally sneaked in, I left the door open behind me and let in more people than I could be accountable for. This created a problem for myself and this is a plan for getting myself out of it. I take full responsibility for letting myself get in over my head and am now taking full responsibility for getting out of it with the new direction of this blog.  Now at some point you might think: tumblr_nxwus0CMjp1si194ao1_500

But bear with me, I beg you. This may seem like self-congratulatory martyr shit but really it is just an embarrassing display of how thinking I could single-handedly change entrenched media practices was not that smart.

So at the beginning of 2014, I had bylines at two websites: xoJane and Religion Dispatches. I was eager to write for more publications and trawled the internet in search of editors' email addresses, I devoured their sites to see what kind of material they liked, I dove deep into their Twitter timelines. I spent time figuring out what they paid, who liked women, who responded fast, who never responded. Several hours a week were spent on this research.

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I sent meticulous email pitches that were overwhelmingly ignored. I was doing sex work and copywriting to support myself and hated the former and found the latter a bit tedious compared to what I really found thrilling. It was devastating at times but when the few editors  read my pitches and took a chance on me, it felt glorious . The work snowballed into writing for great online publications like The Baffler, The New Inquiry, The Hairpin, and The Toast. I started feeling like a writer.

writing fast kermit

These pieces impressed BuzzFeed enough to earn me a staff writing role there where my essays and some humor content gained me credibility both inside and outside BuzzFeed. When I left BuzzFeed, editors began reaching out to my directly and my cold pitches were accepted more regularly at new publications. Within a few months, I had sold a book and was a columnist at Pacific Standard and writing for outlets like The Washington Post, The New Republic, Matter, and The Guardian.  I was finally making a living full time as a writer.

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About midway through this year, I began getting emails from aspiring writers asking about pitching, which I told them about happily. I suggested edits, I suggested editors, I made introductions, and I championed people without a ton of bylines. I am glad to have done it. After giving details instructions to a dozen or so writers, I wrote this post on the pitches that worked for me in an effort to help people craft pitches that would work well so I wouldn't have to repeat myself. But still, I received more direct inquiries that said nothing about my work and only asked for editors' email and introductions to them. I don't believe in media gatekeeping so I gave email addresses out willingly, even when they were available on Twitter and the publication's website if the person had done their research.

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When their pitches were rejected, some of these writers asked if I could appeal to the editor in question, a request that essentially asks me to second-guess my editor's judgment in a way that I wouldn't even do for my own work. Some asked for full line-edits of their drafts before turning in pieces to editors. With about 8-11 writers feeling OK about asking for really labor-intensive assistance, it became a lot of unpaid labor that wasn't helping them or myself. I fully realize that I brought it on myself but I am taking it off myself now.

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The point of this is not that these writers are ungrateful or clueless. They just haven't learned how to navigate the media world yet via trial and error and some Googling. In simply giving out emails and direct instructions to anyone who asked, I was stopping them from doing really amazing work. The work of cold pitching editors turns you into a better reporter and the work of digging up their emails makes you a better investigator and introducing yourself to someone new proves your courage and tenacity. All of these things make better writers and I believe the world could use some of those. I have ultra-confidence that strong writers can figure this shit out and become fucking exquisite without me making it rain with my Rolodex.

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I want the media to be filled with brilliant women's voices but I don't want to help them get their by using the same nepotistic tools that have entrenched so many in media to their roles. So this year, I am saying "No" to a lot more and instead using this blog to teach a wider audience what has and hasn't worked for me in various areas of writing. People can use these suggestions as they see fit and I hope this blog helps a lot of people find their pitches in the right hands so that one day, it's me asking them for a favor. I am going to scale back the number of writers that I mentor but continue to do so because they give me such joy and the world is better for having their work in it. But I'm also going to give them way more space to figure out where they want to write and what they want to write because frankly, my suggestions have probably been holding them back.

Stay tuned for my post on how to ask for favors from fellow writers and happy almost new year, don't get TOO wild.

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The Ones Who Sustain Me

I despair often at the privileged lives of men and all that they get away with in the world while women question our every move, feeling, or even our instinct. A common question women are told to ask themselves when they face a particular conundrum about whether to ask for a raise or publish something is, "What would a mediocre white man do?" The answer of course is that he would do the thing that would make a woman fear she is being nervous or callous or thoughtless. I ask myself this often when I move ahead with more audacious things. But as much as I have longed to move as freely in the world as men, I have never wanted to be one. Because if I was, I would not have the unique and life-giving honor of having the women who surround me when I feel alone and who find me when I am lost. Surely there are deep and profound friendships between men and women that I admire but I have found in my own life a particular strength in women in numbers. The willingness of my women to time and again come to my rescue, knowing the peculiar dissatisfaction of being born into a world not designed for us, a world that is  dismissive when it is not downright hostile to our interior lives.

I was very sad this week, hit by an unexpected and disorienting sadness I did not have the language or fortitude to face alone. My friend Charlotte was at the ready in my text messages to affirm that I was not crazy to be disenchanted by a world that looks one way then suddenly acts in another way. On a night of crying, my friends Natasha and Arianna showed up with wine and their own gentle spirits to drown out the nagging noise of despair in my head. Phoebe wrote nothing short of a manifesto on how I deserve  happiness and made plans for big wild futures together. Alana reiterated that I am beautiful, which sounds trite but since she knows my greatest fear is physical mediocrity, it meant the world to me. The Rachel from whom I haven't heard in some time saw that I was having a rough week and reached out from the ether, knowing there is never a wrong time to reemerge if your message is comfort and kindness.

Then there was the internet. Another brilliant Rachel wrote a 10K word story on selfies that has the unique quality of making me envious of for her talent but too hungry for it for me to ever hope that she stops. The following line proved the very point of its many male detractors, "Maybe they are lonesome and hungry for connection, projecting their own lack of community onto this woman’s solo show, believing her to be isolated rather than expansive." I know it was in reference to selfies but what are my own tearful confessions late in the night to friends but my self, transmitting out into the world to be known?

Then today I published a story about how I lost my faith in God but still have a craving for grace and though men and women alike shared it, their responses differed greatly. I mentioned the fact that I went to Divinity School in the piece and strangers, both men and women, with whom I had little connection reached out to comment kindly on it but only women said things like, "I wish we had been better friends back then." Simple messagess like that carry the memory of grace that I crave so much.  They sustain me.

In the essay, I wrote, "I take heart in the words of the poet and professor Johann Peter Lange, who wrote in 1868 that there is 'no fall so deep that grace cannot descend to it' and 'no height so lofty that grace cannot lift the sinner to it.' I cannot predict how time will treat either my face or my faith, but I can allow myself to hope that I will know again that splendid fear that God is present, to be descended to once again." And though I crave the unpredictability of God, I am more truly sustained in these times by the knowable love of my friends. I know how deep they'll reach to get me and just how high they'll lift me, gently to a height where I can see just how far I can go but not so high that I'm scared to fall.

I Look Like So Much Stuff: A Journey

When I learned that my favorite girl group alive, Little Mix, is releasing an album today called "Get Weird," I was at once stoked because I can't get enough of the adorable troop of crooning murderesses and disappointed in myself because I don't get weird nearly often enough. The early days of this blog  were all about posting bizarre shit that I dreamed up and since like, six people saw it, I didn't care how strange it was. Now I feel like all my writing here is about writing, the blog equivalent of eating chewed Skittles from the bottom of a popcorn bucket at the Kent on Coney Island. So below instead, is a visual adventure with my face and the various shit it looks like. My resemblance to other shit that wasn't me began early. By my third year on Earth it was plain as day that Little Critter and I were cut from the same cloth. We were short, we had  gigantic faces, and we were tormented by ennui and our own idiocy.

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But as I grew older, I discovered that the only quality I possessed more of than dissatisfaction was G-L-A-M-O-U-R. The resemblance to famed dead pageant super baby JonBenét Ramsey was plain as day, even though she is three years old in her picture and I am nine years old in mine. Yes, I was a pipsqueak of a person. Yes, I killed a baby polar bear to make the luxurious pelt in that photo. No, I'm not sorry.

Alana Massey as Jon Bonet

The years wore on. My golden locks gave way to chestnut waves. Alas, I became a stone cold fox as was my birthright seeing as that glorious sorceress from Arkansas gave me half of my genetic material. Gail, you minx.

Mom and Alana

But as grateful as I was for my mother's witchery, I longed for doubles in the world who were not just magical or dead. But what should they be instead? Oddly arousing maternal figures with a fuh-reak streak like Sally Field, that's what they should be!

Alana and Sally Field

But this too was not enough. I craved more. I wondered if I would ever amount to more than the critter of my youth. My prospects were bleak.

Confused-Critters

Change was needed. Drastic change. As the years etched onto my face and wore away the tissue of my heart, I longed to be a slutty baby once again. And a slutty baby needs blonde hair. And a white dress. And a style icon like the hellspawn Kewpie Doll you see here. A change was here.

Alana As Kewpie

Soon, I began to look like all manner of shit. I dare anyone to guess who is the emoji cookie and who is me in this photo. You won't, you can't.

alana massey emoji cookie

I also looked like the tough but fair older sister to that darling Sky Ferraira in an indie breakout for both of us. We'd have French names like Servanne and Garance and smoke cigs in bed together. Often.

Alana Massey and Skye FerrairaBut why have an indie breakout when you could have a string of indie darlings? Here I was conjuring Michelle Williams thinking about an abortion and Ryan Gosling while on public transport, though I assure you my thoughts were far more lurid.

Fall Look

Sometimes, I would take drugs and fall somewhere between Scarface-era Michelle Pfeiffer glam bitch and Requiem-era Ellen Burstyn, ranting always about being on the goddamn television.

Me and Ellyn and Michelle

I grew bored of my own predilections, smoking indoors like a rotten-cored swamp teen.britney smoking.

Alana Smoking Gif

In a fit of desperation to regain my former moxie, I strategically placed a designer handbag across myself in an attempt to regain the je ne sais quoi of The Lady Miss Williams. It was in vain. Emphasis on vain.

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I briefly turned to the Dark Arts. I excelled in them, as I do in all things. I cannot speak of what I learned or from whom I learned it.

Alana as Lucius Malfoy

As I was prepared to give up hope, I was greeted with a vision so thick with light and life that I was nearly blinded. This, surely, was my Road to Damascus.

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And I realized all along, that my vanity had shielded me from the love which was my destiny to embody as a double. To emulate profound love was my calling. And so I answered that call. And though to love is ultimately to lose, I was glad to bear the weight of it.

Pieta Alana Massey Collage