It Never Hurts to Ask By Joe Dungan

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As a relatively new freelance writer, all I can do is keep my eyes and ears open for new opportunities-and write, of course. Inspiration may have its own timetable, but information can be waiting to fall into your lap if you shake the right tree branch.

I was walking around the annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at UCLA in April when I came upon a booth staffed by the Writers Guild of America. They were selling back issues of their magazine, Written By, for a dollar each. Like a good freelancer, I bought a couple to take home and peruse, and idly chatted up an editor there.

“Are you looking for anything in particular right now?” I asked.

“Yes: stories about TV writers. We have too many stories about movie writers at this time.”

Certainly a nice tidbit that cannot be found in any writer’s resource book or website, but nothing I could act on at that moment. I tucked it away in the back of my mind and moved on.

Fast-forward a month. In May, the TV networks announced their fall schedules and the big story was the dearth of situation comedies. Gee, I thought to myself. I have a few sitcom writer friends. I wonder how they’re going to cope with this?

Then the bell went off. Remembering what the editor at Written By had said she was looking for, I pitched a story called “Whither Sitcom Writers.” It would spotlight seven sitcom writers of varying degrees of experience to see how the trend away from sitcoms is affecting them.

I took a calculated risk by pitching it on spec. It would be a huge article to do entirely on spec (over 3,000 words in the end), but not only was I confident in my abilities, I knew it would be a subject of interest to the editor. I was right. Not only did she want to see it, but after I finished it and e-mailed it to her, she e-mailed back with a generous offer. (Also, the old freelancer’s advice about always pitching photos paid off, too. Their photo editor called a few weeks later to say that his regular freelance photographer was unavailable and offered me a tidy sum to take pictures of the interview subjects.)

Now I enjoy a comfortable working relationship with a high-paying magazine, and it all began by making conversation with a receptive editor.

Joe Dungan is a freelance writer in Los Angeles, where he writes about a variety of topics for a variety of magazines. Most recently, he wrote an overview of video poker for Games Magazine.