Rob Moor, a writer who started in the New York media scrum told me there are around three proven paths for doing the big-time non-fiction longreads (ignore this if you’re happy being a beat reporter; in fact, everything from this point on doesn’t matter for you): Work from the bottom to the top at an organisation; bypass the whole system by building a rep with the zeitgeisty small literary magazines everyone reads; build your rep as a fiction writer instead.
- Working from the bottom is fraught with its own dangers: Many an aspiring writer has found themselves mired within the fact-checking corps with no way out; many have been oppressed by institutional bullshittery; others realise they can’t work two other jobs to sustain being a junior in media for the five years it may take them to get a decent salary.
- Some people get noticed by writing important pieces that only the literary community cares about. The first thing, though, is to figure out which magazines will launch you: Anyone can start an online magazine these days, but which ones are founded by those with quiet connections already (aka run by people already working at lower levels of the elite publications)? Which ones are other cult-ish writers jumping into? Who are they friends with? You can figure this all by watching Twitter: The young Londoners aspiring to be Guardian columnists; an older set shaping the literary conversation, somehow linked by Berlin; those enjoined by an interest in Web3. Figure out which writers are good at jumping onto the next big thing and watch who they’re promoting: You want to get in when the going’s good; for example, while it’s still a good thing to be published in n+1, that byline won’t do as much for you as it did for the writers in its first ten issues. The trouble with this method is that it is never clear whose piece will be picked up by The Conversation, and all of this will be done for barely any money — if any at all.
- If you get fiction cred, editors at the top magazines may come knocking (I’m not entirely sure how this works yet) and offer you the best rates — $2 or more a word. One of my favourite writers, Jennifer Egan, has built a strong journalism portfolio off the back of her fiction. I was also told once by an editor that she liked commissioning fiction writers because they could write good dialogue and description, which I thought was bull, but was an unconnected source to the writer who gave me this advice, so that made me feel this has merit.