I blame Sex and the City.
Well, that’s a little too vague, since there’s a lot you can blame on Sex and the City: vapid consumerism masquerading as feminism, everyone wanting to be Samantha, the Sex and the City movie and, oh dear god help us, the second Sex and the City movie.
I’m actually talking about columnists. Specifically, that so many people want to be one.
Editing a gay magazine and all, I get a number of inquiries every year from writers pitching weekly columns, and 75 percent of them mention THAT SHOW directly or indirectly (the latter is generally easy to tease out from “a weekly column about my life in the big city and nightclubs and fashion and sex”). I’ve been getting a lot more than usual lately. Not being a fan of the show -- hey, I didn’t like Queer as Folk and I don’t like Glee either, so shoot me -- it’s not the surest-fire way to get my attention.
It doesn’t help that I already wrote that kind of weekly column myself, back in the mid-90s, years before THAT SHOW ever appeared (he says with his nose held aloft). I wrote enough of them that I have a collection of them coming out shortly that I’m sure I’ve mentioned a few times before.
So, you know, it’s been done.
That doesn’t mean it can’t be done again. I’m actually not trying to stomp on creativity, drive and spunk. Well, maybe the spunk in this case, but the creativity and drive I’m all for. The problem is that I generally receive these pitches from writers who’ve never actually written a regular column -- or, often, any a column at all.
When I started writing the “Back Room,” it was essentially a one-off -- I wrote a column that I managed to sell to a small, local start-up mag. It was well-received, so I ended up writing a few more in the same tawdry, twenty-something gay way I had at the time, and those went well. I’d also sold some other writing to other magazines and had some full-time experience working as a journalist.
In short, I knew what I was doing and I was willing to prove that I knew what I was doing by, you know, doing it a few times in a row. Next thing I knew, I had a weekly columnist spot.
The point being that I love seeing new writers do good work and get published -- I really love helping them break into print at my own magazine, when possible -- but I want to encourage a lot of those writers to maybe scale back their pitch a bit. Don’t send me an e-mail telling me you have a great idea for a weekly column when you’ve never actually written or published one. Write a column -- and make it the best damn column you possibly can. Make it funny, make it maudlin, make it serious, make it provocative -- but make it good.
If you can do it once, you may convince me or another editor that you can do it again.
So, go do it again.