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Do top tier mags just flush slush?

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Marc Joan

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A question for all you grizzled veterans of the writing trade; and apologies if this question has been asked and answered many times before, but I am still trying to work out how the Market works.

Q: Do top tier magazines, such as Tin House and The New Yorker, actually read the non-agented slush pile, or do they rely almost entirely on solicited stories from big name authors, and agent-led submissions on behalf of new authors, such that a new author without an agent has no chance?

I ask because a brief wander around Google turns up claims and counter-claims, with, on the one hand, disgruntled authors proposing that submitting (sans agent) to e.g. NY or TH is a waste of time, and--on the other hand--fiction editors from such journals somewhat shrilly claiming that they do, of course, read every item in the slush, and that what often happens is that a new author gets an agent during the story acceptance/editing period. I get the impression that the former claims have a touch of sour grapes, and that the latter are protesting too much, so I really don't know where the truth lies.

So, top tier mags--worth a shot, or waste of time? Anybody have any views on this?
 
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Alistair Roberts

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I don't write anything short enough for a magazine, but I should think the basic rules apply. Read what their website says, and if it doesn't exclude unsolicited material, and provided you have written something that they might use, then by all means give it a shot. The worst they can do is ignore you, but on the other hand, don't waste precious effort if it's likely they won't be interested.
 

AgentPete

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Historically, they tend to deal with a fairly small pool of contacts.

I’ve done a few top-tier magazine deals, mostly Stateside and mostly a few years ago when they were still paying sensible money, i.e. enough for an agent to make some reasonable commission on. My own route in was usually via contacts I already had in the book publishing business... e.g. an editor would quite frequently leave a publishing house to join a magazine, et voila, you have a magazine contact.

And that’s what it’s really all about – contacts. Depends how easily you can make them, and whether you enjoy the process.
 

Marc Joan

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Thanks all. So it looks like one is unlikely to get into a top tier magazine unless one has the appropriate contacts. Oh well, guess that's how the world works. Perhaps you can't blame them--they must be inundated with material, and having a piece recommended to them by someone whose opinion they trust will obviously count for something.....
 

AgentPete

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They also tend to be a lot more proactive than book publishers typically have been, i.e. story/feature ideas will often come from their editorial side. These then get farmed out to writers as appropriate.

I think the key is to study your market, i.e. the magazine itself, very closely. If you have a winning idea, that would really fit their profile like a glove, then pitch it hard. I once sold Tina Brown a story about a pig that had its own butler... I knew she’d love it, and she did. Turned into a feature story with illustrations by Ralph Steadman. That sort of strong idea is quite hard for a good editor to turn down, and would provide you with the vital door-opener.
 

Marc Joan

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They also tend to be a lot more proactive than book publishers typically have been....I think the key is to study your market, i.e. the magazine itself, very closely. If you have a winning idea, that would really fit their profile like a glove, then pitch it hard. .

That is very interesting; I hadn't considered that kind of approach. Thanks.
 
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