“Okay, so, I was mad that I couldn’t buy any Dunkin’ Donuts merch, because I am extremely brand loyal, so I tweeted about it and didn’t think anything of it. Like, you always hope those tweets work, but they never do. And then weeks later, I was checking the email I have listed on my website, and I had an email from Hillary Dixler Canavan at Eater that said she did want to commission an essay about this (I think I actually saw her followup email and had missed her first one, so really she gets all the credit that this essay actually happened). Obviously I was really happy and she was a dream to work with.”
“When I was pondering this essay idea out loud on Twitter, editor Christina Orlando of Tor responded rather quickly. I’ve worked with them before doing book reviews, so it felt validating that they wanted to see this essay from me. (I did have another editor DM me shortly after to pitch this idea to her as well, which was nice). From there, Christina let me loose, then reined me in, helping me streamline the form of the essay, and condense the emotional core of what I was trying to say. They’re a brilliant editor that I always feel lucky to work with, especially on this piece!”
“I’d been tweeting about my response to Isaac Butler’s book, The Method, and how it got me thinking about teaching acting vs. teaching writing. A few days later, a friend DMed me Matt Ortile’s tweet looking for an essay about applying actors’ craft to fiction and nonfiction writing. It was kismet, honestly. I gathered my thoughts (and tweets) into a pitch and sent it the next day.”
Davon Loeb, @LoebDavon, author of “On the Confederate Flag” in Ploughshares:
“Twitter, as a literary platform, can be a place to share our writing, but can also be a network for exploring opportunities for our work. @pshares tweeted a call for essays and I immediately sent Ellen Duffer, the managing editor of Ploughshares, my pitch and essay, ‘On the Confederate Flag.’ What’s sorta crazy is I sent the pitch, received a response from Ellen, sent her the essay, and got an acceptance all in the same day.”
“I’d written an essay on plants and my SSRI experience, mostly to make sense of it in my head. I’d pitched it one or two places, but the general response was that plants were a little overdone (this was during the pandemic plant boom). So I shelved it until I saw Matt Ortile’s tweet: i’m tempted to ask you all for plant essays but i don’t want to open that can of worms. Which, based on the other feedback I’d gotten, seems fair! But I thought I’d shoot my shot anyway.
This is how essays in general often work for me. The process of writing is mostly connecting elements that are floating in the ether. Twitter is an extension of that. I see a pitch call that is connected to something I’ve been thinking about, and it’s the last piece, either a unifying theme or an audience I hadn’t thought about, or in the case of the plant piece, a specific topic that matched something I already had.”
Establish Your Expertise and Editors Will Remember You
“The editor of that essay—Jesse Hirsch at The Counter—and I had followed each other on Twitter for a while, and we’d conversed there once or twice, but had never worked together. I like diners and often tweet about them and their role in American culture. After one of my diner appreciation threads in summer 2019, Jesse reached out via DM and suggested I pitch him something on the topic. It took me a year to circle back with fully-formed pitch, which I initially sent via DM before a longer version via email. Jesse and his colleagues commissioned the piece, which was a deep dive into the history, tropes, and shortcomings of diner-based political reporting.”
Back in 2018 and 2019, I was doing a lot of gay live tweets of old millennial faves like The Lord of the Rings and 10 Things I Hate About You. I was absolutely obsessed with the Charlie’s Angels movies as a teen, so eventually I got around to re-watching them, too, and fell back down the rabbit hole of obsession. The live tweets, which I was doing about once a month, generated a lot of conversation with other queers on Twitter, and they were really community building. They were also just fucking fun—folks would end up watching the movies with me, and they created space for these really lovely conversations with other queer folks processing our nostalgia for sometimes problematic faves.
A few months after the fact, an editor who was then at Refinery29 reached out to me because they were wanting to do some coverage on those movies and the new Kristen Stewart reboot, and thought of me. Which is what staying active on Twitter with your random shit is helpful for—editors think of you for your weird topical interests.
“I got an email from Katy Brooks at Vulture a couple weeks before Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings came out, telling me that her colleague Alison Willmore, a brilliant film critic I really like, recommended that she reach out to me about writing a tribute for Tony Leung and the way he cornered the market on bedroom eyes. I vaguely remembered tweeting something about this, and I asked Alison about how it all went down. She said she’s always wanted me to write something for Vulture, and during a brainstorm meeting, remembered my tweet, and suggested that Katy reach out to me about it. This ended up being one of my favorite assignments ever, and all from a little bit of shameless public thirsting.”
The process of writing is mostly connecting elements that are floating in the ether. Twitter is an extension of that.
Earnestly Engage With Others and Your Replies Could Spark Ideas
“A few years ago, a journalist tweeted that coffee brewed at home was better than coffee bought out. It reminded me of a complaint I’d heard from my father, who spent his career at Maxwell House, about being held accountable for the quality of a product other people ultimately produce. Replying to the tweet with his words launched a reflection on the idea of excellence and how it had played out in my life as student and teacher, culminating in my Catapult essay, ‘My Father Taught Me to Pursue Excellence. Coffee Taught Me About Satisfaction.’ (A reply to my reply scoffed at the idea that Maxwell House could be considered coffee—an attitude that I wove into the essay.)”
“I wrote this piece because I was watching CNN International cover the influx of Ukrainian refugees in Poland, with incredible pathos, while I sat at home in Burundi, where we were hearing about African students facing discrimination as they tried to flee the border. I tweeted about the issue in real time—I tweeted at CNN and the reporter, asking if they would add that feature to their coverage. The sister of one student engaged in that dialogue, and it went mini-viral. But it didn’t enter the mainstream US media narrative.
I’ve seen more subtle forms of discrimination at work in humanitarian reporting in Europe before (and globally, during Covid). I didn’t see the erasure in Ukraine as merely an outrage; I saw a pattern, one I knew from working inside of it. So I wrote up an op-ed and sent it to the folks I know at the places you’d think of, and everyone politely (and quickly—thank you!) demurred.
So I decided to share it with my comrade-in-arms, Eryn Loeb, who is the best editor I’ve ever seen at work, and ask if she thought it was a fit for Guernica, where I’m the editor in chief. That takeaway here, maybe, is that as a freelancer, every piece is a new roll of the dice, even with editors/outlets you know. The most important thing you can do is just keep going.
Two other lessons from this: The version I gave Eryn was better than what I shopped, because I felt more permission, in writing for ‘my own’ outlet, to bring my voice, in the first person, into clearer focus. And Eryn made it better. So, lesson one, write for the place you can imagine will really allow you to say what you have to say, which isn’t always the most allegedly influential. And every editor, even the editor in chief, needs an editor.”