An inside look into the wonderful world of automotive journalism.
I’m sure that many of you are familiar with or are members of LinkedIn. If you are not a LinkedIn member, DO IT! You never know what kind of connections you make. Thanks to LinkedIn I connected with a man that was familiar with my art work, and happened to be the “New Acquisitions Editor” at CarTech Books. Thanks to my LinkedIn connection with Scott Parkhurst, I was able to get a publisher for my “Illustrated Corvette Series” book. That made me a LinkedIn Believer!
As a LinkedIn member, you can join all kinds of special interest groups. One group I’m part of is the “Automotive Journalists” group. A young fellow named David posted the following question to the group. “Any advice for someone who wants to pursue automotive journalism some day?” I wrote an answer based on my experience, but it turned out that my answer was WAY over the character count limit. So, I decided to just turn it into a post here at CorvetteReport.com. If you’ve ever wondered what the magazine biz is like, below is my advice to a young car dude with the itch to be in the car mags. – Scott
I drifted into automotive journalism through the art department. I was one of those kids that was always drawing cars in school and in my free time. I was always pouring over art in Hot Rod, Motor Trend, Road & Track, and other magazines, hoping that some day, if I practiced enough, my drawings would be good enough for publication. My first published illustration was a 2-page spread in a drag racing magazine in 1975 of what I speculated Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins’ Pro Stock Chevy Monza “might” look like. I think I was paid $150, which was enough to cover my rent for a month! That was IT, I was hooked!
Since then I have been a contributing artist and writer for about a dozen car magazines and currently a columnist with VETTE Magazine, a Corvette publication. My column, “The Illustrated Corvette Series” is almost 15 years old and has no end in sight. I’ve had around 10 “series” that I’ve done over the years for other publications, with the VETTE column lasting the longest.
In the last 35 years I’ve never been an employee of any publication, but always a “Contributing Artist” or “Contributing Editor.” And have seen drastic changes in the arena of car magazines! VETTE Magazine has been bought and sold many times and I’ve had LOTS of editors. What started out as a magazine published by a few guys is now part of a HUGE corporation that does dozens and dozens of magazines. And, to apply for a job, they require a minimum of an English or Journalism degree. Since I don’t have a degree in anything but “Life 101,” I couldn’t even get hired by the magazine I’ve been a contributor for since 1976. That’s just the way it is.
Years ago, the “editor” was just about the King of the magazine. Today, they are more like brand managers that take their marching orders from their boss, who takes his marching orders from his boss, etc. Things used to be MUCH simpler. Having explained all that, here’s what I’d suggest.
Identify your area of interest – muscle cars, dirt track racing, European cars, whatever. Then read, research, and study that arena until you are at “expert” level. No one knows everything, but if you know 80% of your field and are a good researcher, you’ve got it.
Find publications that specialize in your area of interest and inquire if they take outside submissions. Some publications are no longer taking outside submissions as a way to reduce their costs. Contact them and ask.
If you find a magazine that takes contributions, pitch your story idea as best you can. If you’re new or don’t have much experience just get your name out there and do your best with your submissions. After you complete your articles, you will be sending an article package to your editor. Make sure your stories are written within the parameters of the magazine. Make sure your writing has no spelling errors, the syntax is clear, and the story flows with a beginning, middle, end, and a nice closing. Being a good or passable story teller will be a HUGE asset. If you’re including photos, make sure they are of good quality and write suggested captions. You want to make sure that what you send your editor is complete and easy for them to put into the magazine.
Do your best to establish a good working relationship with your editors and don’t burn any bridges. Editors often change magazines, so if you burn an editor by being late, or difficult, or handing over shoddy work, they WILL remember you. DON’T let that happen. People who are in positions where they can hire someone, like hiring people they have already worked with. So if your ultimate goal is full-time employment, make sure you are an asset and not just an ass. It will also make you look good if while you are actively looking for a full-time job position with a magazine, you are also freelancing and have published pieces to your credit. It shows that you know what you are doing and are not just someone that “really likes cars.”
And now that blogging is so easy and with platforms, such as WordPress, start your own blog site for your area of interest and blog your heart out! WordPress blog sites can be built so that they don’t even look like a “blog” and look more like a regular website with lots of articles. That’s what I’ve done with CorvetteReport.com and BaldwinMotionReport.com. But keep in mind that when you start a blog site, it’s “bootstrapping” to the max! In other words, starting at the bottom with only your friends and family knowing about your blog. It takes time for these things to start to get traction.
This might sound like a big stretch, but aim for doing a blog post every day. YIKES! Every day? Write a piece every day? Yes! Not only will you get better and better every day, but you’ll be adding to your catalog of stories in your area of interest. If you post every day and Tweet and Facebook, etc, it won’t take long, maybe a few months, and you’ll start to develop a following. And when your posts get picked up by larger site, you’ll really take off. You can add affiliate programs and AdSense, but these things require LOTS of traffic to pay off. They’re easy to put on to your site and once on, never have to be fooled with, and they cam make your site look good. But keep at it, and you’ll get there.
Once your blog is getting a good flow of traffic, you can start charging for advertising. To make money at blogging, it’s like building a magazine in reverse. For a paper magazine, if you are willing to pay to have say, 100,000 paper magazines published and distributed, you can use that number as a start for selling ads. “Our CarGuy Magazine is distributed to 100,000 readers.” But since you can’t buy 100,000 visitors with a blog, you have to work your way up to that – “bootstrapping” is what that’s called.
It’s NOT easy, but if you keep at it, you will get there. A blog site could either be a means to an end (called getting hired by, say Car & Driver) or to becoming the #1 dirt track history (or whatever) blog site on the net. Whatever direction you go, make sure you are immersed in an arena of interest that you have PASSION and AFFECTION for. Your “passion” will push you forward. Your “affection” will carry you along for times when the subject is a little boring or stale. Believe me, for even Playboy photographers, there are days when it’s “just a job.” I used to be a toy designer for Tyco Toys, Matchbox, and Mattel – after a while there were times when it was tedious and boring. Not at all like the Tom Hanks movie, “BIG.”
That’s my experience and a few suggestions. K. Scott Teeters