Wednesday, November 08, 2006

How to write for Slate Magazine

Warning: This essay is meant to be sarcastic and funny. Which didn’t make it in the top ten but is a close #11.

Slate is the online political and cultural magazine begun about ten years ago as a magazine that would only be produced for the web. In those ten years all but a few have been for free. I found Slate when I began my podcast listening over a year ago. I love the short podcast essays and the weekly political gabfest where three Slate editors discuss current events. I am a big fan. So big, in fact that I decided that I had to write for them. I dreamed of hearing Andy Bowers read my piece on the podcast as I listened in my car or on the john at work.

I went off and submitted articles to Slate and got every one rejected. Now what was I doing wrong? I thought. What is the secret to getting a byline on Slate? In retrospect I see that my writing just wasn’t Slate-worthy. It did not fit the guidelines. No, I didn’t find a secret web page with the secret handshake. No style guide telling me how exactly to dot my I’s and cross my T’s in such a way as to make the editors look at me as a “real Slate writer.”

All I did was listen.

After a few months of daily essays and news from Slate on my iPod I think I know a thing or two about what Slate looks for in a writer. Sorry, I know that you don’t need an iPod to listen to a podcast but I prefer one. And that leads me into my first of ten requirements to write for Slate:

#1. You must be cool.

Slate likes cool people. Not Fonzi cool, but just cool. People who are in the know or who get the joke. Sure Slate doesn’t necessarily make you listen to their podcasts on a slick new colorful iPod. But they prefer it. Just like they prefer you not drive a Hummer or live in a Mc Mansion. Even if you do drive a Hummer, live in a Mc Mansion and listen on some other portable MP3 device, they know that you know better. And it’s not even the cool where you can work in a 1970s or 1980s pop culture reference. It’s more obscure than that. Cool is very hard to define and means different things to different people. Let’s just call it “Slate Cool.” If you got it, you got it. If you don’t, well…

#2. Snark is key.

Andy Bowers has a great voice for podcasting. He makes you feel comfortable with the material. He reads every essay and conducts every interview as if he has a personal stake in it. You would never know Andy himself did not craft the words. Andy has snark down pat. Whenever I hear a snarky comment from him about the current administration or people who pick apples I know that he is enjoying the hell out of it. He’s shaking his head behind the microphone commiserating with the writer. Yes, we hate those guys too.

#3. Blame Bush.

If there’s a hangnail epidemic sweeping Europe, the safe bet is to blame Bush. If you can’t pin Bush then put the onus on Rumsfeld or better yet Karl Rove. I agree with this requirement. I blame the current administration for everything from white washing the actual “war on terror” to my teenager’s obnoxious attitude during dinner conversations. Try it, it works.

#4. If it’s a popular movement, go against the grain.

I’ve heard essays deriding everything from marathon racers to birthday gift giving. One of the editors at the political gabfest eschews birthday gift giving for a sort of library-esque book exchange program at her child’s birthday parties. So pick a subject that a lot of people do (like say jogging) and then be extremely snarky about it. (See #2)

#5 Be Jewish, but not too Jewish.

For example, don’t be like my Aunt Phyllis. She’s a real, New York City, grew-up-in-the-Bronx-during-the-1950s, pinch-your-cheeks, spouts Yiddish and talks about how much jewelry her neighbor wears, Jew. And don’t be militant-Jewish. Or Seinfeld-Jewish. There’s nothing wrong with those types of Jewish but that’s not exactly what they want. Be irreverently Jewish. If you’re not Jewish then be like Alan Alda. He’s not Jewish, but he comes across like he is. I’m Jewish like that, so I’m good there. At least I’m on the radar.

#6 Don’t be a Republican.

Whatever you do. Don’t be a Republican. Be fair and balanced, but just not that kind of fair and balanced. You know, the Fox News kind where you’re not really fair and balanced. Sure, the occasional Republican idea gets its time on the podcast but really, see #4. It’s really just to set the center a little straighter. And it’s not all Republicans, really. It’s more like the real right wing guys. The ones who send dirty text messages to teenage congressional pages. Those guys need not apply. Again, I happen to agree with this one so I’ve got the right party and religious affiliations down.

#7 Pick on celebrities. Especially when they really deserve it.

I think more news organizations need to follow this rule. Pick a celebrity who has screwed up royally and then write about it. This is a surefire way to get to the top of the slush pile. Slate loves celebrity faux pas. I do not mean that you need to write a snarky essay on how Jennifer Lopez wore the wrong haute couture dress on the red carpet. Leave that stuff for Joan Rivers. Slate deals with Mel Gibson-type screw-ups. Major, upsetting, scandalous ones that stray into the political arena. Like Tom Cruise soiling Oprah’s furniture or claiming that he knows more about psychotherapy than Matt Lauer. That stuff is just made for Slate. You may even get a follow up essay assigned to see how that celebrity has dealt with his initial screw-up.

#8 Be pre-trend.

If you can spot a trend before it gets out into the popular media then you’re guaranteed the podcast feature. If you have knowledge of a local trend that has all the markings of a honest-to-goodness, soon-to-be national, craze, then by all means write it up and send it to them. Like, if Bull Frog Stir Fry is the latest thing in Bismarck, North Dakota and all the college kids say BSFS in their IM messages as a euphemism for getting plastered which in itself is a euphemism for getting drunk, let Slate know about it. They eat that insider stuff up.

#9 Be literary.

A good idea in life too. Be as literary as possible when writing your stories. You have to either be well read or try to come across as well read in every essay. Being snarky helps others think that you are well read, even if you are not.

#10 Make lists.

This one escapes me. A large percentage of the essays read on Slate follow a list format. Slate Heart Lists.

4 comments:

The Phoenix said...

Alan Alda ISN'T Jewish????

Anonymous said...

Hi,
you have an interesting blog. WOuld you like to exchange link with me?

thanks
Simon

lilfeathers2000 said...

Stepping out on a politically incorrect limb
*:-.,_,.-:*'``'*:-.,_,.-:*'``'*:-.,_,.-:*
HAVE A GOD BLESSED
THANKSGIVING.
*:-.,_,.-:*'``'*:-.,_,.-:*'``'*:-.,_,.-:*

Jake said...

Good call!