Why It’s Better to Write About Money, Not for Money

From Jane Friedman:

My neighbor and I were slouched on my couch, watching The Holiday and eating under-baked brownies from the pan, when the email came that changed my life.

For seven years, on and off, I’d been pitching national publications, hoping they would accept my essays and journalism. Local publications gave me no trouble. I enjoyed great relationships with my small city’s newspapers, websites and magazines, but I never could get the far-flung big guys to take a pitch. Instead, the fancy editors always ignored my emails. I couldn’t even get rejected.

Understanding the problem did not help. There’s an ancient catch-22 that says: You can’t write for large, popular, national publications until you’ve written for large, popular, national publications. It’s like when you’re applying for your first job. You need the job to get experience, but can’t get the job without experience.

I could see no way out of the bind, so I just kept on pitching into the void, growing more disappointed and bitter by the week. If only I’d gone to an Ivy League school, or had the cash to move to New York after college! If only I’d had well-connected alcoholic socialites for parents! I was sure my writing life would be different. Easier. Cooler. The opposite of desperate and doomed.

And then, in 2015, seven years into my pitching efforts, I dashed off an essay for a tiny personal-finance website about, of all things, my mortgage payment. My husband and I had recently bought a modest house in our hometown, and the monthly payments were low, running to just $624, or 58 percent less than what was then the median U.S. mortgage payment of $1,477.

My essay’s title was simple, classic clickbait: “Tradeoff: The True Story of My $624 Mortgage Payment.”

The day it came out, Yahoo! picked up and ran the story, too, which I learned when coworkers began forwarding me the link. And that night, while my neighbor and I were complaining about Kate Winslet getting stuck with Jack Black, my inbox pinged. A senior editor at New York Magazine had emailed me. She’d seen the mortgage piece.

“Pitch me,” she said.

Wordlessly, I handed over my phone so my friend could read the email, and the next moment, we were flying off the couch, stomping and whooping like football players doing an endzone dance.

The next morning, I shot the editor a pitch—for another internet-friendly essay about money because, by this point, I’d gotten religion. She accepted the idea, and about a month later, I got my first big byline. Then I used that byline to get my next byline, to get my next byline, until I had enough bylines that I was able to sell my first book to a Big Five publisher. And to think it all started with an essay about my mortgage. Oh, the glamour of it all.

The internet has changed since 2015, but the great human interests have not.

What allures people, what do they want to read about? Money, sex and death, but especially money. So when you write about money, you put the odds of a breakout on your side. It was true centuries ago and it’s still true now.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman