Writers’ Guidelines

Freelancing for Washingtonian

Washingtonian is the city magazine for the DC area. As such, it’s part of a vanishing breed: A general-interest magazine. Our journalism includes pieces about politics, arts, and technology, but also about dining, health, and parenting. We publish long, deeply reported profiles, true-crime yarns, and pieces of narrative journalism. But we also run trend pieces, photo essays, column-length arguments and comprehensive lists. The one common denominator is that our stories are about the place we live—how Washington works, or how to get the most out of Washington.

As a magazine with a relatively small staff, we publish a lot of work by freelancers. Many of these stories are by people who have longstanding relationships with editors here. But some of them originate with pitches that come in out of the blue. Here are some ways to make those pitches sing:

DO: Read the magazine and the site. It will give you a good sense of the variety of stories we publish—and the sorts of stories that don’t fit.

DON’T: Assume “Washington” journalism means political journalism. Politics and government are a leading industry of our city, but we don’t write about them the way a national publication might. An article about the fate of a particular piece of legislation or an opinion piece about the merits of a particular judicial nomination may be set locally, but they’re not our stories. On the other hand, pieces about people (including political-world people) that shape the way life and work happen in our city are very much our stories.

DO: Be brief. Explain what you want to write, why it will be something readers want to read, and why you’re the person who should write it. Make it clear that you’ve already done some reporting on the piece. But going on too long, or including a whole draft, will make editors’ eyes glaze over.

DON’T: Pitch topics rather than stories. “I want to write about pediatric cancer,” is not useful. “I have a story about a kid with cancer and this surprising thing that happened to the kid,” is a story. We tend to avoid stories that simply announce that something exists: Readers need a reason to turn the page, and that reason usually involves action, drama, conflict, or tension—the stuff of storytelling.

DO: Some research on what has already been written on the subject you’re pitching. There are few things more annoying to editors than reading a pitch, getting excited, and then finding out that Vanity Fair published a similar story three years ago. (If it does turns out that someone has published a similar subject, all is not lost—but you do need to explain why your piece is different, and still necessary.)

DON’T: Pitch reported pieces about things you’re personally involved with. It ought to go without saying, but you’d be surprised how many people propose profiling a doctor who treated them, or writing about the wretchedness of some developer whose project threatens the writer’s house. (Personal essays are different.)

DO: Send along some examples of things you’ve written.

DON’T: Sweat too much about credentials. There are plenty of people with long newspaper resumes who can’t write a magazine story, and plenty of lapsed lawyers or frustrated professors whose words and thoughts can become something beautiful.

Here’s who to contact:

Longform/feature stories: Patrick Hruby, deputy editor.

Home/design stories: Mimi Montgomery, home and features editor.

Service stories: Daniella Byck, lifestyle editor.

Front-of-book or culture stories: Rob Brunner, politics and culture editor.

Personal essays: Bill O’Sullivan, senior managing editor.