Transcripts

10/24/02 TRANSCRIPT

REALTIME INTERVIEW WITH BILL PIPPIN

REGIONAL AND OUTDOOR WRITING

The Moderator is me, Mary Rosenblum, your web editor, and author of both Science Fiction and Mystery novels and short stories, as well as mainstream and nonfiction works.

Bill Pippin is my guest, and the Names in red belong to members of the audience

Bill Pippin's essays and articles have appeared in 'Newsweek', 'Reader's Digest', 'Field and Stream', 'Fur-Fish-Game', 'New Mexico Magazine', 'Blue Ridge Country Magazine', 'Philadelphia Magazine', 'Delaware Today', 'Colorado magazine', 'Writers Digest', 'Writer's Yearbook', and many other publications. His historical book 'Wood Hick, Pig's Ear and Murphy' is now in its second printing.

Moderator Hi, all. We'll be beginning here in just a moment, with our interview with Bill Pippin, Outdoor and Regional writer. Welcome all of you.

:01:12 02 Moderator This is our Professional Connection Live Interview with Bill Pippin, writer for Outdoor and Regional Magazines. Welcome, Bill. We're delighted to see you here.

Bill Pippin I'm happy to be here, Mary.

Moderator: So, Bill, where did you get your start in this business, and when?

Bill Pippin I started writing stories in my teens and sending them out to magazines. I was lucky to sell my first story when I was 19 a blood and guts Western called ‘I'll Live to Kill You, Ward Moolin.’ It sold for $75 to a magazine called ‘Savage.’ Of course, I thought fame was just around the corner, but it was about 2 years before I had my second sale.

Moderator Wow, 19! I'm impressed! So was 'Savage' one of the classic Western Pulps?

Bill Pippin No, it was really somewhat lurid historical magazine that didn't publish fiction. My story was published as nonfiction which I guess is sort of a backhanded compliment.

Moderator: What an interesting start! And one that most of us would have given our eyeteeth for! <grin> So when did you turn to nonfiction writing?

Bill Pippin : Years later, when I was about 30 newspaper columnist in Wilmington Delaware wrote about me because I'd used several of his columns as the basis of some stories I wrote for Modern Romances. The editor of Delaware Today read the column and called me to ask If I'd like to write an article on the Delaware football team, which had been number 1 in small college teams the year before. Of course I jumped at the chance.

Moderator: So do you prefer fiction or nonfiction?

Bill Pippin : I like writing both, but for me nonfiction is more salable.

paulplqn: Bill, has writing been your only profession?

Bill Pippin Oh no. I had to work at real jobs for years to support my habit. I was a salesman, worked in a textile plant, managed retail stores, and even sold vacuum cleaners at one time. All of which was great experience for a writer.

paulplqn In a way, that's comforting... and realistic!

Moderator You're right, Paulplqn. What’s the adage -- don't quit your day job? the experience is good.

Bill Pippin Well, I also did that more than once and came close to losing everything I had, but each time I quit a day job I was able to move a little further in the direction of becoming a full-time writer.

paulplqn: What kind of nonfiction do you prefer?

Bill Pippin I enjoy writing personal experience essays most. Creative nonfiction.

Moderator: So, Bill, what are the best magazines to begin with, as an unpublished writer?

Bill Pippin I think one of the best places to start today is with Regional magazines. The writer can write about what he or she knows and the material is in the writer’s own backyard.

imhopeful How did you find your niche? I like so many areas.

Bill Pippin: That's my problem, too, imhopeful...I'm a generalist. I read a lot and try to keep abreast of what magazines are publishing. I find a topic that interests me and seems to fit a specific magazine.

Moderator: What sort of articles or essays does a Regional magazine want?

Bill Pippin Basically they want articles and essays that are on subjects in the region where the magazine is sold. It may be a state or several states.

chatty lady: This may be a dumb question but what’s the difference between an essay and short story?

Bill Pippin: An essay is a personalized article that tries to make a specific point, while an article is more information oriented. A short story is a story that's made up.

paulplqn: Do you research magazines (markets) at the library, or through the sample copies we buy on the newsstand or from the publisher?

Bill Pippin: All three. I subscribe to about 10 magazines and I also buy magazines at the newsstand if I see a new one that looks interesting. The cost is tax deductible.

Moderator: Do you feel that a new writer can gain enough insight into a magazine by reading a single sample copy, or should that writer check out two or three issues?

Bill Pippin: The more issues you read the better able you'll be to slant your work toward that particular magazine. But you should always read at least one, to try and determine the personality of the magazine, which is really the personality of the editorial staff.

mbvoelker: Where do you find regional magazines? Except for Yankee, when I was living in New England, and a little freebie thing called "Delmarva Parent" here in southern Delaware I've never even seen a regional magazine. Not in the library and not on the magazine racks at convenience stores etc. (Newsstands are not a common feature of rural life).

Bill Pippin: There are a plethora of Regional magazines out there. Some are sold on the newstand, some are not, but almost every state has at least one...some states have several. Take a look in Writer's Market and you'll find a pages and pages of Regional magazines.

imhopeful : Is there a trick to getting published in the slicks?

Bill Pippin : No. Getting published in the slicks requires knowledge of what the magazine publishes, then good writing, then sheer persistence. Many writers give up too easily, like after the first or second rejection, but the more you send to a magazine the better are your chances, and if you happen to receive a handwritten rejection, your chances are quite good.

Moderator: But clips matter, don't they? How likely are you to sell to Sunset, for example, as an unpublished writer?

Bill Pippin: Absolutely. They tell the editor that you're already a professional, but if you send the editor of Sunset a professionally written query letter on a subject that grabs his or her interest, the clips diminish in importance.

paulplqn: Are editors prone to offering helpful hints, besides "Thanks but no thanks?"

Bill Pippin Unfortunately, no. It used to be different back in the '50s and '60s, but today's editors are so busy and perhaps so business oriented that they're not as likely to go our of their way to comment constructively on a piece of writing. Unless they see something that's truly promising but just needs some more work to take it in the direction that they want it to go.

chatty lady: My problem is rewrites. When is enough enough??

Bill Pippin: Essentially, good writing is rewriting. There's no other way. But you can also revise the life out of a story--I've done that once or twice. What I do if I feel like I'm revising too much is put the piece aside for weeks, maybe even a month or two, then come back to it with a fresh and I'm generally able to see if it's been over-revised, and I can fix it. It's a little like starting over, but sometimes that's the best thing to do.

Moderator: Do most editors want query letters these days, or can you send entire ms?

Bill Pippin If you've written an essay, editors like to see the entire manuscript just as they like to see a short story, because writing style and attitude play such a big part in both types of writing. But if you have an article in mind it's best to send a 1-page query letter that summarizes the essence of the article. Some editors won't look at anything but a query letter when it comes to articles.

Moderator: What grabs an editor's attention when there's a stack of query letters on her desk?

Bill Pippin The first sentence. Learn to write a first sentence for your article then use it in your query letter, a first sentence that knocks the socks off the editor and then you're halfway home--maybe even closer. It's amazing how many query letter are written in dull lifeless prose because the writers don't think it matters, that they'll get down to the real business of writing after they get an acceptance on that lackluster query letter. But the query letter needs to be written just as well as the article itself, especially that first sentence.

paulplqn: How much of your "typical" day is devoted to writing or writing related activities?

Bill Pippin On a typical day I write anywhere from 2 to 6 hours. Then I read for another 1-3 hours. You can't be a writer if you're not a reader.

paulplqn: How important is the Internet to your research, for both articles and markets?

Bill Pippin I don't use the internet as much as most younger writers, I'm sure, simply because it's a new tool for me and I'm used to going to the library, using my own library, or contacting authoritative sources for necessary information but I find I'm using the internet more and more these days even though I’m not always sure I can trust the information I find there.

jim: I'm intrigued by your historical title 'Wood Hick, Pig Ear, and Murphy'. It gives me no clue about which historical period. Is it fiction or non-fiction.

Bill Pippin It's a nonfiction narrative history of a railroad/logging town in northern PA. The town is Galeton, in Potter County, and it was the wild west back in the 1800s... Wood hick is the disparaging term that was used by locals to describe the loggers who came down from New England in the late 1800s to harvest the white pine and hemlock. Pig's Ear is a slang term for the illegal bars that sprang up during the boom eras. They were called speakeasies in the 's. Potter County was dry and the only legal booze sold was a hogshead of beer. So when illegal establishments sold a glass of rotgut whiskey it became known as a pigs-ear and the name was carried over to the establishment itself. Murphy was a wood hick who died of apparent pneumonia in the Galeton's old Edgcomb Hotel. No one could identify him and no one claimed the body. This was 1912 and it was legal for a funeral home to embalm a body and use it for their own devices. So Earl White embalmed the unknown wood hick's body and because he looked Irish, named him Murphy, then stood him in the corner of his funeral home dressed in a tuxedo. holding a newspaper, with an embalmed bulldog at his side. When the town of Galeton burned to the ground 3 years later, Murphy was the only casualty.

paulplqn: Did they last into the early 1900"s? My great grandfather was a logger who traveled around the country to jobs for weeks at a time. What a great story. How did you find out about this?

Bill Pippin: First they cut the white pine, which was gone by the early 1890s, then they cut the hemlock, which was gone by about 1910, then they cut all the scrub hardwood and used it to make powder for WW II. By 1918 or so the hills of northern PA were bare. What grew back in place of the white pine and hemlock were oak and maple trees.

Moderator: Bill, that sounds great! It's on my 'to read' list and I've just moved it up to the top! So can people find it on Amazon.Com? The major bookstore chains?

Bill Pippin: No. It's a Regional book and the major booksellers don't carry it, but it can be purchased through the Galeton Chamber of Commerce in Galeton, PA. It has also several hundred vintage photographs from the era. And of course it's in the Penn State Library. It's become sort of a cult classic and can be acquired from many used booksellers on the WEB, although they charge a premium, especially for the First Edition.

imhopeful: Regarding book publishers-is small and local a good bet for 1st books?

Bill Pippin Absolutely. Especially if the subject of the book relates to the history of the region.

imhopeful: How did you get friends and family to take you seriously when you started to write?

Bill Pippin: That wasn't a concern of mine. One attribute (?) of most writers is a strong ego and I always believed I would be a writer. Most people and family were indifferent -- of course until I sold my first story. Even then they thought it was a fluke, but I never bothered to concern myself with what others though about me being a writer or not. I knew I was a writer. It was like a drug and I had to have my fix.

paulplqn: My great grandfather was French Canadian & traveled from southern Massachusetts. He'd check the lots to see how many board feet there were.

Bill Pippin : Yes. It was a dangerous job too. There were some terrible accidents working with the lumber, from start to finish.

Moderator: So, back to the topic of writing for Regional magazines, what about photos? Should a writer include them? Offer them?

Bill Pippin If a writer can also take quality photographs, his worth goes up substantially and his chances of selling a piece do too. I have taken photos at times for my articles, but I prefer not to, simply because the pleasure for me is in writing a good story and I want to focus all my concentration and energy on that. The editors of Regional magazines understand this and they use freelance photographers who live in the general area of the subject matter.

Moderator: Would photos substantially help a new writer with no published clips? If he was a good photographer, that is?

Bill Pippin: Absolutely. He might send a few of the photos along with a well-written query and if the editor liked the shots he'd be more inclined to give that writer an assignment.

Moderator: Do the publishers accept digital photos these days? How should someone send the actual photo?

Bill Pippin: Some do and I'm sure more will as time passes. If you're submitting your query by e-mail, then you can attach digital photos. If you're submitting by snail mail then you can send color or black and white prints.

franklin: What is the preferred format for photos... slides, color prints, digital??

Bill Pippin: The preferred format has been slides, but I'm sure that is now changing the growing popularity and quality of digital photography.

janp: Would it be valuable to have reprints of original pictures that appeared over 100 years ago, relevant to the story?

Bill Pippin Sure. Especially if those reprints are good quality. A magazine like American Heritage uses a lot of vintage photography.

mbvoelker: Are there regional opportunities other than local history?

Bill Pippin Definitely. You might be able to sell a profile of a local person who's made some significant contribution to a particular region. Also popular are articles about attractive tourist sites in a state or region. The subject matter is really almost unlimited. If it's a subject that's of interest to people in that region then it's likely to be of interest to the editor of the Regional Magazine.

Moderator: I have a money question. If you travel or stay overnight in order to research articles like this, can you write off the expenses on your taxes?

Bill Pippin Yes. You should also try to negotiate with the magazine editor at the time you get the assignment to see if he or she will pick up all or part of the tab for your expenses. Many magazines will--especially if the assignment involves overnight travel.

Moderator: Once you've become a regular contributor to a magazine will the editor assign you articles, or will you always be the one to propose a piece?

Bill Pippin: After an editor has sold several pieces to an editor, it's very likely that writer will get a call or e-mail one day offering an assignment that the editor feels is right up that particular writer's alley. But it's a good idea to keep a good number of ideas on the editor's desk on an ongoing basis. The editor's toughest job just like the writer's, is to come up with fresh subject matter. So if you can deliver on a regular basis you'll become a hero to that editor--and also get a raise.

Moderator: Makes sense. So what is the pay rate like for these magazines?

Bill Pippin: It's the same as for the major magazines. Some pay as little as 25-cents a word but many pay as much as a dollar a word--even higher. If you add the extra money for photography, the final figure can be pretty nice.

Moderator: Sigh. As a fiction writer, who's lucky if I do better than 5 cents a word, I'm rethinking me genre preferences! What rights do they buy?

Bill Pippin Most Regional magazines will buy first rights or first North American serial rights which means after the piece is published the rights revert to you and you can then sell the reprint rights. If a magazine wants to but all rights, then you may want to negotiate with them. It all depends on how important that sale is to you.

jim: Just a note. The person you choose to write about doesn't need to be important. I wrote an article about the custodian of the county dump, who spent his day making decorative 'tin men' from tin cans.

Bill Pippin You're so right. And I didn't say the person had to be important. Mainly he or she has to be interesting.

Moderator: So once you've negotiated your fee with the publisher, are you paid on acceptance or on publication?

Bill Pippin Most Regional magazines pay on acceptance--within 30 days.

Moderator: And do you get a look prepublication galleys or page proofs?

Bill Pippin Some do, some don't. That is sometimes a sore point with me because I've had words changed by incompetent copy editors that were downright wrong, but for the most part the editing is pretty good.

Moderator: Is there anything you can do if a copyeditor makes a mistake?

Bill Pippin: I always compare my original draft with the published article as soon as I can, then if I find something that's problematic I contact the editor I worked with and let them know in a businesslike way why the editing harmed the piece. I don't whine or nitpick, understand--it has to be a clear-cut case in my favor. Then all you can hope for is that by letting the editor know about your displeasure he or she will be extra vigilant next time. And most will, especially if they value you as a writer.

Moderator: Has that kind of protest harmed your relationship with any editors?

Bill Pippin: It depends on the editor. Most of them are writers too and if your case is cut and dried, as it should be, and if you didn't allow the matter to get personal the relationship will be unharmed. You have to keep in mind that the editor takes great pride in his or her editorial staff and when you complain about the editing it's a lot like a teacher complaining to a parent about their child. It hurts them and it may embarrass them. So you really need to be succinct and diplomatic.

Moderator: In other words, don't complain unless it's important!

Bill Pippin: Absolutely! And I would advise you to sleep on the matter before you decide to complain at all. Sometimes what looked truly offensive when you first saw it somehow grows benign after a good night's sleep. Unless of course the error is so grievous that it ruins your sleep.

gerald: Does submitting articles on disc rather than hard copy help prevent these copy editor errors?

Moderator: It has, in the fiction markets I sell to.

Bill Pippin I'm afraid not. A copy editor will always go over your work and of course that editor would like to justify his or her existence. About the only thing that will help is to receive a galley proof. But some errors just don't like to send out galley proofs, for reasons of their own.

Moderator: The reduction in errors that I’ve seen has probably been the cleanup of typesetting mistakes. Well, we're running short of time, if any of you in the audience have questions for Bill. Since you first began writing in this field, what changes have you seen?

Bill Pippin: Yes, that's improved the situation a lot. But I've actually had my name mispelled on the content page.

Moderator: Ouch! to the misspelled name!

Bill Pippin The changes I've seen are enormous. I think the biggest is the lessening of personal interest by editors. As I mentioned, editors in the '50s and '60s were more inclined to take a writer under their wing if they saw promise. That's a rarity today. One reason, of course is that there are so many more good writers today. But I think the main reason is that editors are just pushed so hard and are under so much pressure that they don't have time for niceties.

Moderator: So, Bill, if you can offer a new writer a single piece of good advice, what would it be?

Bill Pippin Be persistent and believe in yourself. If you don't believe in yourself as a writer. you'll never get an editor to believe in you. And only one thing happens if you don't keep sending your work out over and over. Nothing.

Moderator: Great advice, Bill! And thank you very much for coming tonight. I learned a lot and I'm sure all of you did, too.

imhopeful: Thanks Bill and Mary!

Moderator: Thank you all for coming!

Bill Pippin: It was my pleasure, Mary. Is that it? Can I have a drink now?

Moderator: Yep, you can go get a drink! We sure enjoyed hearing you.

Bill Pippin: Thanks. Good night all.

Moderator: Our next speaker, in two weeks, on November 7, will be Ron Lovell. He's a writer from my own neck of the woods, out here in the Pacific Northwest. A former journalism professor at U of Oregon, his first mystery, ‘Murder at Yaquina Head’, is out from Sunstone Press. His second book in the series.. Dead Whales Tell No Tales will be out in April. He'll be talking about 'Turning Fact into Fiction'. Considering that he's taking the small press publishing route rather than the big New York houses, he should be able to share a lot of 'dos' and 'don'ts' about publishing through a small press house. I know him personally, and he's an entertaining speaker! I hope you all drop by on Thursday November 7 at the usual time for what should be an enjoyable conversation.

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