Dying magazines put the ‘free’ in freelance

Bang! The door slammed shut at Latitudes & Attitudes Magazine on June 20, with staffers reportedly locked out of the Redondo Beach, California offices, unable to retrieve their personal belongings. In a June 21st e-mail, former Publisher Bob Bitchin writes:

“As many of you know, we sold Latitudes & Attitudes last January, and as part of the sales agreement, we were to work as consultants. Recently we discovered things were not as they should be. Last week we found out from Editor Sue that the July issue of Lats&Atts did not print although advertisers had been billed. Yesterday morning the offices were locked with the following sign on the door. ‘Offices Closed Until Further Notice.’

“Jody & I put our lives into the magazine, TV Show, events and lifestyle for over 15 years. It is with very heavy hearts that we have to make this announcement.

“If you would like to keep up with our plans to ‘raise from the ashes’ visit our new Facebook page or follow the changes on the website (http://www.seafaring.com).”

The sudden death of the colorful and irreverent magazine for sailors “living the dream” as well as thousands of armchair cruisers came as a shock to readers and contributors.

Latitudes & Attitudes put former bad-ass biker Bitchin on the map as a non-traditional publisher in the nautical niche market. The successful collection of spin-off enterprises includes music, clothing, Share the Sail cruises, a TV show and a variety of other boating-related income streams.

In 2011 Sextant Publishing took over. In the aftermath, some insiders are noting that they had doubts about the buy-out from the get-go. At the time, Bitchin crowed that everything would stay the same, with a bigger bankroll behind it.

Well, if it sounds too good to be true …

At least Lats&Atts is going out with a splash and vowing to return in a new, improved incarnation, unlike some other magazines. There are those that disappear without a ripple, here one month and gone the next. I wasn’t even aware that Dozier’s Waterway Guide Magazine had sunk until I was preparing to submit a feature. The revered, well-established publishing company continues to offer essential guidebooks and an interactive website, but apparently found the magazine market too tough a nut to crack.

Others magazines die of degenerative attrition. It’s painful to watch. Each issue is skinnier than the last until the fateful day when the ghost is given up and the skeletal shell of the pulp or glossy is gone from its usual spot on the racks.

There are a few ways to tell if a magazine is going down. In addition to the aforementioned anorexia, an erratic or diminished publishing schedule sends up the proverbial red flag, as does that horror of all horrors, failure to pay freelancers in a timely fashion if at all.

A recent Michigan Press Association Bulletin help-wanted ad submitted by a publication that is exhibiting the above mortal symptoms presents me with a moral quandary. The publisher is advertising for fresh blood, fellow freelancers who I am fairly certain will be screwed over in the same fashion as I was, told “the check is in the mail” when in fact payment is not forthcoming. How can I put out a general warning without burning bridges or being characterized as a vengeful saboteur?

While this magazine that for now shall remain nameless isn’t dead yet, its desperate stabs at making a quick buck off thin regional pseudo-newspaper special supplements is another bad omen. That said, I honestly like the publisher; he’s a nice enough guy aside from the fact that he doesn’t pay his writers on time if at all.

I previously wrote for his venerable humor rag back in the late 1990s, stopping when the checks stopped.

Burned the second time around, I was angry that I let myself get angry when the checks – predictably now that I think about it – stopped coming again, even though I had clearly established with the publisher that I would only resume writing for him if he paid me regularly in a timely manner.

Thinking about the snarky things I wanted to say to the publisher kept me up at night. Positive visualization of the check in the mailbox did not work. I realized that it wasn’t necessarily the money owed me that burned my britches. I was never going to get rich from writing for this publication. It was the principle of the thing that stuck in my craw. After six months of pointless stewing, one morning before I had time to overthink the situation I simply fired off an e-mail expressing my disappointment with the lack of professionalism and respect, informing the publisher that I would not be writing for the magazine in the future. Ironically, my last column had been titled “Yo Ho Ho, It’s time to go.” Indeed.

I received a check (for quite a bit less than I was owed) a few weeks later. The treatment continues to rankle. I’m still receiving a courtesy subscription. Every time a new issue comes in the mail I’m ticked off all over again; it’s childish on my part, but it’s hard to resist the impulse to chuck it in the trash.

For the freelancer who works in specialty markets, the demise of a print publication that regularly uses your work – or the break-up of a once-solid relationship – can be baffling and depressing. But don’t cry for me, Argentina; there will always be a need for content somewhere else. Freelancers must constantly diversify, keeping an eye on publication trends and – my favorite part – reading magazines. The magazines that you connect with as a reader are a potential home for your writing.

Do not be dissuaded from trying to break into the coveted Top 10 in the USA by circulation, which when I last checked were:

1. AARP The Magazine

2. AARP Bulletin

3. The Costco Connection

4. Better Homes And Gardens

5. Game Informer

6. Reader’s Digest

7. National Geographic

8. Good Housekeeping

9. Woman’s Day

10. Family Circle

While you are much more likely to find acceptance in mid-to-smaller markets than O or People, you never know when a well-aimed query or perfectly targeted short item will hit the mark.

In all circulation categories the on-line versions of magazines provide an additional forum for features. Competition for space in print versions is intense; there is often a backlog of articles and a lag time of a year or more between submission, acceptance and publication. So when querying or sending a complete submission I always mention that the article is available for electronic or print use. The pay scale may be a bit lower, but it’s a way to get a foot in the door. The other bonus is that E-versions of magazines often have more space for photos than their print counterparts. I’m definitely guilty of sending in too many pictures with my stories; I want editors to have all the options, just as I did when I chose art for the pages of a daily newspaper.

But back to Lats&Atts, where my profile slated for the August issue is held hostage. As I await word on whether to resubmit elsewhere, my main concern is for Captain Jack, the frisky 90-year-old scion of Boot Key Harbor. While he is not imminently scheduled to cross that fabled bar, I want him to see his story in print as soon as possible.

Personal wishes aside, my greatest sympathy is reserved for the staffers of Latitudes & Attitudes most of whom have been with the magazine for all of its 15 years.

They are not alone. I think of a dear friend and editorial cohort who just last fall celebrated her promotion to managing editor of a niche publication focused on the nursing profession. By Christmastime the magazine had folded and she was looking for another job. I am happy to report that she landed on her feet. I sincerely hope that will be the case with Latitudes & Attitudes, in whatever form it reappears.

To follow the Latitudes & Attitudes magazine “rising from the ashes” endeavor on Facebook:

http://www.facebook.com/seafaring.com

To check out the policies, practices and latest dust-ups in the publishing industry:

Angela Hoy’s “Whispers and Warnings”: http://www.writersweekly.com

(The Writers Weekly website is an excellent source for freelancers seeking legitimate paying markets and up-to-date guidelines and listings)

To find out how the magazine you want to write for treats its contributors:

Preditors & Editors: http://www.pred-ed.com

(Site includes a “recommended” and “not recommended” ranking for magazines listed, as well as noting broken links and “dead” status.)

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