Notes From a Hired Pen

Story Behind the Story: “Renovation Empire”

Second in an occasional series about how a concept became a sale.

The Story:Renovation Empire,” Penn Gazette, Sept/Oct 2012

The Concept: I’ve interviewed Curtis Bashaw, the subject of this profile, more times than I can remember. He played a big part in the re-birth of Cape May and opened a hotel in Atlantic City during the short time that I’ve been writing about the Jersey Shore. From a previous interview, I knew he was also a Wharton grad, so I thought he’d make a great profile for Penn’s alumni magazine, The Penn Gazette.
Lesson: Think about how you can re-use your research. Sure, I’d written about Bashaw, but never along the angle of “successful MBA graduate,” which is a much different than, say, “regional hotel and tourism expert.” Also, stay in touch with sources. You never know when he or she will make a great stand alone profile, or addition to another story. When I’m looking for new ideas, sometimes I’ll email people I’ve profiled in the past, just to see what’s going on. It sometimes leads to a new angle for a new piece of work.

The Contact: I met the editor of The Penn Gazette at the 2010 American Society of Journalists and Authors conference. It’s an annual event held in New York City, and I’ve attended almost every year that I’ve been a member of ASJA. The editor at spoke on a panel about writing for alumni magazines. After the session was over, I introduced myself as a local writer with experience writing for alumni publications. We talked for a bit, swapped cards, and I sent him a follow up email soon after the conference.
Lesson: Go to conferences. Sure, email introductions are great, but meeting a person in real life can have a more lasting effect. I have received thousands of dollars worth of work based on people I’ve met at the ASJA conference. Plus, there’s the bonus of meeting other writers in person – and sometimes they’ll refer work to you, too. Also, don’t be shy in talking to editors. They’re just people, too, and if they’re at a conference telling writers how to work for their publications, they want to talk to you.

The Pitch: Two months after the conference, I pitched the editor a subject for a profile, then tacked this on at the end: “I had another note about the shore, too. The guy who is responsible for turning around a lot of those aging properties in Cape May is a Wharton grad, Curtis Bashaw. You can probably blame him for making a room at the Carroll Villa more than $20 a night….”
The Lesson: It’s okay to mention more than one idea in the pitch. I don’t usually do it with new-to-me editors, but in our ASJA talk, the editor and I had talked about Cape May, so I figured it would be fine since it was a reference to a previous conversation.

The Process: In the last two years, I’d pitched a story or two, but didn’t always hear back, and when I did, it was always no. I sent that first email in June of 2010. April of this year, I sent the editor another pitch, which he rejected. However, he’d kept the Bashaw pitch on file, and assigned it – that’s what appeared in the magazine. (I loved the lead in to this story. In preparing this post, I read back my transcript from the interview. The lead in started as an aside. My response was “Wait, what?” Real professional, I know, but it made for an interesting story.)
The Lesson: Be patient, and a no isn’t always a no. Of course after I met this editor, I wanted to write for the magazine right away. But sometimes what a magazine needs and what ideas you have don’t always line up. Just because he said no didn’t mean he didn’t want to work with me. So every six months or so, I’d remind him I was alive, toss an idea, and hope one would stick. It did – and hopefully I’ll write another piece for the magazine in the future.

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