How to Get a Byline in PlayboyBy Clint Corey June 11th, 2015
Playboy magazine has two reputations: the one you’re probably thinking about and the one with the incredible writing legacy. While most people fixate on the first reputation, it’s easy to forget that Playboy has published so many literary studs, from Haruki Murakami to Jack Kerouac to Margaret Atwood.
Building off of that second reputation, Playboy.com unveiled a free safe-for-work mobile application last month, which is available for both Android and iOS devices. The website began its new SFW rebrand in July 2014, and so far the numbers from the new initiative are staggering.
According to a recent Adweek article by Michelle Castillo:
The publication believes the new emphasis on SFW materials is what’s led Playboy to grow from 5.5 million global unique visitors in July 2014, the month before the relaunch, to 21.5 million global unique visitors this past January. Its video views on Playboy.com went from 50,000 views to 6 million views from July to December 2014.
The new Playboy.com focuses more on the mainstays of men’s lifestyle, including sections on entertainment, style, sex and culture, and humor.
Sex and Culture Editor Joe Donatelli, who graduated from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, has been front and center during the publication’s rebrand. We talked with Donatelli about what types of stories he’s looking for from writers, his biggest pitching pet peeve, and what it’s like working for Playboy.
Playboy is one of the most iconic brands in the world. Had it always been your dream to someday work there and what are your first memories with the brand?
I have always enjoyed and respected Playboy, and I was a longtime subscriber before I got this job, but I didn’t plan on ever working here. However, looking back, I can see now that the last 15 years of my career have been getting me ready for this job, which calls on both journalism and online publishing skills. The first Playboy I remember ever holding in my hands was the 1988 Cindy Crawford cover. My friend kept it sheathed in plastic, giving that hallowed issue the reverence it deserved.
How do people react when you first meet them and tell them you work for Playboy?
They want to know if I have been to the mansion and if I have met Hef. Yes to the first question, and no to the second.
“Sex and Culture Editor” is a somewhat all-encompassing title. Specifically, what types of stories are you looking for?
For culture, we look for articles and videos that move the conversation forward on a given topic or are the kind of stories that are so interesting you have to share them online or talk about them with your friends. As far as sex goes, our readers have a voracious appetite for sex news and advice, and they’re savvy, so we’re looking for sharp angles that inform or surprise.
What are some good examples of published work that came from freelancers?
You can check out our entire best of sex and culture page here.
The print magazine has a rich tradition of literary contributors including Kurt Vonnegut, Ian Fleming, and Norman Mailer. Do you have any plans of starting to publish short fiction online?
Don’t forget one of my favorites, Jean Shepherd, of A Christmas Story fame. The magazine continues that tradition today with authors such as Chuck Pahalaniuk. As for original fiction on the website only—it’s not something we solicit, but from the right established author, I’m sure we’d consider it.
What is the editorial process like for a typical piece in terms of editing/revisions/how long it takes to get paid?
I try to read every pitch the week I receive it. Because I am editing a lot of articles, reviewing a lot of videos, and attending a lot of meetings—not to mention writing as well—that can be hard to do, but I try to make sure I look at them all by Friday afternoon or sooner.
Deadlines are generally two weeks unless there is a time element to the story. Some stories are revised once, and some need a lot of back and forth. I have a light touch as an editor unless there are many mistakes, errors, or the voice is all wrong.
We pay within 45 days of invoicing, and I encourage writers to invoice as soon as they turn in their story. I was a freelancer for many years. I know what it’s like waiting for that check.
Have freelancers who’ve written for the website gone on to write for the print version? If so, what does that path usually look like?
I’m part of the new regime at Playboy.com, and we’ve only been at it since August 2014, so that hasn’t happened yet, but it might. We operate separately from the magazine, but we publish the magazine’s work on the site and help publicize its big scoops and interviews, so in that sense we do work together. That said, currently there is no “path.”
In the digital age it appears as though many editors preferences for pitching are different. Do you have an ideal length for pitches and what type of experience are you looking for?
I like a short, richly detailed pitch. I posted some tips regarding how to pitch me on the site. By the time you pitch us, you should have a towering command of the English language, excellent grammar, perfect spelling, and lots of experience as a writer.
What pitch mistakes do you see most frequently?
Good question. Vague pitches that are blurry, without sharp focus, and include the words “want to explore this topic” are turn-offs. I need to know what the big idea is behind the article before I assign. Also, by the time you pitch us, you should have really great clips you can link to from somewhere else. If you don’t, I don’t know how well you can write. Finally, don’t ask, “What are you looking for?” You should know the publication well enough to know what we need more of or what we would consider publishing.
The best thing freelance writers have going for them is that, unlike me, they’re not chained to a desk. They’re out in the world, where the stories are. I depend on them to tell me what’s happening out there beyond the cubicles.
What is Playboy.com’s pay rate, how is it determined, and how many pitches do you typically receive in a week?
It varies by article. It all depends on how much time and effort goes into the piece. Essays pay less than reported pieces, and reported pieces pay less than videos, which we do accept from multimedia journalists. But we do pay, and our rates are competitive. I receive dozens of pitches a week.
Do you have any final advice for freelancers?
Work and network. Write as much as you can for a publication or publications. Get to know a lot of people who are writers and editors. Staff jobs tend to go to people who know people, as opposed to people nobody knows. It’s what you know and who you know.