Career Advice

How to Get a Byline in Outside Magazine

By Steven Threndyle June 22nd, 2016

When it comes to adventure and travel coverage—and the intersection between the two—it doesn’t get much more prestigious than Outside magazine. The publication was originally created by the holy trinity of Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner, publishing heir William Randolph Hearst III, and Jack Ford (Gerald Ford’s son), and its list of contributors is a veritable “who’s who” of literary adventure writers.

Besides helping launch the careers of Jon Krakauer (Into Thin Air) and Sebastian Junger (The Perfect Storm), the magazine has also featured work by luminaries like E. Annie Proulx (The Shipping News) and William Finnegan (Barbarian Days). Lately, the organization has adapted to an increasingly digital world. While the print magazine remains the home for longform nonfiction, Outside Online has been producing service writing that goes well beyond the listicles that dominate many other legacy magazine’s online presences.

We touched base with senior editor Jonah Ogles at the magazine’s idyllic Santa Fe, New Mexico, headquarters to discuss what it takes to break into Outside, the relationship between print and digital, and how freelance pay rates are changing.

Your feature section has had some of the great names in North American longform narrative nonfiction. What’s the path for a writer who wants to become the next Jon Krakauer or Sebastian Junger?

The way you find those classic stories is to be endlessly curious and constantly talking to people. Very rarely is a story going to look like an instant classic at first glance. It only becomes one through the reporting and writing.

Outside is a media property with a healthy digital and hard-copy presence. Can you give us some idea of what kind of relationship they have to each other?

Our print and online staffs work really closely together. We’re in the same ideas meetings, and almost everyone edits or writes in both mediums. We still have individuals who are in charge of certain section of the magazine or channels on the site, but there’s a lot of interaction. And I don’t think I’m the only one who thinks that it’s been really healthy for both the magazine and the site.

Last month’s issue has Andy Samberg on the cover. How did that story come about?

Andy is on our cover because he is funny and he likes to hike and get outdoors, and we wanted our readers to feel like they got to spend an afternoon with him. Also, he had a movie to promote.

Do you see the Outside magazine reader different than the Outside Online reader? Is the latter maybe a bit less sophisticated and in need of more “basic” information?

I don’t think our online readers are any less sophisticated. They might be a bit younger, or they might not have the deep knowledge of topics that our longtime subscribers do, but they respond just as much to a good story as our print readers. The trick in addressing new or younger readers, I think, is not talking down to them. If they’ve found us, we assume they’re intelligent readers capable of picking up the facts of a story. We try to give them all the basic info we can without talking down to them.

I assume that the online version is easier to break into. If you have an online byline, is it easier to get into the print magazine, or are they fairly exclusive properties?

One byline isn’t enough, but if you’re doing consistent and good work for the website, print editors notice that. I’m always snagging good writers from the site to write for the front-of-book [in the print magazine].

What are you looking for in a print pitch that might be different from an online pitch?

They’re actually very similar. They need to be newsy, they need to deal with the “Outside world,” and they need to be thoroughly reported. We end up running stories that I originally wanted for the print magazine on the website pretty regularly, and I occasionally get to poach a good online article for the magazine as well.

I see that a lot of your editors have their Twitter handles published. Is that a good way to reach out to start the query process?

I think I’m old fashioned, but I prefer that writers email me with pitches. Twitter is where I get news and make jokes that fall really flat. Like any editor, my inbox is open all day.

Does Outside have staff writers or is it all pretty much freelance? Some of the freelancers been there for a long time, right?

We do have some longtime contributors, and we’re proud that so many voices have stayed with us. Everyone on our masthead is an editor, and that’s their primary job. We have a few writers on contract, but the vast majority of the articles we publish are written by freelancers.

How could a writer craft a query that would really make your editors stand up and take notice? And how long is the process, generally?

We typically work five months in advance on the print magazine, which can be frustratingly long for freelancers, but also helps us develop the sorts of deeply reported stories that we love publishing. [Topics like] Everest [are] a tough topic to pitch here, because we have so many writers who are already plugged into the scene. But it’s still possible to surprise us—good writers do it regularly.

Back in the 90s, Outside paid around a dollar a word. Have the rates gone up since then for print pieces? How do the rates compare to online stories?

We pay flat fees that come out to roughly $1.50 a word [for] print. Online pay rates improve almost every year, it seems. For shorter news-focused articles, we pay in the low hundreds, while features and deeply reported stories are typically assigned at $1 a word.

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