You’ve probably seen us around town — tossing back martinis, sitting courtside at the Grizzlies games, rolling empty champagne bottles down the aisles at the opera — conspicuous in our rumpled tuxedos and top hats and silk gowns and capes. We’re ridiculously rich, famous, and adored by all, because we are the writers and editors of Memphis magazine, an elite group that demands — and gets — the very best things life can throw our way.
And when you’ve encountered us (admit it!) you’ve gnashed your teeth and clenched your fists in silent rage and thought, “I’m a good person. Damn it, I work hard and go to church and contribute to the United Way. Why can’t I enjoy such a rich and fulfilling life? Why can’t I partake of the same decadent rock-and-roll lifestyle as these men and women, 24 hours a day?”
Well, it’s not easy getting your name published (and spelled correctly!) in the pages of Memphis magazine. But because I’m willing to help the downtrodden (after all, I was a pathetic little creature, much like yourselves, some 25 years ago), I’m going to offer some tips that may — please note I said may — help you. Pay attention, because I’m only telling you this once.
But wait. As you’ll see, I’m unable (no, make that unwilling) to tell you specifically what you can do. My fellow editors would toss me in the river if I gave those dark secrets away: the secret email codes, the Swiss bank account numbers, the geo-coordinates of our publisher’s castle. Instead, I shall mention a few things you should never do, if you wish to join us. I’m doing this because a depressing number of aspiring writers and editors forever ruin their chances of joining our exclusive club by saying, or writing, the completely wrong thing.
So here, in no particular order, are the best (or maybe I should say worst) ways in the world NOT to work for Memphis magazine — or anyplace else, for that matter:
First of all, confuse us with our rivals. Writers are sensitive types, and it makes us cringe when emails, letters, and telegrams begin, “I’ve always wanted to work for The Commercial Appeal.” Well, jolly good for you! It’s nice to have a goal. Perhaps you can achieve that one by emailing your resume to the good folks at 495 Union Avenue.
Approach editors we have not employed for years while insisting that you faithfully read every issue. Messages addressed to “Ed Weathers, Editor” — directed to a fine gentleman who last worked here, gosh, some two decades ago — won’t earn you points with us.
Pitch us stories on such overlooked topics as, oh, Elvis Presley. A freelancer from Ohio offered to write a story about Elvis, and then proceeded to explain, in detail, just who Elvis was. Feeling crankier than usual, I replied that pitching a story on Elvis to Memphis magazine would be “like pitching a story on snow to Alaska magazine.” The writer, no doubt offended by my flippancy, hit REPLY and argued that her story — written from the “outsider” viewpoint of a Clevelander, she argued — would offer a “fresh” look at the man — implying, if not downright declaring, that our previous stories, the ones penned by Memphians, were decidedly stale.
Complain that other publications have inexplicably failed to recognize your genius. One applicant, interviewed in person, brought writing samples from a previous employer, but they were her typed pages, not the published versions. “The other editors always hacked [my] stuff to pieces,” she grumbled, and wanted me to see what she considered the unhacked (and decidedly superior) originals. They weren’t.
Ask why we dress like, well, magazine writers. One young fellow, summoned to our offices for an interview, showed up in a three-piece suit, complete with carnation and pocket hanky. Very dashing! No doubt he was trying to dress as we do after-hours. But during the workweek, some of us affect a decidedly more casual attire. During the interview, he glanced in disdain at my rumpled jeans, Harley-Davidson shirt, and battered hiking shoes (I believe I had just come from a posh fund-raiser some two days earlier) and asked, “Is today ‘casual day’ here?” When I explained that, no, this was how English majors sometimes dressed during the workweek, he could not conceal his complete and utter dismay. Clearly, he did not want to consort with riffraff. Or me, personally. And so I didn’t make him.
Send us poetry. We don’t publish poetry. We have never published poetry. And we aren’t going to start now, just because you have mailed us a 140-stanza epic titled “How I Long To See Tennessee” which began: “How I long to see Tennessee / Driving through you can see cedar / So I’ve been told.” (You may think I’m making this up, but I’m not.) We were actually intrigued until the author tried to rhyme “Nashville” with “rock-and-roll.” That was a deal-breaker.
Litter your resume or cover letter with mistakes. One recent email put it this way: “I want work for MEMPHIS magazine I enclose writing samples.” It went on that way — like reading an email from Tarzan. Apparently it was too much effort to include those pesky little words: to, an, the. Good gosh, didn’t he understand the basic journalistic concept of getting paid by the word?
Include pornography with your writing samples. This happens more than you’d think. I once interviewed a woman who brought along her portfolio. I didn’t have time to study it just then, but promised to look it over later. Whew. I’m glad I waited, because everything in it was completely XXX-rated. Now there’s nothing wrong with that (some of the dialogue was, well, interesting) but it would have been nice if she had included something to suggest that she was willing to cover more topics than that — maybe even a bit of poetry.
Finally, lack even a shred of common sense. I’ll never forget the young man who concluded our interview by declaring, “Thank you so much for your time. This is definitely the second-most-favorite place I want to work in Memphis!” He was so happy that I wasn’t sure how to respond. Puzzled, I asked who had been his first choice. “Oh, definitely The Commercial Appeal,” he said brightly. “But they wouldn’t sure hire me.”
And you know what? We did. His writing samples were fine, he seemed like a nice kid overall, and he turned out to be a good employee — after I later told him that, in certain situations, honesty is not always the best policy.
Michael Finger is the senior editor of Memphis magazine and yes, he has made plenty of boneheaded mistakes in job interviews. Why, there was that time when ...