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How to Survive as a Broke-Ass Writer in San Francisco

Updated: Jul 09, 2014 12:12
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Being a Broke-Ass Writer in San Francisco is only tricky if you try to get your start as a writer in San Francisco. This is a seven by seven mile city with a small number of serious online publications and newspapers. If you’re serious about getting published in serious media outlets, online publications and newspapers, you’ve got to get your start by being innovative and DIY.

No one is going to read your samples from your blogspot, and give you a job. If you are going to start a blog, buy a domain name, and make your online journal, blog or publication legit, by having a strong concept and directed content.

Do you want to be a music blogger? Start reviewing your favorite albums, and even finding ways to interview your fave local musicians. If you want to be an opinion editorial writer, rant and rave about your fave political topics, just make sure your posts flow from day to day and week to week. You can make your content as provocative as you please. You can find your own voice and perspective.

With that said, writing without pain, passion and scars is not going to make you a good journalist. Ignoring death, poverty and your own sticky existential idiosyncrasies, will make you come off green. Your editor will smell you coming, and after your first rejection, it takes on average of 1-3 years for an editor to give you another chance. Use your submissions wisely. If you can’t sit in the Tenderloin and get through writing an essay without being completely distracted by the junkie mayhem, you probably won’t thrive here. If you honestly think you can review a record without describing instrumentation, and comparing the artist to musicians who recorded and performed before 1983, you’re not going to make it……

Get Some Experience

Your paid gigs are going to come from several different remote jobs, because a staff writing or editorial position at a print or online publication is harder than finding an existentialist at Warped Tour. If you do some research, and open yourself up to submitting to publications in NYC, L.A. and internationally, you may have a better chance at building a strong resume, and collection of samples. San Francisco’s publishing industry is small and tight knit. Your resume should be super strong, because otherwise, there is a huge chance you’ll get overlooked. You’re also going to be competing with journalism students who will be fighting for editorial work and internships within this tiny industry. If you don’t want to go through the educational route, your only choice it to lean heavily on your experience and the quality of your articles.

Read Read Read

Read everything you can get your hands on. Inundate your computer screen and RSS feed with local blogs and digital newspapers. If you want to write for the Chronicle, read the hell out of it. If you love 7X7, make sure you know what topics they cover strongly, so you’re not off topic when you send the publications ideas.


If you don’t know what “pitch” means, you’ve got a long way to go. When you pitch a publication, it means you send a set of ideas for articles you’d like to write for the specific media outlet. Give them two or three ideas. Think of pitching as sending “mini proposals”. Email a 3 or 4 sentence synopsis of your idea and the purpose of the article would be. You will always have to send 3 samples of previously published articles to the editor to show your style and your experience. If you have a resume or a blog that consists of your experience that always helps. Be professional. NO SLANG OR PERSONAL STORIES IN PITCHES. Writers like to talk about themselves…don’t.

You’re an independent contractor

Once your first piece gets published, you’re editor is going to send you a W9 and a contract with the publication. This means you’ll be responsible for your own accounting, and you won’t officially be an employee of your publication. You’ll be a hired gun. This will give you the opportunity to write for as many publications as you like. Just stay of top of your checks and projects!

Keep your job

Editors have the choice to publish you once or ten times once you sign the contracts. It will be up to you to continue to pitch, and send interesting topics your publication may be interested in. There is no guarantee on the amount of times you’ll be published, so take heart and continue to send in ideas to your editor until they get back to you. This is why it is important to never keep all your eggs in one basket. Maybe some new hotshot writer will come along and get published three times a week, while you’ve been living off of being published twice a month. Move on!

Wait, one moment…I just received an email from an editor who was completely arrogant to me, and rejected me because I needed to “prove to her I could write a review” (I sent her my unedited piece for SF Weekly and told to her in the kindest way to fuck off). She just sent me a freelancer contract and a W9.

I had to make a choice. Within two seconds, I wanted to respond by saying I didn’t want to sign the contract, and that she could keep her $25 and that the article was on me. Then realized she would respond by saying it was federal regulation or something and she needed the documents on the books for tax purposes, so I am just going to ignore her. She was really mean and demeaning to me, and just interrupted my rant. I promised Stuart and article, and I’m not going to…oh, I just got another email.

Being a successful writer in San Francisco is an intrinsic thing. There are not many of us, and the ones that are here are well traveled, intense on all levels and street smart. You’ve got to be. Living in SF on a writers pay takes warrior style hustlin’. Lazy freelancers need not apply.

Until next week…I may be in a better mood, maybe I won’t be.

Do you have any good tips or suggestions? Leave them in the comments below.

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Jordannah Elizabeth - Commonwealth Columnist

Jordannah Elizabeth - Commonwealth Columnist

Jordannah Elizabeth is a musician, music journalist, author, model and the founder of The Process Records Media Group. Jordannah started Jordan’s River Promotions in 2004 in Denver, CO where she specialized in art and music event coordination, and artist and model management at 18 years old.

In 2007, she moved to Los Angeles and started The Process: Net Label to organize her personal music catalog that was growing harder to manage each year. In November 2010, she started booking events in partnership with Hangman Booking for Fat Baby in Manhattan, NY and other clubs in the Metropolitan area.

Jordannah Elizabeth currently works as an arts and culture journalist and and the editor of The Deli Magazine San Francisco. She contributes to a plethora of reputable websites and print publications. Jordannah’s passion for music, fashion and culture is unprecedented, and her wide range of knowledge of indie, psych, and experimental rock makes her a sought after insider in the music industry.