Lyn Gardner was a founding member and theatre editor of arts magazine City Limits, which folded in 1993, before joining the Guardian, where she writes about theatre. She is also a children’s novelist, with titles including Into the Woods and the Olivia series. Here she tells Honour Bayes why young critics should buck the mainstream and how brevity is the key to successful pitching...
How would you recommend young journalists get started today?
The obvious place is online, in magazines and the personal space of people’s own blogs.
Today one of the great benefits of online social media if you are a young journalist is that you can very easily hook up with other people. There’s a strength in these networks and it’s something that journalists should very much take advantage of.
Yes you’ve been a savvy user of the internet for a while – what are the values of blogging for new writers?
It’s an opportunity where as a journalist you can show how good a writer you are, but there are lots of other things that you can do as well. You can develop your voice, you can develop your authority and you can develop your expertise.
But in a world awash with bloggers, what should young critics do to stand out?
One of the things that surprises me about bloggers is the fact that so often what they try to do is ape what is going on in the mainstream press. The truth is that the mainstream press do what they do quite well. I think there is a place for bloggers somewhere between the cracks. So if you decide to go and write about what’s on at the National then you could write about it in long form – you know, 1,000 words or 3,000 words. Yet it seems what people do is ape the kind of 350-word review in the Guardian or the Daily Telegraph or wherever.
Secondly, it seems to me there are so many areas of theatre that are under-covered, which get very little coverage and which are up for grabs, and where it would be very easy to make yourself both an expert and a voice of authority. Areas perhaps like live art and more experimental art.
When pitching an idea to an editor what are the key things to remember?
You’ve got to be offering something that the paper or site hasn’t already thought of. That means, on the whole, that what you’re offering is not what the PRs are offering because they will have already given that to mainstream journalists. For young journalists now, having a slightly left field or a quirky take on things is absolutely what you need to really make it.
Practically, you do it by email. You want to very briefly introduce yourself and say what it is that you’ve previously done and then pitch. Your ideas should be no more than three or four lines long, or they might be longer than the blog you’re going to write! Always pitch three ideas: if you’ve got three really good ideas then it’s quite likely they may go for one, whereas if you’ve just pitched one idea – even if it’s a very good idea – it’s easier to say no.
You’re also a successful children’s novelist. In the early stages of a career, should critics be open to trying any form of writing or just concentrate on journalism?
I think that any writing is good practice. There is a difference of course in form (though my reviews may sometimes look made up, I do try to stick to the truth!), but any sort of writing is good, even notes for the milkman. You can absolutely do both.
Do you have any advice for young novelists on how to get published?
Agents get lots of manuscripts and they don’t just begin at the top of the pile and read down, so the covering letter is really important. Write an interesting – and brief! –covering letter.
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