This summer, I received an email in my inbox from an MTV casting director. She was casting the docu-series True Life and wanted to interview me to potentially be on a future episode of the show. The director said she’d found me through an article I wrote for Cosmopolitan last year. An article exploring the female orgasm.
While I was flattered that the director read my article and reached out to me, I knew I could never seriously entertain the idea. It would mean appearing on a national television show to discuss personal, intimate, sexual problems. If I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my Cosmopolitan article publicly when it came out, then I definitely couldn’t share it with a national television audience, an audience that includes my family, my boss, and my students.
Being published by a large, nationally-recognized magazine is a goal for many writers, and I’m extremely proud of that achievement on its own. However, I wish I’d known the possible side effects of having such a personal story shared so largely. Now, a publication that should be the crowning achievement of my writing career thus far embarrasses me more than makes me proud. There’s more to writing for a large online publication than broad exposure and a new publication listing on your CV. In fact, here are four reasons why writing for a large magazine might end up hurting your career:
They want humiliating stories
Recently Slate wrote a piece about this new phenomenon of the personal narrative, moreso harrowing narratives, taking over the Internet. The Internet basically is like the world’s biggest pimp and is ready to whore you out if you can make it a quick buck. The Internet wants to expose the worst thing that has happened to you because it makes for a catchy headline and great ad revenue. It appreciates good writing, sure, but moreover, it wants writing that makes it money.
Large publications still fall under the jurisdiction of the Internet’s rules. They need stories that create clickable headlines and strong emotional reactions to make readers invested enough to comment or share the article. The side effect is thousands of page views from strangers, strangers who now know your most vulnerable, intimate secrets.
High page views don’t always mean good page views
Listen, we all know there are plenty of Internet bullies out there ready to make controversial comments on literally any topic. But if you’re a newer writer, who’s just spilled secrets on the Internet, you’ve basically fed the trolls and perhaps hurt yourself professionally. Not only is it discouraging to receive hateful feedback, but perhaps one of those page views is your boss, or a higher-up on a hiring committee. A hiring committee that perhaps might not enjoy that you have written so candidly about such personal matters to a large audience. (Trust me on that one.) The thing to remember here is that yes, writing for a large publication means exposure and high page views, but high page views do not equate success, especially if it falls on the wrong eyes.
The infamy of the Internet makes your story a useless publication credit
If you’re trying to build a career as a professional writer, it’s obvious that a strong record of publication is important. We must stop and consider, however, the quality of the publication credits, and not the quantity. If your story is so embarrassing it must be left off a CV (as in my case), what use is this clip in advancing your career? Just like a drunk photo of yourself on Facebook, your article will always be alive on the Internet. This is especially true for a major publication – I doubt Cosmopolitan is shutting down anytime soon. This means any search for your writing credentials, on the CV or not, will yield these results. Your time might be better spent writing quality pieces that reflect your voice and skills, even if the outlet is smaller or less-known.
Your stories are worth more than they’re paying you
The biggest point is simply this: revealing intimate personal details is not worth a one-time payment of $50. While my Cosmopolitan article wasn’t particularly difficult for me (it explored issues I had already spent a good amount of time considering before I ever sat down to write), many of the issues discussed in these large magazines are hefty, deep personal issues that must take a great emotional toll on the writer. Is that emotional toll, including the side effects of any potential notoriety, worth the price of a bar tab?
You absolutely can make a career writing this kind of viral, personal essay on the Internet, but it also pigeonholes your writing career. If you want a career in anything else – academia, public education, corporate America, and so on – pause before submitting your juicy tell-all. You’re selling more than an article for a quick paycheck. You’re selling your vulnerabilities, your insecurities, and maybe most of all, your ability to advance your professional career.