The future of long form: an odyssey

There are times when I know I am sitting at my desk – grounded (in a very gravitationally fulfilling sense). Magpies warble and school kids occasionally wander outside. I can smell the echoes of tea and toast that started my day. I am well and truly here.

And then I start to work, and to think about the future of long form. The magpies are silenced, the school kids unnoticed. I might still be here, but the state of my mind has inversed. I’ve gone head-first into the screen of my computer - like in some cheesy BBC sci-fi show for kids. I’m not grounded in any sense, but floating within the interwebs in the most peculiar way. And then I am unmoored.

Thus, in this terrain-less place of zero gravity I have had to set up some space-stations of sorts; categories that that we can work within. They’re in constant flux, but necessary moors for efficient travels into the possibilities of long form. No doubt the opportunities will grow, but here is a list of the types of ways we can publish long form non-fiction as I see them now:


Station 1: Traditional print

If you’re a bit old fashioned like me, you get a kick from seeing your byline in print. (And it also involves the validation of an editor). But it’s a slow process and depending on who publishes you, your audience is limited. I won’t elaborate here, as we all know the basics of this model (and if you don’t, just get online to learn more).


Station 2: Traditional online

These publications are modelled on print (there’s an editor, and a regular publishing schedule), with the main difference being that the work is published online. There are generally shorter lead times, and bigger audiences (particularly if it’s not a user-pays site). But there are few online venues that publish long form produced by emerging writers. And also, many online publications don’t pay.

I’ll presume you all know how to pitch your work to editors (and if you don’t know, just google it). In this blog we won’t cover the practicalities of traditional print and online approaches. But getting your work to readers is getting your work to readers. So together we’ll combine a list of potential venues for long form non-fiction.


Station 3: Enterprise Journalism / Community funded reporting / Crowd sourcing

In this model you pitch your idea to a community of potential readers, and if they like it, they’ll commit an amount of money to fund it. When I say ‘readers’, I mean anyone. They can commit a few dollars or thousands.

As far as Community Funded Reporting; in the USA, is making tracks with this idea. It seems less popular in Australia however. (Last time I checked the Aussie equivalent had stalled. Most activity is date stamped 2011. Not to mention that the only funded projects were pitched by established journalists Margaret Simons and Toula Mantus.)

Crowd funding (ie via sites not specifically focused on journalism) is certainly gaining some momentum. (See post Crowd funding is the new black) Using sites like, and you can try to get anyone to fund a small portion of your writing project.


Station 4: Publishers funded by philanthropists

In Australia, The Global Mail was recently launched, funded by founder Graeme Wood. It’s early days for the concept of philanthropic publishing, which may mean the opportunities for emerging writers are limited. But we’ll certainly take a look, and report back what we find.


Station 5: Writers funding philanthropy

This model is not unlike enterprise journalism / community funded journalism with the main difference being that the funding goes to a charity (not you).  You pitch a story and pick a charity. When the readers fund it you write it, and when you publish it, your charity gets paid.


Station 6: Writing for free / Self Publishing

If you don’t want or need to get paid for your work, you can publish your long form article on your own site or blog. Once you have done this you can ask networks like and to promote your piece.


Station 7: Entrepreneurial journalism / Self Publishing

For some, entrepreneurial journalism includes or is interchangeable with what I have described as community funded reporting (and vice versa). But to me the difference is that the ‘entrepreneurial’ aspect involves more business functions – like sales and marketing. Self-publishing your article as an e-book is a form of Entrepreneurial journalism.


I’ll be exploring all of these options (and more) on this blog. In the meantime, have any of you had any experience with some of the newer avenues of publishing non-fiction long form?

Getting it out there

In 2011 I found myself experiencing a very newsworthy event. I was in Northern Japan when the triple disaster hit (just in case you missed it, there was an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown). I was aware of opportunities to report from Japan during the disaster, but I knew I had a good story, and I wanted to give it time.

I eventually researched and wrote a 6,500 word piece, which I hoped to publish to raise awareness at the time of the anniversary. I broke the golden rule of knowing what publication it was for before I started writing. But because there was so much popular interest in the event, I was confident I could find a venue. Plus I wanted an international audience (so would publish online).

6,500 words is a long article - but the Internet is a big place, and I had structured my article so that it could be published in two parts of 3,250 words. I had no reason to think that pitching opportunities would be limited. In fact they were.

I spent days searching for publication venues. All I wanted was an audience for my work. I found many publications for non-fiction work but the vast majority – be they big or small, popular or boutique – limited their online word counts to 1,000 words. Those publications that had longer counts (eg New Yorker, Harpers, Vanity Fair) expected maturity in their writers (big names).  In the end, I found but one publication I could pitch to (I pitched, and got nothing back).

Writers know that sometimes we have to shelve an idea. But I had spent a lot of time on this article, and many people were interested in the experience. I couldn’t let it die on the basis of just one pitch! I considered publishing it on my own site to have it out in time for the anniversary.

But my site was just brochureware. I didn’t have an audience, and if I was going to self-publish I had to get an editor to review the work first (and this would cost me money). I would not only be giving my work away for free, but also spending money to do that. Self-publishing on my site would put me well out of pocket. (And anyhow, what’s that about? A fledgling publishing their own work? Where was the editor to validate and guide me? How could I get an audience for my work?)

I had to explore different avenues to get my work out there, and I did this from the perspective of an emerging writer. In the next post, you’ll get an overview of what I uncovered.

How important do you think it is to have an editor 'validate' your work via the old 'pitch' model?

Give up the newsroom or your career gets it

Last year I went to see a panel discussion at the Wheeler Centre and walked out feeling miserable. I expect a bit of melancholy after a sad film. But after a panel discussion...? Not so much. The panelists had a jaunty chat about newsrooms – full of anecdotes and great scoops.  For the most part I was enraptured. My mind’s eye cast their characters with Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. My props department furnished their newsrooms with Hollywood sets. I saw rows of typewriters, rotary telephones, moody lights and victorious moments.

My reverie had been sustained by fictions – that in itself should have been discouraging. But I’m a relatively practical person. I believe that if you don’t ask, you don’t get. So next I pondered how I might get into a real newsroom. Who did I know who could take me to one? Could I convince an editor to let me hang around for a while? For a good portion of the panel discussion I was dead serious about trying to get some experience in a newsroom. And then I realised… these newsrooms don’t exist any more.

It’s not as if I didn’t know this on some level. When I left my fulltime job to pursue a freelance writing career I knew I wouldn’t be a ‘reporter’ (or even a ‘journalist’). I knew I’d be alone at my desk when I wasn’t out researching. I knew I’d be sending pitches into the world with very few returns (successful or otherwise). Plus, my previous career was in digital media – so I knew the writing was on the ‘website’. I love getting published online because I get instant feedback from readers. Yet I felt an absolute loss that night. Great writing is most important, but what use was great writing when all I knew about publishing was now in flux?

It wasn’t just that new media had changed advertising models and thus affected budgets (and sizes) of newsrooms. In that panel discussion I realised that I had completely missed the boat as far as traditional publishing models went. I always presumed that I would be pitching to editors, and that even though the delivery formats might change, there would be venues (more than ever) for the kind of work I want to produce (non-fiction features).

I don’t believe that there are fewer readers out there (there are more). I don’t believe that citizen journalism heralds the end of professional writing. Nor do I believe that search engines negate the need for an ‘editorial package’. But in acknowledging the death of the traditional newsroom that night, I came to understand that if the newsroom had gone, then maybe the models on which I hoped to publish were gone too.

That certainly won’t stop me from writing long form (creative or narrative) non-fiction pieces. But it has made me wonder how my fellow emerging writers and I will get to our readers in the new publishing paradigm. And it has made me ask, What’s the future of long form? What do you think?