Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Posts Tagged ‘editors

The story of my WIRED commission

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In my last post I said that out of the 12 pitches I sent to editors in January, I only received one commission. That commission came from WIRED (UK), a publication I have long admired, and is a branch of the original mag founded by one of my heroes, Kevin Kelly.

Anyway, that commission has now been published. You can read it here.

This is the story of how I got the idea for the pitch and what led me to pitch WIRED, who I had never contacted, or written for before. It may be of interest to the aspiring freelance journalists out there, to gain some insight into how I come up with ideas, and how I go about pitching.

It all started with a library visit. I joined my local library, and I go there every so often to take out books and to browse the magazines. Reading magazines and other publications is an excellent way of coming up with story ideas.

But you have to be alert for potential items of interest. I was sat in the library, reading through The Economist. I read an article about Tencent, videogames, and government regulations in China, when I came across the following paragraph:


This was very interesting and I hadn’t known these things before. I read it again. I took a photo with my phone of this paragraph.

This paragraph has angles. There’s the female gamer in China angle, which is significant because it’s a higher proportion than in the west. There’s this game, Love and Producer,  which has been “wildly popular” with Chinese women in their 20s.

Story ideas should be specific, based on details, not generalised. You can’t pitch a story about videogames in China, but you can pitch an idea about a very popular game that’s hooked millions of young Chinese women that’s about dating four men, and by the way, women gamers are almost half of the market in China, unlike in the US or UK.

I then contacted a few Chinese friends to ask them about this game. I got some information from them, preparing my knowledge for a potential pitch.

I use Twitter and I follow lots of editors on there. I happened to see the tweet of a WIRED editor who had tweeted a call-out for pitches themed around love and romance, obviously tech or science-related, and with her email address. I took a screenshot of this call-out, for reference.

Then I pitched this editor the story idea. And the rest, as they say, is history.


More pitching blog posts:

Written by Lu-Hai Liang

February 12, 2019 at 2:01 pm

The Illusion of Journalistic Success

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I am not yet a successful journalist. Not by a long shot. But this month has been unprecedented for me, in the breadth and depth of bylines. The succession of published articles has been such that a friend of mine remarked that I seem to be “on a roll”. 

And yet, many of those articles that have now, finally, been published have been months in production. Days spent hunched over my laptop in my parent’s house, in the kitchen, making flagrant use of their landline. One article took over two months from its initial filing to its eventual publication. I spent many nights wondering if those articles I’d been labouring over during the summer had been all in vain.

Meanwhile, I wait for all that freelancing moolah to hit my bank account, meaning I’ve been living on vapours here in Beijing, having had to borrow 2000 RMB (£200) from a friend just to live on. (Moving over has really sapped my finances – I really should save more of a nest egg before coming over next time). In other words, journalistic ‘success’ is not really very real. When you hear about a journalist or writer whose career seems to be on the up, more likely they’ve been agonizing whether all that hard work, the meticulous reporting, cultivating of a story’s sources, the carefully put together prose hasn’t all been worth it. And of course they are likely to be dirt poor.  

But I have a good thing going on. Especially with a certain left-wing current affairs magazine. The editor there seems particularly keen to have me keep writing for them. It could be the start of something beautiful…

As a journalist, and especially as a freelancer, your eternal mission will be finding good editors. Editors you can have healthy, nurturing relationships with. They are your gatekeepers, your lovers – every pitch is a minor seduction – your employer, your critic, defender and promoter. If you hit on a good one, be sure to keep ’em. It could be the start of a long career and the very least a path you should walk until you’ve explored its length.  

Life lessons

I met the other day Malcolm Moore, 34, The Daily Telegraph’s Beijing correspondent. We had lunch after a short email correspondence and Malcolm spoke, after my prompts, about his route into journalism, the life of correspondents, the battle of getting your pieces accepted by editors, about the difference between Shanghai and Beijing. 

Like many 30-something journalists I’ve spoken to, his route into journalism is haphazard and pretty much accidental. He came across ever so slightly jaded. I had to wonder if he wasn’t just doing it just to put off a young, starry-eyed naif. I told him that perhaps I’m missing out, by concentrating on freelance, on the training and education instilled by the grind of daily deadlines of a staff reporting position or of being in a newsroom. He rebuffed that and said simply, “You do not want to be in a newsroom”. And made it sound like a hellish, grueling experience. 

In some ways it reaffirmed my mission of aiming, ultimately, to be a narrative non-fiction writer or essayist, in the mold of the Adam Gopniks, John Jeremiah Sullivans and Malcolm Gladwells. But to be that, to get into such an esteemed position also requires superior reporting skills and the sensibility of a finely-honed detective (Gladwell himself said he needed the ten years he spent at The Washington Post as a reporter before he could elevate himself to writing books and New Yorker pieces). 

Whatever happens, it’ll certainly be an adventure, and despite financial concerns for the future, raised by Malcolm (thanks buddy!), I look forward to whatever lay ahead. Sometimes, the struggle itself is the reward.  

Written by Lu-Hai Liang

October 29, 2013 at 10:02 am