By Christina Jedra
If you’ve ever read a magazine, you’ve probably read Logan Hill’s work. He’s written countless profiles, entertainment stories and culture pieces for magazines like Billboard, Elle, Esquire, Glamour, New York, Rolling Stone… There are literally too many to print!And his extensive list of celebrity interviewees includes everyone from Leo DiCaprio to Madonna. The versatile pro has even parlayed his regular work for glossies into radio reporting for NPR, on-camera celebrity interviews for the New York Times, and a monthly dating column in Cosmopolitan.
But the North Carolina native started from the bottom like the rest of us, and he chatted with Ed about how he worked his byline into every major book in the biz.
You have an enviable resume. How did you get to where you are?
I was in graduate program and hit a point where I’d been writing a lot about American cultural history and journalism ― and I didn’t what the hell I was talking about. I felt I had no way to write about the history of media without doing it. So, I applied to a ton of jobs. I’d never lived in the city, so the appeal of moving to New York and trying it out was big for me. I didn’t know journalists, I didn’t know what the job was like, I have never done school newspapers. But I got a job at New York and immediately loved it. I got paid terribly. I answered people’s phones. But I also started at a time when the magazine was broke. They didn’t have the money to hire anyone better than me, so I got a lot of assignments. They would send me out with my little business card, and I’d go out and interview gospel singers and write about theater. I fell in love with the city and journalism at the same time!
And you were also pitching at night. Were you emailing people you didn’t know?
Yeah, cold pitching is a drag. I think one of the reasons I’m okay at freelancing is I don’t take that rejection personally anymore. If somebody doesn’t get back to me, I don’t let it get under my skin. If somebody doesn’t get back two or three times in row, I stop emailing.
You were on staff at New York and GQ before you went freelance. What was the benefit of starting from the inside?
Your coworkers go on to other places. It’s not really networking up that’s important as much as it is laterally. Your colleagues become your friends. I’ve been in this since ‘98 and friends of mine run stuff now. We were all fact-checking and suffering together, and now we’re all doing more interesting work.
How did you end up in freelancing?
I was forced into it. I got laid off at GQ. It worked out great because as soon as I got laid off, I went to Twitter and said ‘Yo I’m freelance as of right now. Here’s my email. Who’s got work for me?’ The New York Observer wrote a media story about the layoffs and quoted my tweet, including my email address. I’m always grateful to whoever that reporter was. That was on a Thursday and I was out reporting on Friday for Businessweek. I was making more the next week than the old job. I always tell people: Don’t be embarrassed about being laid off.
How have you worked for so many different big names?
I always made sure I had more than one thing going on and that I had contacts at other magazines. Even when I was on staff at GQ, I was doing features for Wired or Glamour. But I remember going to visit Caroline Miller, who was editor-in-chief of New York, and she told me, ‘Oh my god, you’ve got three covers in a row at Glamour. Just remember you won’t be their favorite thing forever.’ It’s not about you. People fall in love with writers for a short period of time, fall in love with someone else, and come back to you two years later. You’re either hot shit or just one of another thousand writers. So, I’ve turned down a lot of regular gigs that’ll swallow up too much of my time. I prefer to spread it out. If someone leaves the magazine that is supportive of me, then I’m screwed.
You’ve expanded into events, television, and your column for Cosmopolitan. Tell me about that.
I did intentionally make that a part of my job. Sometimes it’s dangerous as a freelancer if people don’t know the story is by you, if your voice isn’t coming through as a writer. You have to have something that reminds people that it’s you writing that story, not just some person doing a Q&A with someone or a product review.
Do you have a pitch quota?
I used to ― I think having one is a great idea. I also used to schedule it for a particular time each week. Every Friday, I would carve out six hours to research and deliver pitches. And just a tip: Don’t leave it to the end of the day!
How do you manage assignments that editors give you?
At a certain point, you lose control of your freelance career. This happened to me a couple years ago. I looked back on a six-month period and all the stories I really wanted to do, that were more original ideas, I hadn’t done. I’d gotten a lot of offers to write stories or editors calling to interviewing this celebrity or write about a new movie coming out. I realized I was proud of those stories, but they weren’t that memorable.
What kinds of stories do you like to do?
I think there’s three ways stories are good for me to write. One is a story that’s impactful, relevant, and has news value or reframes the conversation. The second is a story that gives me pleasure to do, if the writing is really fun or the reporting is fascinating. And the third is the one that pays the money. What I’ve found is you can often get two of the three but almost never all three.
Where do you get your ideas from?
A lot of what I do is cultural reporting. It’s about being attuned to those moments at dinner with a friend and we’re talking about something, and I jot down notes on my phone and see if there’s something there. It helps to take a break from the torrent of pitches in my inbox. I have weird little interests I like to pursue.
Do you have any advice for young writers?
I feel like there’s this idea that writing can’t be taught or learned through practice, but I’m a strong believer that if you push yourself and have editors give you tough love, it helps.
Any last thoughts?
I grew up in a small town, and for me the business card was my superhero utility belt like, this is my social excuse to meet all these interesting people. For example, I spent last week talking to special effects artists, and it was a great week diving into that world. I feel lucky I get to do that.