There’s a chance you read the stories on The Autopian every day and think: “Look at these absolute goons; if they can do this, so can I!” Well, yes and no. After all, “can” and “should” are very different things. We must advise caution here; do this wrong, and you could go down a very dark path that ultimately leads to Buick Park Avenue Ultra ownership. Having said that, we’re always wanting for stories around here, especially from new voices and especially if those voices can meet our tough editorial standards. We pay, too!
So if you want to pitch a freelance story to us, go ahead (and thank you for considering writing for us). But here’s what we’re looking for, and what you need to do first.
Our Mission: The Autopian’s goal is to serve the car enthusiast community by sharing stories that inform and entertain while celebrating the unifying quality of automobiles.
Our Philosophy: The Autopian is a “Yes First” organization. New ideas are welcomed with open arms, not discarded out of fear or laziness. This team embraces change and growth.
Quality Is Job Number One: Basically, be prepared to turn in good, clean, high-quality writing. Read Strunk & White cover-to-cover. Consult the AP Stylebook. Make sure 100% of your stories have gone through a spelling/grammar check (Google Docs will do) prior to submission. This last one is a requirement—since we’re a small operation, we’re not in a great spot to perform surgery on your work.
What We’re After: The Double-E Rule
We Value Expertise: What can you teach readers that they don’t already know and cannot easily learn without your guidance? What insight do you have — through your own experience or through your research?
The “Double-E Rule”: Any article written on The Autopian must meet the following criteria: It must be entertaining or sufficiently enlightening. Ideally both.
For readers to feel that their time has been well-spent perusing an article, they must have experienced either fun or significant learning. In other words, the typical reader expects each story to contain humor, some other form of entertainment, or a significant amount of information that they don’t already know.
If a person finishes a story and does not say either “Wow, that was fun” or “Wow, I learned something new today,” then they will likely be unsatisfied with the piece.
Thus, the Double-E Rule is the standard at The Autopian. Building an understanding of how much of each E is needed to leave your audience satisfied is something that takes time and experience. Until then, just ask yourself “Is this entertaining or enlightening?” And if it’s not strong in one area, is that made up for with more of the other ingredient? Just posing that question can expedite your ability to properly frame and execute your story; fine-tuning the quantities will come with time.
Note: This isn’t just about making readers happy that they took the time to read your story, it’s about getting them to read the story in the first place. The latter is just as important as the former, and the Double-E rule applies to it just as much. Your headline and intro paragraphs need to help readers feel like they’re either going to read something fun or that they’re about to learn something new (and that they haven’t read elsewhere.)
As you establish your reputation at the site, people will associate your byline with Double-E, and that alone will be enough to get them to read; that should be the dream of any writer.
If you’re not a seasoned expert, you need to figure out why anyone should listen to you. Or you need to find people who are and interview them.
Not An Expert? Find One
If you write for us, you’re a journalist, and that means we have high standards for accuracy and quality.
It’s your job to leverage that opportunity to provide readers with genuine insight. Get answers from experts, not just some website that you Googled. Dig into exclusive imagery and long research papers, not just YouTube videos. Make some phone calls, send some emails, or experience something in person: You are the public’s tour guide for the automotive industry. And if properly executed, that tour will fascinate hundreds of thousands of people every day.
Technical Articles MUST Include Input From Experts
At The Autopian, we generally expect stories to include input from experts (engineers, technicians, historians, analysts, etc.) whenever possible.
If you are one of those, great! We’d love to have you write for us. If you’re not, find some experts—or ask us to hook you up. We have an extensive Rolodex, we don’t expect you to know everyone and we’re always down to help.
Example: If you want to write a story about bushings — ex: “Bushings Can Make A Huge Difference In How Your Car Drives: What You Need To Know” — our readers will expect that story to have input from people who are experts on the topic. Engineers, mechanics, product planners, America’s top scientists… people like that.
In this instance, if you’re not an expert, you cannot write authoritatively about bushings (again, just an example) without strong sourcing. Even if you’ve done all sorts of research on the web, you’re going to miss certain key elements that only an engineer can know, so you need to make sure your research includes input from true experts. Yes, you can base your story on a scientific research paper written by experts, but your first instinct should be to have experts directly inform our stories, especially technical ones.
If you need some, just ask! We’re probably able to help you find some folks if you need. But that’s something you should try to bring to the table.
Images are Critical
All stories here have art of some kind. You don’t have to be a pro shooter, but it’s highly encouraged to bring your own work, or use photos from the automakers’ media sites or publicly-available pictures.
Snag screenshots off YouTube, Wikipedia is sometimes okay if it’s labeled public domain, use for-sale listings, and of course, manufacturers’ websites are often awesome. If you’re not sure whether you can use an image, just ask (we have a guide). If you need The Autopian to draw you an image, we have artists on our payroll.
What We Want
- Engineering deep-dives into interesting, relevant technology, especially written by experts in their fields.
- History lessons from people who were there at the time.
- Dives into an interesting car culture or subculture nobody knows about.
- Deeply sourced stories where a lot of voices are involved.
- Stories from people who lead interesting lives working on lots of interesting machines.
- Stories that counter a popular narrative, and are different from everything else on the web.
- Stories from folks who who maybe haven’t been represented much in car journalism, for whatever reason.
- Stories with lots of good, original photos whenever possible.
What We Don’t Want
- Car reviews if you’ve never done any before, or requests to get into a press car.
- Articles that require a lot of overhauling. We keep our overhauling to cars!
- “Takes” that do not require significant research/a unique perspective. (Ex: “I think this car is the best value on the market” — This does not pass Double E).
- News items—we have a daily staff that handles those. (Unless you’re sitting on a hot scoop, in which case, get in touch ASAP.)
- Very short items. No thanks, we want features instead. (1,000 words is considered on the smaller side)
- SEO-gaming articles and lists. Leave that race to the bottom stuff to the competition.
- Fiction or satire (only Jason gets to do this). We are not a literary magazine.
- Press releases or PR pitches (unless you’re with an OEM). Please don’t send those to the contributor story pitch line.
Ok, with that out of the way, here’s what’s next:
Step 0: You can request a more complete freelance pitch guide via email (firstname.lastname@example.org. Use subject line: Pitch Document Request).
Step 1: First, freelancers suggest a topic to write about with a specific angle involved. In the business, we call this “the pitch.” Often this can be in headline format (How Volvo’s Radically ‘Humane’ Car Production Idea Lost Out To Toyota, for example.) It can be a rough headline idea; your editors will make the final call on the headline.
Make a list of story headlines that will form the basis for the stories you’re pitching. Along with each headline, include a 1-2 sentence blurb about the story’s subject and angle. Also include why each pitch passes Double-E.
Step 2: Send it to us at pitches at the autopian dot com. Twitter DMs and text messages don’t count as pitches, sorry. If we’re interested, you’ll hear from us. If we’re not, you may not. Don’t take it personally—we’re a small and busy team and we do the best we can. [Ed Note: This guide is hopefully going to help us improve our process, as I haven’t been great about freelance-submission management. -DT].
But if we’re into your idea, then you and the editor will concoct a basic plan of how to construct the story. A deadline will be established unless it’s a piece you’ve pre-written first.
Step 3: Upon receiving the draft (in Google Docs, with grammar/spelling check already complete), the Autopian staffer will go back and forth with the writer, suggesting edits until the piece is ready for publication.
Step 4: Upon handing in the final draft, email a completed W-9 form and an invoice to email@example.com (a standard invoice doc is available should you need one). Just make sure to include an invoice number of some kind.
Freelance Story Rates
Our freelance rates are based upon a number of factors, the main ones being 1. The author’s level of expertise on the topic 2. The author’s writing experience. 3. How well we think the story will perform with our audience. 4. If travel is involved or heavy research, those can affect the rate, as well.
Generally, though, we start at $300 for “standard” stories from people with professional writing experience, and move up to $500 for longer, more heavily researched/reported features or for reviews that require multi-day press trips. Though we are a startup trying to remain lean, we’re willing negotiate up for excellent stories, especially pieces requiring extremely intensive research. (If you have a world-beating piece, we want it to be published here). Newbies with no writing experience who have interesting stories to tell will also sometimes be accepted, as well, though we pay about $100 to $200 when the story is from someone new to this world and when it requires major surgery (this number can grow as the writer grows).
Hit us up anytime! Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
And readers, we’d love comments on what types of stories you’d like to see around here. Maybe a freelance writer will see your idea with its many thumbs ups and think “Hmm, maybe I should dig into that.”