For the past 26 years (and counting), Jill Dutton has worked as a freelance writer and magazine editor focusing on true crime, news, investigative journalism, and wellness. However, five years ago, she decided to hit the road and travel throughout North America, writing feature articles and guidebooks on her adventures. Her nomadic content covers everything from local food scenes and outdoor activities to liquor trends and travel-by-train advice. To gain her attention, publicists and brands need to catch her while they can since she’s always off on another journey. Here, Dutton spoke with Press Hook about her inspiring career:
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Tell me about your day-to-day routine.
Since I wear two hats, one as the publisher of a wellness magazine, EvolvingMagazine.com, the other as a travel writer, my days are a mix of tasks, appointments, and assignments.
I don’t set an alarm and typically rise about 7 a.m. I grab a cup of coffee and sit down to start responding to emails and looking over appointments and deadlines that are scheduled for the day. The rest of the day is filled with either article deadlines in which I’ve blocked out a few hours, interviews with sources, or tasks for my magazine such as updating the website, editing articles, working on the editorial calendar, and so on. Generally, I tend to work on assignments during my peak mental time from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., then have interviews scheduled in the afternoon.
How many stories do you work on in a month? How do you keep yourself organized?
I have a few ongoing projects: writing three articles per month for a seniors magazine, two articles per month for a national magazine, numerous assignments for a digital and print bartender magazine, and a variety of one-off projects. I usually write two to four articles per week.
I’ve shifted from writing multiple lower-paying articles to fewer, but higher-paying pieces in the past year. Organization is key for staying on track with two core projects—the magazine and travel writing—and multiple topics within each. For my writing, I use Trello with columns for ‘Assignments,’ ‘Due this Week,’ ‘Invoice this Month,’ and ‘YTD Earnings.’ As soon as I receive an assignment, I create a card with specs, due date, publication, and pay rate. I move the card from each column as I progress.
My ideas are organized in Scrivener. Each trip will generate numerous ideas, and they’re not all assigned. So I’ve created folders for each of my niches: food, culture, liquor trends, wellness, outdoors, and other topics. Once it's created, I place the idea and the query in the corresponding folder. I also have a folder for publications I’d like to pitch at some point. When I see a call for articles in my genre or want to pitch a new-to-me publication, everything is easy to locate.
How do you find sources/products?
Most of my sources are found while traveling. I focus on local foods, liquor trends, outdoor activities, and 50+ travel, writing mainly human-interest profiles. I have occasionally found sources through HARO, but stopped after a bad experience. I mostly use PR reps for Evolving Magazine, where I feature wellness products and profiles.
What stands out to you in a pitch from a publicist? The good? The bad?
Because I receive hundreds of publicist pitches per day, I’ve gotten pretty rigid about blocking any who start the subject box with “RE:” on first contact (this is my number one irritation), follow up repeatedly, or send information that isn’t relevant to my niches.
However, I frequently work with those who do send relevant pitches. These creative pros are crucial to finding great sources for Evolving Magazine and roundup articles for destinations I haven’t visited or visited recently.
How do you come up with story ideas?
I have two methods. Most of my ideas come from working steadily with a publication. Before I travel, I will line up multiple articles to conduct interviews while traveling. So the ideas for those pitches come from knowing what topics my ongoing publications seek.
Then, as I travel, I note additional ideas to pitch later. I send these ideas to either job listings I find throughout the week or seek out specific publications to pitch.
What's the hardest part of your job? What's the best part?
I sometimes joke that someone should have told me how much writing would be involved as a writer. There’s always a nugget of truth because it’s true that I thrive in the sales and prep aspects of writing—idea generation, pitching, finding sources and publications—but sometimes procrastinate when it’s time to sit down and write.
The best part is still, 26 years later, seeing my byline in a print publication.
What advice would you give to a publicist to catch your attention?
Please don’t send me a message saying how much you enjoyed my article at Liquor.com or another site where I work as a freelance writer—and ask me to update the article to include your client. I cannot update these articles like someone could if it was their blog.
Other than that, study my niches so you tailor the pitch specifically to my editorial needs.