If you’re reading this, then you are probably wondering how to pitch to The Fence. Well, on a practical level, emailing [email protected] with your idea is the best advice we can give you.
But as for the wider question of ‘how do I get something commissioned?’, we can share a bit of guidance here. Our magazine is divided into four sections: ‘Facts’, ‘Features’, ‘Fiction’, and ‘Etc’. The sections are fairly amorphous – what begins as a Facts piece can often snowball into a Feature; an Etc. piece can often drift to the front of the book when we want to lighten the tone of things – but they’re handy to keep in mind when pitching.
A Facts piece is more like a curio. Tonally, we like to keep them quite light – not necessarily funny, per se, but breezy and diverting. Put simply, they’re a space for a good yarn in whatever form that takes: an essay on the history of souvenirs, a dispatch from a Devon deli run by a cult, a tour of Oxford with Tommy Wiseau. We commission Facts pieces at between 1000 and 1750 words, typically, as they can only really take up two pages maximum, with illustrations (have a flick through a recent issue to see what we mean).
For a Features piece, what we’re after is a bit of heft and substance. If the Facts section is more ‘isn’t this interesting?’, the Features section is more ‘isn’t this important?’. Now, that’s not to say that we want nothing but wall-to-wall hard-hitting scoops – it’s more to say that a Features piece needs an animating idea behind it, a case for why it’s important for us to share it right now. That can be because it hasn’t been written about at length before (as with a forthcoming piece about the history of British bandy), or that it’s an argument that hasn’t been made so comprehensively before (like this essay on the indefinable boundaries of Scouse identity) or that it’s too fun an idea not to do properly (like this profile of the two men inside Mr Blobby). For these stories, we’re more flexible with word count, usually settling things up at between 2000 and 3000 words, but only if they justify the length. We want to keep things tight and zippy, for page space, readability, and proper use of our resources – a longer piece shouldn’t take more than two sittings to read, ideally, and should be compelling enough to do it in one.
But, to circle back to the aforementioned ‘hard-hitting scoops’ – we really do want them, if you’ve got them, and we’ll back you all the way if the story is right. As many words as you need, editorial support, legal support, everything to get the story over the line. These investigations are often not directly tied to issue releases; if something needs longer, it takes longer, and goes in when it’s ready. But with these stories, we need real meat on the bone: lots of sources, reams of notes, meetings with us to work on the tone, tenor and structure of the final story. We’ve now had several really excellent investigations come out under our masthead – exposés on Brampton Manor school, the Institute of Art and Ideas, and Queen Ethelburga’s College, all of which took months and months of rigorous journalism to execute perfectly. Read these three first before you pitch an investigation, and be aware that the commitment is a considerable one.
Insider accounts, written by those working for powerful or misunderstood institutions, are a mainstay of The Fence. Have a look at this piece by a BBC journalist tasked with working on the Brexit debates for a feel on tone. They can flit between Facts and Features, and can run anonymously if you prefer – again, so long as the story has the goods, we’re happy to accommodate you with anything that you need.
For our Fiction section, we run one short story per issue, and submissions are usually opened around two months before the issue is due to come out. We want to keep things capped at around 5000 words here, and we typically go for nice, fun, dry humour, written with skill and approachability. We would prefer it if you pitched us a short story and wrote it specifically for us, as a lot of submissions don’t seem to have the tone of our magazine in mind. It also helps to have a book or two already out – we’ve had great authors like Sophie Mackintosh, Rebecca Watson, Claire Lowdon, Tim MacGabhann and Nell Zink in our Fiction section, and so pre-existing bonafides are very handy for getting through the door.
Last, but by no means least, is our Etc. section, which is typically stuffed with a lot of daftness from our editorial team, but is welcome to contributors who have a good gag to share. It’s a miscellany, so we really do have the space to accommodate a lot of daft ideas – infographics, silly guides, list gags, parodies, funny maps and so on. We place a lot of value in format-breaking stuff that can work in harmony with our art direction and our illustrators, so think playfully. Try not to pitch us a comic essay – if it’s a funny idea that can be written through, it should go in Facts.
Rates depend on a number of factors: section suitability, length, amount of work involved. This is something we decide on a per-case basis, and we’re happy to chat over email about them while discussing an idea. But we pay fairly and pre-publication for all work, and our contributors often end up writing lots for us, then lots for other places, after a great debut piece in our pages. It goes without saying that first-time writers are especially welcome.
We do also consider online-only pieces, which are time-sensitive, for which the rates are somewhat lower, and which are usually Facts-style pieces.
That’s it! We do our best to reply to all pitches, and we look forward to hearing from you.