How To Pitch: Portland

Adopt a local’s ‘extraordinary perspective’ and you’ll break into this Maine monthly

By Kate Parham

Circulation: 100,000

Frequency: Monthly

Special issues: “Summerguide” is the largest at 240 pages; November features “The 10 Most Intriguing People in Maine.”

Background: In 1981, four years before Portland arrived on the scene, Colin Sargent, the magazine’s founder and publisher, was learning the ropes in, of all places, the military. The youngest officer to earn editorship at the Navy’s flying-oriented Approach Magazine, he paired a diploma from the U.S. Naval Academy with a subsequent MFA from Stonecoast MFA. (Sargent has authored three books of fiction.) Soon after, Sargent Publishing Inc. was up and running, and Maine’s (ahem) main city mag was born.

“What’s a quarter century between friends?” says Sargent. “For 25 years, we’ve re-interpreted the city magazine format to create a quirky, intelligent, absolutely individual take on a regional publication…the party continues.” The magazine is known as ‘Maine’s People Magazine,’ and Sargent sets a standard of “Extraordinary Perspective,” aiming to inform the visitor and resident alike about what’s exceptional about Portland. “We publish revelatory stories about Maine and the Maine mystique, that sense of a Maine outside of Maine,” he says. “Our readers appreciate breakthrough ideas. It’s not enough for us just to have a story about popular cocktails or super doctors. What a story means is an important part of what a story is.”

In every issue, national-caliber fiction is included, with such authors as Sebastian Junger, Mameve Medwed, Rick Moody, Diane Lefer, and John Buffalo Mailer. Great writing isn’t all Portland has; it’s also the only magazine in Maine to have won 27 national graphic design awards in the last five years.

What to pitch: Sargent and the editors at Portland are looking for original ideas, hard-to-get interviews, and live quotes. “We don’t like to run our ideas through the same car wash, so a big hint is be sure to read our magazine,” says Sargent. For examples of what the editors consider some of their greatest hits, see “Classic Maine Stories” on “Don’t be afraid to astonish us with a bespoke query tailored only for us and our audience. Think ‘no vanilla, but instead mint chocolate chip with a hint of cayenne pepper,'” says Sargent.

Every section is open to freelancers. Although many columns are handled by regular contributors, a freelancer can still pitch one of those as well. “We work closely with writers, honor their inspirations and strengths, and pay according to the strength of the idea and how it’s expressed,” says Sargent. “We love stories full of live quotes from hard-to-get subjects discussing things that fascinate our readers.” Don’t pitch a story about the lobster roll, but instead pitch a story featuring an interview with Gordon Ramsay on vacationing in Maine and his recipe for a lobster roll, as well as his take on Maine lobsters versus Canadian lobsters and his favorite local restaurant.

What not to pitch: Everything is open.

Online opportunities: The online content stems from stories in the print version, but they don’t often publish cartoons and quizzes. The editors love great photos that tell a story or anything that could be part of another story. Proposing multimedia content will increase your chances of acceptance, too.

“If you’re doing a story about young Jackie Bouvier [Kennedy] in Bar Harbor and you’ve just discovered original photographs and her childhood diary, or if you’ve gone house-hunting with Taylor Swift on the coast of Maine, or have high-res images of a Ralph Lauren catalog shoot that’s being conducted in secret in Kennebunkport, definitely pitch those for the website. “Our best stories come from writers who are active participants in creating the look of a story both in its print version and online,” says Sargent.

Percentage freelance content: Most of the departments are written by freelance writers, so usually over 50 percent.

Recent freelance stories pitched and published: “Meet the (Other) Pearys” covered the Inuit descendants of famed Maine polar explorer Robert Peary. “American Chop Suey” considered Maine’s graphic influence on Edward Hopper. Other stories penned by contributors include “The Beautiful & Tanned: Carson Kressley on his Maine,” a piece about how Maine’s beloved lobster stew was invented in England and isn’t even really a stew, and another on how New York designers are plugged into Maine’s flannel channel.

Etiquette: Email with clips, although great clips never take the place of a great idea. “We’re proud of the new writers who light up our audience with stories, which should, at least obliquely, have something to do with Maine. Think of your pitch as the trailer to a movie,” says Sargent.

Lead-time: Think six months ahead. However, if a last-minute idea comes up, don’t let that stop you. For a really timely idea, the editors will open an issue up.

Pay rate: $100 to $600 flat fee, not by word.
Payment schedule: On publication
Kill fee: None. “We knock ourselves out to help a story meet its readers. We believe in working with writers until that happens,” says Sargent.
Rights purchased: First North American serial


• October 1985: Portland Magazine founded. First issue sets record at
Portland News for single-copy sales of a premiere issue.

• April-July 1986: Waterfront series by John Taylor wins First Prize for Magazine Feature Writing in award ceremony conducted by the American Society of Business Communications.

• June 1986: Magazine is profiled on television news by WGME-TV as one of three successful new small businesses in Maine. Feature articles on magazine printed in the Hartford Courant and the Maine Sunday Telegram.

• August 1987: Cover story breaks the news that van Gogh’s Les Iris painting is about to be sold, forcing Sotheby’s to confirm this story to other media at a press conference in September.

• December 1988: Stephen King ends five-year silence with re-gional
magazines. In a controversial interview in Portland Magazine, he calls
Portland a “blow-dry, Perrier, Mazda type of city.” Record news-stand sales.

• September 1989: Jamie Wyeth interview appears with photos by Life magazine photographer Susan Gray. Interview draws praise from Andrew Wyeth.

• January 1990: Portland Public Library allocates funds to hard-bind Portland Magazine as part of its permanent collection of magazines.

• April 1990: Fiction by Pulitzer Prizewinner Louis Simpson.

• July 1990: Hannaford Brothers starts a program to provide new company executives with copies of the magazine.

• March 1991: Five-year-old Portland Magazine wins newsstand distribution on major newsstands in New York, Boston, Hartford, Providence, Worcester, Newport, Lawrence, Lowell, and the Massachusetts North Shore.

• April 1991: The New York Public Library, praising the magazine for “original regional coverage and literary merit,” purchases the entire back list for its permanent collection.

• July 1992: Two major Canadian bookstore chains begin distributing
Portland Magazine.

• October 1992: Readers Digest, Inc., contracts with Portland Magazine to sell subscriptions nationwide through its QSP program.

• July/August 1993: Fiction by Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm.

• October 1996: Portland Magazine is featured nationwide on ABC’s Rosie O’Donnell show.

• December 2002: Picked up by

• Summerguide 2003: Record ad sales result in 224 pages of color, energy, and insight.

• December 2003: All-time annual subscription record smashed by 44 percent as Portland Magazine soars into its 19th year.

• September 2004: Magazine growing at 47 percent, sets records New England-wide.

• June 2005: Portland Magazine is the winner of both Best Cover and Best of the Show awards at the Maggie Zine Cover Award Competition, conducted in Greensboro, North Carolina, by NewsStand Resource. The cover took first place na-tionally in the City, Regional, and Special magazine category for achieve-ment in art direction and newsstand appeal, and then as a capping honor was chosen to be the Grand Prize Winner as Best of the Show.

“We had 500 entrants in the cover competition, including National Geographic, U.S. News & World Report, Scientific American, Nickel-odeon Magazine, Pittsburgh Magazine, and out of all of them Portland Magazine had the best cover,” says Frances Becker Cliff, publisher of NewsStand Resource, the nation’s leading trade magazine for single-copy newsstand sales. “We love it. It’s just Maine, you know? It says Maine.”

• August 2005:, the international consortium for media followers, praises Portland Magazine for “high caliber” content…”in the vein of Pulitzer Prize winner Louis Simpson, Frederick Barthelme, and Barbara Lefcowitz…in addition to the standard city-mag fare…indeed the magazine reaches beyond the usual…”

• June 2006: Portland Magazine wins a second national award for cover art direction presented at the Maggie Zine Cover Award Competition from NewsStand Resource in the City, Regional, and Special magazine category.

• Summerguide 2006: Award-winning author Rick Moody-of Garden State, The Ice Storm, and The Black Veil fame-writes Lamoine for our fiction feature.

• August 2006: Portland Magazine is profiled as one of the top-tier commercial magazines in the country for savvy mediaphiles to follow and submit their work to, international media consortium.

• March 2007: Portland Magazine wins an unprecedented third national award for cover art direction presented at the Maggie Zine Cover Award Competition from NewsStand Resource in the City, Regional, and Special magazine category.
• July 2007: 224-page Summerguide 2007 eclipses all records for a magazine published in Portland. A new standard is set.

Portland Magazine chosen to be complimentary passenger selections on jetBlue Airlines, Amtrak Downeaster, and premier business-travel clubs in all major airports in the Northeast.

• September 2007: Portland Magazine wins eight prizes at the Ameri-can Graphic Design Awards by Graphic Design USA magazine and sponsored by Adobe Systems Incorporated. Winning designs included:
February/March 2007-Publication Design
December 2006-Cover Design
Winterguide 2007-Cover Design
“Who Is That Guy?” [November 2006]-Editorial Design
“Vanishing Point” [Winterguide 2007]-Editorial Design
“Tall Order” [Winterguide 2007]-Editorial Design
“Tasty Maine” [December 2006]-Editorial Design
“How Clean Is Portland Harbor?” [Dec. 2006]-Editorial Design

• November 2007: Portland Stage praises “the diversity of the articles and features in Portland Magazine-“truly a champion of the arts.”

• September 2008: Portland Magazine captures five prizes at a nationwide juried competition from one of the most respected design industry resources, the prestigious national American Graphic Design Awards for design excel–
lence conducted in New York by Graphic Design USA magazine. Winning designs included:
Summerguide 2007-Cover Design
May 2007-Cover Design
April 2007-Cover Design
“We’ll Leave a Light On for You”
[September 2007]-Editorial Design
“Dream a Little Dream”
[Winterguide 2008]-Editorial Design
“You have been selected a winner…For the fourth straight year, we saw a remarkable 10,000 entries; of these a highly selective 15 percent are recognized with Awards of Excellence. Congratulations!” -Gordon Kaye, Editor, Graphic Design USA, and Rachel Goldberg, Awards Director

• Portland Magazine Wins 5 National Prizes at the 2009 American Graphic Design Awards

New York—Portland Magazine captures five prizes at the prestigious national American Graphic Design Awards for design excellence in ceremonies conducted in Manhattan by Graphic Design USA.

The American Graphic Design Awards is a nationwide juried competition from one of the most respected design industry resources. The awards have been presented for over three decades, and the judges are composed of industry leaders in all aspects of graphic design.

Graphic Design USA’s prize announcement of the awards, including the individual issues of Portland Magazine that received the honors:


You have been selected as a winner in the 2009 AMERICAN GRAPHIC DESIGN AWARDS.

For more than four decades, Graphic Design USA has sponsored national design competitions that spotlight areas of excellence and opportunity for creative professionals. The American Graphic Design Awards is the biggest and broadest of these, open to everyone in the community: advertising agencies, graphic design firms, corporations, institutions, publishers and more. It honors outstanding work of all kinds and across all media.

For the fourth straight year, we saw a remarkable 8,000+ entries; of these, a highly selective 15 percent are recognized with Awards of Excellence.

Portland Magazine, Winterguide 2008
Portland Magazine, February/March 2008
Portland Magazine, Summerguide 2008
Portland Magazine, December 2008
Portland Magazine, February/March 2009

Again, congratulations and best wishes.
Gordon Kaye–Editor/Publisher, Graphic Design USA
Rachel Goldberg–Awards Director

“Some magazines may win around two to three multiple awards, but it’s very difficult to win five,” says awards director Rachel Goldberg, noting “I believe Portland Magazine’s awards for excellence in publication design are the only ones north of Boston.”

Portland Magazine also won multiple American Graphic Design Awards for Design Excellence in 2007 and 2008, as well as six national graphic-design awards for front cover art direction at the annual Maggie Zine Awards sponsored by NewsStand Resource magazine of Greensboro, North Carolina, including First Prize and Best in Show.

“It’s a great way to open our silver anniversary celebrations to begin our 25th year,” says Robert Witkowski, Portland Magazine’s design director.

The full list of award winners will be published in the December 2009 GDUSA Design Annual. Previous publication winners include Condé Nast’s SELF, USA Today Weekend Magazine, and BusinessWeek.