Car News: Oversteer
How Do You Start Out Reviewing Cars and Making Car Videos?
Hello, and welcome to Ask Doug, your favorite weekly column where you write in with an automotive question and Doug looks it over and discards it because you did not provide enough platitudes before asking.
If you'd like to participate in Ask Doug, you can! Just send an e-mail to OversteerDoug@gmail.com, and I will happily look over your question and possibly even answer it, unless it is very stupid, in which case I will show it to everyone I know and we will laugh at you.
In today's Ask Doug, we have a very special question from a reader I've named Drew. Drew writes:
You probably get these all the time, so not to waste your precious time, I wanna make this short.
For someone thinking about doing car reviews (just gonna rip-off your reviewing-style 100%) I'm interested to hear your advice starting out in this.
Would really appreciate to hear your expertise to another internet stranger.
Have a great day,
Although I normally prefer questions that are focused more on cars -- rather than the business of writing about cars, or making videos with cars -- I do get a LOT of questions on this very topic, namely: How did you start out? How should I start out? What should I do to start out? What path should I take to automotive video or writing success? So I figured maybe I should answer one of them.
Well, Drew and all, let me start by saying there's absolutely zero prescribed path in my industry. This world is a tremendously unusual one, and virtually everyone who's ever had any success in it will tell you that they didn't follow a regular route. It's not like becoming an attorney, where you go to college, and then you go to law school, and then you pass the bar, and then eventually you fill in your house's swimming pool because you're worried about the liability risk.
Here's how I got started. Back in 2009, I was featured in an article in Automobile Magazine about car spotting -- the act of taking pictures of exotic cars seen on the street, which I enjoyed doing when I was a college student. The article happened to be noticed by an employee of Autotrader, who was about to launch a subsection of Autotrader with automotive articles and reviews -- and he hired me to write a couple of stories. Eight years and thousands of articles later, we've launched Oversteer, and we're defying every expectation I personally had about the number of readers we'd get.
As you can see, this isn't a path that can be replicated -- and it almost didn't happen. I sometimes wonder, if that article about me in Automobile hadn't been sitting on that magazine rack, whether I'd be selling insurance in suburban Des Moines.
As for the videos, I never planned to do anything but writing. But as I started to branch out with my writing, a reader emailed me and told me I should do videos. Videos, he told me, were the future. The idea had never occurred to me before -- so I bought a couple of cameras, and a now infamous huge Bluetooth microphone, and I made a truly awful video with my Nissan Cube. I never uploaded that one. A few weeks later, I made a different video with my Cadillac CTS-V Wagon. I uploaded that one, and I've never looked back.
There are two pieces of advice I always give people who email me and ask for guidance on how to start their careers in this world. Number one, especially for people who aspire to make car videos, is: Consider starting with your own cars. For the first year or two, all I did was write about and make videos with my own cars and cars I had owned previously. Admittedly, I bought a Ferrari specifically for this purpose -- which most people can't do. But even our crazy Tyler Hoover has had major success making videos with his fleet of hilarious beaters, accumulating nearly 30,000 subscribers (as of this writing) in just 18 videos. That's a lot better than I did when I was first starting out.
My second piece of advice is especially aimed at people interested in writing about cars, and that is: Don't be afraid to write for an outlet whose primary benefit is exposure, and not money. I remember, when I first started out, a fellow car journalist cautioned me to never write anything for less than $200 per article. I accepted far less than half of that to write for Jalopnik -- and the guy who gave me that advice is no longer in this business.
Although people initially laughed at how little I was earning, the benefit was Twitter followers, YouTube subscribers, Facebook fans and interested viewers and readers -- and I've been able to keep many of those people around as I've launched Oversteer and created more and more videos. It also helps to start off by writing on the side of your day job, because then you can use your own personality to write stories that are interesting -- rather than accepting jobs simply because you need the money. But you have to be hungry: I still remember coming home each night from my desk job, writing for several hours, going to sleep and starting it all over again in the morning. It has never been easy.
Most importantly, though, Drew, two last thoughts: before I started doing this, I didn't ask for anyone to suggest me a path. I just went for it. And I suggest, if you're really serious about it, doing the same -- largely because this business is so far out of the norm that it's almost impossible to really follow a "path" with any degree of certainty. If you get so caught up following a path, you may not notice all the other opportunities around you. Also, I caution you that success could take a lot longer than you realize: I started doing this in late 2009, and I didn't truly feel like I might be able to make it my career until September 21, 2016 -- seven years later -- at my reader and viewer meetup in Minneapolis.
This isn't an easy business, but it can be a rewarding one, and I wish you all the luck in the world -- I know I certainly had a lot of it. Most importantly, I look forward to reading your first article or watching your first video.
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.