"Writing for magazines" What a title! Many books have been written about magazine writing, and to try to condense everything there is to know here would be futile indeed. Therefore I am going to concentrate on writing short items. Features which can be slotted in between other jobs. We all have half an hour here or there which could be utilised for writing, so here I am going to briefly outline how to present work and give you a few ways to generate ideas for your articles. Gail Miller explains:
Presenting your work
Always check who the current editor of the publication you are targeting is. Always enclose an SAE and don't be in too much of a hurry to receive your reply. Magazines work through their mail very slowly and a wait of three or four months to find out if work has been accepted is not out of the ordinary. Submit manuscripts on one side of white A4 paper and print in black ink. Put your name, address and telephone/email number on every page and leave generous margins all around the page. If you use more than one page for your feature, number each page. Double space your work and use around size 12 font size.
If your mind cannot generate ideas to write about, your typing fingers certainly won't be able to get into action. Therefore it is a good idea to start an 'ideas file' which will contain cuttings of anything which you have seen that fires your imagination. Start collecting news snippets, facts and figures, humourous news items - in fact anything that will get your creative juices flowing. Try to talk to as many people as you can in your day to day life and don't be afraid to eavesdrop either! You can pick up some fantastic stories listening in to other people's conversations. No really! Just don't make it too obvious.
Keep in mind the timing of your submission too. Yearly events or special occasions can be worked into short articles very nicely However most magazines work quite a few months in advance, so if you are wanting to submit something topical to Christmas, don't bother sending it in November or even October. If I was wanting to submit something for possible publication around Christmas time I would submit it around June or July. This may be hard to believe, but you really do need to send things in this early. Look through a dictionary of dates and look for anniversaries for things; famous battles, shipwrecks, music, politics, entertainment. There are many starting points to set you off on the road to an interesting piece of work.
If you are still stuck for ideas, why not write what you know about. Do you have children? What are your hobbies? Do you have any employment experience that can be turned around and used as material for your writing? Where do you live? Is there some interesting snippets of information that you could pass on in a short feature? It is quite easy to generate ideas when you look at your own life and experience.
There are many types of feature that are a page or less when published. If you are wanting to write medium length articles aim for the 1000 word mark. Shorter articles can go right down to around the 350 word mark. These are called short, shorts. They are still viable as features in their own right however. When you are writing short pieces, you really can focus on anything. If you want to talk about miniature dolls houses, why not? What about pollution, transport, animals? The sky's the limit. These subjects could be made into fillers, quizzes, humourous anecdotes or factual pieces. On the other hand, there are certain types of features that are designed to be short by their very nature - all excellent openings to the freelancer.
- Lists; where the writer gives a list of facts or tips, e.g. "You know it's Christmas when ....." you would then follow with a list of reasons why you know it's Christmas when ..... or something like "20 ways to beat stress".
- Book reviews; (or music, theatre or cinema reviews). You also find reviews about restaurants and clubs and pubs in some local publications. What could be better than getting paid to write about a pleasant evening out?
- Profiles; of famous people, or not so famous ones. Profiles of interesting people who are not actually celebrities can be fascinating to read too, sometimes more so. Do you know someone who has a fascinating hobby? Maybe you could submit a profile to a specialist magazine on that particular pastime?
- Humourous essays; the type that you get in some of the large circulation weeklies like Woman, Bella or Best. With these, the writer just tells of fully things that have happened to them in their own lives. These pieces are written as if the writer is chatting to you over a coffee. There are plenty of columns like these published in many magazines every week from both male and female freelance writers.
- Readers' letters or tips pages; which appear in numerous magazines and newspapers. They are there specifically for readers to submit their letters etc. However, if you are going to submit to these pages, don't present your work as you would a manuscript - just send a letter, as you would to anyone. It's as simple as that! Often the payment for these very short pieces is very, very good. If you divide the payment you get per word in your letter, you will be commanding a higher rate of pay per word than an article writer would receive.
- Questionnaires and quizzes; which are very popular in many large circulation magazines. The ones which say something like "Are you a bitch or a babe?" or "Are you a good liar?" The reader then has to fill in the questionnaire and pick an answer from each multiple choice question. The marks are added up at the end and a 'psychological' assessment is given for that score. These articles are fun for readers to do and a good market to aim for, especially in the 'teen' magazine markets.
Well there it is. Writing for magazines can be a great way to earn a living , however I will not say to you here that it is easy. It is not. You need to be somewhat thick-skinned and able to not take rejection personally. Someone once said that the only difference between a professional writer and an amateur one is persistence, and this is absolutely true. If you are serious about writing for magazines you have to keep at it until you get your first acceptance. Then there will be no stopping you!
If you are a beginning writer, you may not have heard the term 'writers' guidelines'. These guidelines steer you in the direction of how the publication in question wants you to present your work. Many magazines (although not all) have guidelines which writers can send off for - WITH AN SAE - which will help you meet the requirements, presentation etc. required. Each magazine has it's own foibles which you must adhere to when submitting work. If instructions are required double spaced, they must be delivered double spaced. If photos are definitely required, say if you are sending design articles in, you will really be helping yourself if you can deliver them. You will have a much better chance of having your work accepted if you do as you are asked in the first instance.
I would advise any writer to send for guidelines before submitting any work to any publication. It will only cost you the price of a stamp and at least you know you will be giving yourself the best possible chance by formatting your piece precisely to the requirements of that particular market. Your guidelines will sometimes instruct you on all aspects of your presentation such as the above, other will only include what content is required. It just depends.
So, in conclusion, always enquire first to any publication you are approaching for the first time. It will save you time, effort, not to mention frustration if you know exactly what is required from you before you submit work.
About Gail Miller
From the UK, Gail Miller freelances writing and designing for womens magazines. She is author of "WILD CHILD - A Mother, A Son & ADHD" the true story of her battles with the 'powers that be' for recognition and treatment of her son's condition.