How to Write for Magazines by

Moira Anderson Allen
How to
Write for
Moira Anderson Allen
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This book is based on Moira Allen’s e-mail class,
“Breaking into the Magazine and Periodical Market.”
For more information on writing and freelancing, visit
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Introduction ......................................................................... 4
Finding the Right Markets ................................................. 6
Finding Article Ideas ........................................................ 18
Developing Your Concept ................................................. 27
Writing the Query ............................................................. 38
Preparing E-mail Queries ................................................ 51
Conducting Research and Interviews ............................. 58
Beginning Your Article ..................................................... 73
Selling Photos .................................................................... 86
What Happens Next? ...................................................... 100
Rights, Contracts and Getting Paid .............................. 109
More Information ........................................................... 122
Breaking into Magazines
elcome to “How to Write for Magazines!” This book contains the entire text of my 8-week online writing class, “How
to Break into the Magazine and Periodical Market,” including the “bonus lecture” on digital photography added in 2005. All the
material has been checked and updated.
The purpose of this book is to help you break into the magazine
market. Two terms in that sentence are important: “breaking in” and
“magazine market.” This is not a generic “how to get started as a
writer” book. It is specifically designed to help you get started selling
magazine articles. And it is a book about “breaking in”—about discovering how to develop the types of articles that are most likely to get
your foot in the door and enable you to make that first sale.
Understanding these two concepts is important, because whenever
I teach this series as a class, I encounter two basic misconceptions about
the whole notion of “breaking into magazines.” The first is what I call
“The Redbook Syndrome.” This is a syndrome common to new writers who are most familiar with the types of magazines sold at supermarket checkout counters: Cosmopolitan, Woman’s Day, Family Circle,
Ladies Home Journal, and so on. (Come to think of it, I haven’t seen a
Redbook in awhile; maybe I need to change the name of the “syndrome.”) Countless would-be writers dream of seeing their names in
magazines like these—and fondly imagine that they will be able to sell
their very first piece to one of them, right out of the gate. When I ask
such writers why they feel qualified to write for such publications, the
answer is usually along the lines of “Well, the magazine is for women
around 40, and I’m a woman around 40, so I’m sure I’d have a lot in
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common with the readership...”
Unfortunately, that statement is precisely true—for these are the
qualifications of such a magazine’s several million readers. It takes
much more to become one of these publications’ handful of writers. To
put it bluntly, the major women’s magazines are not “break-in” publications. They are publications that can afford to hire the very best,
most experienced writers—and if your goal is to write for them, that is
what you must aspire to become.
The second problem I commonly encounter in new writers is the
desire to write about oneself. Many of us enter into the writing “business” because we feel that we have interesting stories to tell about the
things that have happened to us, or things that we have done. Unfortunately, we quickly discover that magazines aren’t particularly interested in these stories. Personal experience stories, heartwarming essays, or accounts of “the first time I...” are often the easiest and most
natural thing for one to write—but they are of limited interest to the
majority of the magazine market.
That’s why this book focuses on the specific type of article that
provides a new writer’s best chance of “breaking in.” You won’t find
one word about writing essays in this book (though you can find that
information on the website in the “freelancing”
section at Instead, you’ll find out how to turn your personal experiences into the
type of reader-focused articles that magazines are hungry for—the type
editors need to fill up every issue.
This book is designed to walk you through the basic steps of developing a marketable article—and of finding the right market for that
article. The two processes are inextricably linked. If you don’t know
what market you’re writing for, you won’t know what to write—and if
you don’t have an idea of what you’d like to write, you won’t be able to
find a market. By the time you’ve finished this book (and its “homework” exercises), my hope is that you will have at least the first draft of
a marketable article, plus a query letter all ready to send to an editor.
So read, enjoy—and go forth and submit!
—Moira Allen, Editor
Breaking into Magazines
1: Finding the
Right Markets
uccessful freelancing” has two components: writing and marketing. Writing means generating the best possible written product; we’ll talk about this in greater detail later. Marketing, which
we’ll begin to discuss in this chapter, means understanding the marketplace itself: What magazines are buying, what they are not buying,
how to find the right market for your article, how to analyze a market,
how to determine whether the pay is right for you, etc.
Possibly the single most damaging mistake freelancers make is to
approach these two components separately. One common error is to
write up several articles and then search for potential markets. The
result, quite often, is a bunch of “orphan” articles that can’t be placed.
A second, equally common error is choose a publication that seems
particularly desirable, and focus one’s efforts (or dreams) on being
published in that periodical—regardless of whether one actually has
appropriate ideas, material, or credentials to reach that market (at least,
at that time). I call this the “Redbook Syndrome,” as in “Oh, I want to
be published in Redbook!”
To freelance successfully (or consistently successfully), you must
consider both the writing and marketing components at the same time.
While developing ideas, you should be considering the marketplace;
while researching markets, you should be considering potential ideas.
This prevents you from wasting a great deal of time writing articles
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that you may not be able to sell, or from attempting to target a market
that isn’t right for you.
At all times, you need to keep one important piece of information
in mind: What magazines and other periodicals want from writers.
What Do Magazines Want?
I’m not talking about subject areas here. I’m talking about the fundamental basics—an underlying principle that will help you understand
what every magazine or periodical wants, regardless of its subject area.
This principle applies whether you’re dealing with women’s magazines, pet magazines, hobby magazines, travel magazines, business
magazines—you name it. All publications want very similar things
from writers. The vast majority of unsolicited freelance submissions
are rejected because writers don’t know what magazines want; if you
do, you’re going to rise to the top of the slushpile much faster!
At this point, when I teach this class “live,” I always ask the question: “Are magazines designed to entertain or to inform?” Usually, 75%
of a class will declare that magazines seek to entertain their readers. I
believe the majority of would-be freelance writers have the same notion. However, a quick scan of just about any magazine’s table of
contents should suffice to show that this notion is false.
Here’s a look at a table of contents from Health Magazine:
• “The Real Woman’s Guide to All-Day Pampering” (how
to “rejuvenate” without going to a spa)
• “Wining and Dining” (how to cook with wine)
• “Are Your Emotions Hurting Your Health?”
• “What You Need to Know Before Your Next Trip to the
Supermarket” (on healthy foods)
• “Movement of Faith” (on meditation)
Here’s a look at a table of contents from Tea: A Magazine:
• “The Golden Age of Limoges” (a historical overview)
• “Taking Tea in Prague” (a travel feature)
• “Artist Nancy Bautzman” (a profile)
These two examples demonstrate the basic principle I’ve been talking about, which is: Magazines are in the information business. (OK,
the truth is that a great many magazines are in the business of selling
advertising, but they use information to accomplish this.) They help
Breaking into Magazines
readers with problems, enlighten them about events or issues, instruct
them on how to accomplish specific tasks or goals, inform them about
topics of interest, or persuade them to choose a particular course of
action or thought. Flip through a few magazines and you’ll see the
phrase “how to” over and over again. A great many magazines are
marketed by persuading the reader that they will make you better at
something—healthier, happier, richer, better at a skill or a relationship,
or simply better informed.
That is not to say that entertainment doesn’t enter the picture. However, unless a magazine’s entire focus is entertainment (e.g., it is a literary, fiction, poetry or humor publication), it will have very few articles that exist purely to entertain, with no information. What magazines really want are articles that are both informative and entertaining—but if faced with a choice between one or the other, the vast majority will choose information first.
The next step is to determine what individual publications want.
Determining a Magazine’s Focus
All magazines share a fundamental focus on information. Your next
step is to determine the specific focus of a specific publication. This is
the basic purpose of market research. To market your work effectively,
you need to know:
1) What kind of information does the publication provide?
2) To whom does it provide that information? (Audience)
3) How is that information presented? (Content, style, etc.)
If you look up publications in The Writer’s Market (which is still
the best source of general market information available), you’ll find
that they are grouped in general categories, such as “Animals,” “Sports,”
“Women,” etc. While such categories are useful, they can also be misleading, as one might be tempted to suppose that any publication within
that category might be interested in the same type of article. For example, if you have an article on dogs, couldn’t you sell it to any of the
dog publications listed in Writer’s Market? If you have a piece that
addresses a “woman’s issue”, couldn’t it be offered to any (and all)
women’s magazines?
The answer, of course, is no. Though several publications may be
grouped within a single broad category, those publications may have
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very different needs and interests; an article that works well for one
might be the exact opposite of what another editor is looking for. Let’s
take a look at some of the differences, for example, within the category
of “women’s magazines.”
A) Traditional Women’s Magazines. Initially (i.e., from the 1880’s
through the 1970’s), women’s magazines focused on home and family.
Articles covered such topics as child-care, crafts, home décor, cooking, cleaning, etc. Publications were targeted toward women who were
wives and mothers—and their “promise” was to make these women
better wives and mothers. This also implies, by definition, certain demographics: The magazines appealed to women who were married and
(generally) of childbearing age. They did not focus on material of interest to young women, single women or grandmothers. Now, these
magazines tend to be called “family” magazines, but their focus remains much the same. (Family Circle is a good example.) However,
their content has shifted to reflect current issues; instead of just discussing how to be a better wife, for example, such publications might
address how to handle a problem husband!
B) Modern Women’s Magazines. Obviously, not all women are wives
and mothers (or want to be), so in the 1970’s and 1980’s, some of the
traditional women’s magazines began to focus on the more “independent” or career-oriented woman, while new magazines (like Redbook
and Self) emerged to fill this niche. The “modern” woman’s magazine
emphasizes self-help, personal growth, and self-improvement. They
are more about becoming a more fulfilled individual than about baking
cookies with the kids. Such magazines also have a much stronger focus on careers, building new relationships, finances, beauty, fitness,
sex, etc. You won’t find pictures of cupcakes with marshmallow tombstones for Halloween in these magazines.
C) Trendy Women’s Magazines. Cosmopolitan is perhaps the most
obvious example of this type of publication. Where Woman’s Day might
run a feature on “Ten Ways to Communicate More Effectively with
Your Spouse,” Cosmo might run a piece on “Ten Ways to Have a GuiltFree Affair.” While self-improvement is covered, “trendy” magazines
focus on women who want to have more excitement and enjoyment in
life. Beauty and fashion are a primary focus, along with relationships,
Breaking into Magazines
dating, divorce, sex, and similar topics. You’re not likely to find anything about cookies or child-care in a “trendy.”
This is, of course, only the briefest of overviews of this large and
complex category of publications. The point is that you can’t sell a
Woman’s Day feature to Cosmopolitan, and vice versa. To market your
work to any of these publications (which pay highly), you must know
their purpose: What information do they offer, to whom?
I mentioned “dog magazines” as another example of very different
publications sharing the same basic category. There are currently two
major dog magazines in the U.S.: Dog Fancy and the American Kennel
Club (AKC) Gazette. (Dog World, formerly the third major publication, now belongs to Fancy Publications.) These magazines are both
about “dogs,” but their readership and thus their focus could not be
more different.
Dog Fancy is subtitled “the magazine for responsible dog owners.”
It targets the average pet owner. Its content focuses on basic care and
training issues—canine health, behavior, seasonal topics, etc. Because
its readership is the “average” pet owner, it relies on a fairly high amount
of “entertainment factor” to get its message across, but articles must
still be primarily informational. It takes a pro-neutering stance and
discourages breeding. It focuses on dogs in general rather than purebreds, which means that you can illustrate an article with photos of
your mixed-breed.
The AKC Gazette is marketed to professional dog breeders and exhibitors; although it is available by subscription and in pet stores, its
primary circulation is to members of the American Kennel Club. While
it covers the same basic topics as Dog Fancy (health, basic care, etc.),
its articles tend to be much more technical. Since its members are breeders, it does not focus on neutering or population control. And since its
members are also into the “purebred” dog scene, it will never, ever
feature a piece on mixed-breeds, or use photos of mixed-breed dogs.
What Do Magazines Want from Writers?
Going beyond the issue of content, periodical editors want certain things
from writers:
1) Professionalism. A writer should know how to prepare a manuscript or query professionally. If you’re using snail-mail, you need to
know how to format a manuscript properly. (For information on for-
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matting a manuscript, see “How to Format Your Manuscript,” at If you’re using e-mail, you need to be sure that the message is still professional in
content and appearance—and not riddled with the hieroglyphics that
result from simply cutting-and-pasting a wordprocessed document into
an e-mail. (For more information, see Chapter 5). Professionalism also
means behaving with courtesy at all times (even when editors don’t),
meeting deadlines, following through with assignments, etc.
2) Observance of Published Guidelines. If a magazine has guidelines, the editor will assume that you have read them. If the publication only accepts queries, don’t send a complete manuscript. If the
publication only accepts articles of 2000 words or less, don’t send one
that is 3000 words. If the publication doesn’t accept e-mail queries,
don’t send one. If you’re lucky, a magazine’s guidelines will have
information on “wants” and “don’t wants”—but not all do.
3) Reliability. This is a subset of professionalism. Editors love writers who can be counted on to produce a well-written article that has all
the information requested, within the right word-count, on deadline.
There are many good writers—but not all good writers are reliable. An
editor would rather work with a reliable writer whose work may need a
bit of touching up, than with a brilliant writer who can’t be counted on
to get a piece in on time (or at all).
4) Understanding of the Publication. An editor will want to see evidence that you have reviewed the magazine, or are in some way familiar with its content. This means that your article topic is appropriate
for the publication and is written in a style or tone that matches that of
the publication. If, for example, the publication does not use firstperson accounts, you should know this. If articles always include expert interviews, your query should indicate that you’ll be able to obtain
one. If the magazine’s audience is women age 65 or over, you shouldn’t
be querying about an article on finding one’s first job after college.
Finding Out What a Magazine Wants
Magazine editors receive a huge number of inappropriate submissions—
articles that do not address the needs of the market. Usually, this is
because the writer has not bothered to research the market; s/he saw
that the magazine covers“dogs,” and sent in any old piece about dogs.
Breaking into Magazines
You’ve undoubtedly heard the advice, “research the market!” But
what does that mean, exactly? How do you research a market? What
are you looking for, and how do you find it?
Published guidelines can be a good place to start, but they don’t tell
the whole story (or even, really, very much of the story). I use Writer’s
Market guidelines to give me an idea as to whether I even want to try to
find out more about a publication. I don’t assume that they tell me
enough to really sell to that publication.
Conversely, you’ll hear many editors (and people who offer writing advice) suggesting that you should review six back issues of a
magazine before writing for it. Let’s get real. You don’t have that
much time; no one does. You don’t have that much money—if a magazine charges $4 for a back issue (and some charge more), are you really
going to pay $24 just to do market research? Of course not!
It is a good idea, though, to get your hands on at least one issue.
Let’s assume that you’ve done so. What are you looking for?
1) Check the subtitle. Many magazines have subtitles that say a lot
about their purpose. Dog Fancy’s subtitle used to be “the magazine
about dogs and puppies” (not very useful!), but it was later changed it
to “the magazine for responsible dog owners.”
2) Check the table of contents. What types of articles are featured?
Which features are the “top” features (listed first, listed in a special
box, listed with small photo clips)? Which is the “cover” feature? Read
the titles and subtitles carefully; how many of the articles could be
phrased as “how-to” pieces, even if those words aren’t used in the actual title? (E.g., Health’s “Wining and Dining” is a “how to cook with
wine” article.)
3) Look at the departments and columns. What topics are covered
regularly by this magazine? Often, this is the best place to break in
with a shorter article. “Departments” are often open to outside contributors; “columns” are usually handled by a regular writer.
4) Check the names of the authors, and compare this list to the
magazine’s masthead. Do many of the names match? If you see
many of the regular staffers listed in the table of contents, this is not a
good thing; it means that the magazine uses its in-house staff to gener-
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ate most of its articles. (“Contributing editors” are not regular staffers;
they are simply freelancers who either (a) write a regular column or (b)
contribute on a very regular basis.) Also, check to see what credentials
the authors have (you may have to check the bylines of each article). If
the magazine has health articles, do all the authors have “M.D.” after
their names? If so, chances are that this publication does not accept
health articles from non-experts.
5) Review the articles themselves. How “in-depth” are they? Does a
medical article give you an easy-to-understand overview of a condition, or does it include technical, medical terminology? What is the
focus of the article? Again, does that medical article offer a description of a condition, an overview of conventional treatments, or suggestions for non-traditional therapies? What is the general style and tone
of the magazine? Are first-person articles used? Do articles contain a
large number of interviews?
6) Check the ads. This will give you a good idea of the audience
demographics. For example, I once compared ads in two magazines
that both covered “country living.” One had ads for expensive furniture; the other had ads for some rather hideous little collectible frogs in
country outfits. Though both were “country” magazines, one obviously
targeted upscale folks with high incomes and (presumably) good taste,
while the other targeted readers with less disposable income (and more
questionable tastes). Take a look at the people featured in the ads—are
they young or old? Male or female? All of these details will give you
an idea of the magazine’s audience; magazines want readers to “see
themselves” in the images used in their advertising.
7) Check for guidelines. Does the magazine have a website? Often,
you can find its guidelines there. If you don’t see a link to “guidelines”
or “submissions,” look under “Contact Us” or “About Us.” Based on
those guidelines, does this look like a market you’d like to write for?
Are you willing to accept the pay offered and give up the rights that are
being requested?
8) Does your review trigger any article ideas? Do you find yourself
thinking, “I could have written that” or “I could write about XXX for
this magazine”? Or do you find yourself feeling that you have nothing
Breaking into Magazines
to contribute to this publication? Do you feel that you would like to be
associated with this publication?
Applying This Approach to Online Markets
Online markets blossomed during the frenzy of 1999. At that
time, hundreds of folks thought that anything on the Internet would
somehow magically make money. Then the market went sour, and a
number of publications simply folded completely. (Think “”.)
I have been watching the electronic market scene for several years, and
it is steadily shrinking. Publications are disappearing at an alarming
rate, but very few new markets are coming onto the scene. So while
there is still an electronic marketplace for articles, this has not become
the glorious alternative to print that everyone predicted. Print markets
are still your best opportunity for publication and payment.
That being said, the basic approach to analyzing an online market
is the same as for a print publication—except your primary source of
information is going to be “content.” The table of contents is likely to
be a set of menu links that may not convey much additional information; you usually have to go to the article to learn more about the authors. It may be difficult to find a masthead (check the “About Us” or
“Contact Us” sections for this). Note that advertising in online publications is often very different from what you’d find in a print publication on the same topic. While some publications seek advertising that
relates to the subject of the publication itself, many of the larger ones
accept advertising from any sponsor willing to pay out the bucks. Thus,
you’ll see the same bank ads, casino ads, software ads, etc., on just
about any of the larger online publications—and these ads tend to be
much the same, so you don’t get the information on demographics that
you do from a magazine’s ads.
One thing you may be able to find more easily is information on the
number of visitors or subscribers. Most e-mail newsletters (a variant
of online pubs) will list the current subscriber rate, and many online
publications will post some type of hit counter.
Online publications may also offer one other helpful piece of information you can’t find in print magazines: A “mission statement.” When
researching such a publication, be sure to click the “About Us” button
to see what the publisher has to say about the publication. This can
offer important information for your query letter, if you can match your
“pitch” to the purposes outlined in the mission statement.
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What Magazines Don’t Want (Much)
While a review of a magazine’s table of contents should be enough to
let any writer know that the magazine publishes “information” (and
the type of information it publishes), editors are nonetheless flooded
with inappropriate submissions. Predominant among these are “personal experiences”—accounts of some aspect of the writer’s life that
the writer believes magazine readers will find (in most cases) “entertaining.” Women’s magazines are flooded with women’s personal experiences. Pet magazines are flooded with stories of “my favorite pet.”
Special-interest magazines are flooded with the “humorous account of
the first time I ever tried this hobby/sport/skill.” Travel magazines are
flooded with “my wonderful adventure in this location” or “how I spent
my summer vacation” stories. These stories are rejected because they
contain virtually no useful information (and to be blunt, the vast majority aren’t particularly entertaining either, except perhaps to a very
near relative of the writer).
It is true that many publications do use personal-experience articles—but they generally use only a limited number. If a publication
uses ten articles per month, it’s probable that only one will be a “personal experience” account. Others may include personal accounts, but
these will be subordinate to the primary “information” focus of the
article. So while I’m not saying that no personal experience stories
sell, this is the least effective way of trying to break into a publication.
Let’s take a look at the odds. First, keep in mind that some publications use no personal experience articles at all. But for those that do,
let’s assume a hypothetical publication that buys ten articles per month.
Based on a review of a typical publication’s table of contents, we
can assume that our hypothetical publication’s subject matter is 90%
informational. That means it may buy one personal-experience article
for every nine informational articles it uses.
At least 60% (or more) of a magazine’s monthly “slushpile” of unsolicited submissions will consist of personal-experience pieces. Only
40% (or less) will be information articles.
This means the editor will by 10% of his monthly features from the
60% stack, and 90% from the 40% stack. In real numbers, if the monthly
slushpile is 100 articles, the editor will buy one out of the stack of 60,
and nine out of the stack of 40. In other words, you have a 1-in-60
chance (1.65%) of selling a personal-experience piece, vs. a 9-in-40
chance (nearly 23%) of selling an informational article.
Breaking into Magazines
Which pile do you want to be in?
Does this mean that you can’t tell your story? Not at all. However,
if you want to be consistently successful as a freelancer, you should
not be writing consistently about you. That doesn’t mean “you” can’t
be in your article; it simply means that your article should not be about
you. If you want to write an article about your hiking trip, for example,
focus the article on an informative aspect of hiking, and use your personal experience to illustrate your point. In this way, your article ceases
to be about you, and is now about hiking—and will have a much better
chance of selling.
Let’s put this into practice.Your first step in finding appropriate markets is to start looking at magazines—perhaps in a store, perhaps in the
pile in your living room—and start picking out publications that look
interesting. There is a good chance that the magazines you subscribe to
could be magazines you could write for, as they are likely to reflect
your interests. For this exercise, pick out a publication that you think,
realistically, you might be able to write for. Write a brief description of
the publication, based on the information I’ve listed above (e.g., defining its audience, its purpose, its content, etc.). Explain why you believe this would be a good market for you.
But first... A word about targeting “the big guys.” More than half
the students I’ve taught in this course have started out with the hope of
selling their first article to Redbook, Ladies Home Journal, Cosmopolitan, or something similar. There is nothing wrong with having
such a goal. However, it is important to realize that these magazines
are the hardest of all to break into. They are the most “familiar” magazines in the country—you can pick them up on just about any checkout
counter. They make big money—and that means they can hire the best
writers in the field (and “best” usually means “experienced”—writers
who already have a reputation and a portfolio).
The second problem I generally encounter is a lack of clarity on the
subject of “why you would be the right person to write for this publication.” Quite often, the answer I get to this question is “Well, the magazine targets women between 40 and 50, and I’m a woman between 40
and 50, so I think I would be able to come up with appropriate ideas...”
Unfortunately this particular “credential” does nothing to distinguish
you, the writer, from the magazine’s other 10 million readers. To write
for a publication, you must have something to offer that goes beyond
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simply what it takes to be a part of the magazine’s readership. Millions of women may read Redbook, but only a few dozen actually write
for it. Part of your task, therefore, is to determine what places you, not
in the category of all the folks who read a publication, but in the category of the handful of folks who are considered qualified to speak to
those readers.
This doesn’t mean that it’s “wrong” to dream of targeting a magazine like Redbook or Cosmopolitan. If you have an appropriate article
and can back it up with relevant credentials, go for it! I believe strongly
in aiming for the top and working your way down; it’s a lot better than
starting at the bottom and selling an article for $25 that you could actually have sold to a better publication for $500. Just be aware that if you
do target these publications, the odds against you are astronomical,
and have nothing to do with your ability or the quality of your writing.
So if you’re rejected, accept this as “life” and move on to the next
market on your list. And if you’re accepted, break out the champagne
and celebrate, because you’ve achieved something most freelancers
simply dream of.
Breaking into Magazines
2: Finding Article Ideas
ne of the most common complaints of newer writers is “I don’t
have anything to write about” or “I don’t have any ideas.”
This isn’t true. Everyone has lots of things to write about; the
key is to identify them, and figure out how to convert one’s life experiences into marketable article topics.
The first step is determining where to look for “ideas.” At this
point, I’m not talking about ideas for specific articles, but rather, ideas
about broad subject areas that you may be able to mine for article topics. (There is a difference between an idea, a subject, and a topic,
which we’ll get to later.)
Here are some areas that everyone can “mine” for article ideas:
• Your personal life—your home, your family, your personal
history, your life experiences
• Your interests and hobbies
• Your workplace, professional expertise, or professional
• Your education
• Your memories—whether nostalgic or traumatic
• Your activities—vacations, family events, community
activities, etc.
• Your observations of people, places, and things around you
• Your interests—things that intrigue you, even if you don’t
know much about them (yet)
Ideas also come from the very process of developing ideas:
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From brainstorming a topic
From reviewing magazines and looking at articles
From researching market sources
From researching a topic (i.e., your research for one
article can lead to “spinoff” articles for other markets)
• From journal-keeping and note-taking
Now comes the million-dollar question: Do I have to write about
what I know?
To answer that, let’s look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of sticking to “what you know” when developing ideas.
• Writing about what you already know saves you work.
• It calls upon your existing expertise; often, it enables you
to use your own experience or expertise as a credential
• You generally know where to look for more information
• You may feel more comfortable sticking to “what you
know” until you have built the confidence to branch out
into other areas.
• We often forget or take for granted what we actually
“know”—and so have difficulty really mining this area for
article topics.
• We often consider “what we know” to be boring—the
“known” tends to be much less interesting than the
“unknown.” Consequently, we may assume (incorrectly)
that it will be boring to other. Worse, if we’re not excited
about a topic, it’s hard to write an exciting article.
• It’s easy to get trapped in “writing what you know” and
fail to branch out into other areas—thus not expanding
one’s knowledge base or market potential.
Writing about what you know has applications beyond mere “subjects,” however. You also “know” various skills and techniques that
can be applied to other topics. For example, if you were writing a short
story about, say, the difficulties experienced by a space colony, you
might wonder, “how can I write about this when I don’t ‘know’ any-
Breaking into Magazines
thing about living in space?” Take a look, instead, at what you doknow.
Let’s say that you’re a teacher. Now imagine that you’re trying to
teach children in a colony that is beset by various difficulties. What
would your challenges be? What would you want your students to
learn? Writing about “what you know” doesn’t mean that you have to
already know everything about which you write!
You also “know” feelings, images, and impressions that you can
build into other topics. Sometimes, what you “know” comes across in
how you write rather than what you write. If you know what it feels
like to be afraid, for example, you’ll have a much better ability to express that sense of fear when writing about someone else’s experience—
even if you’re not expressing your own fear.
Writing About What You Don’t Know
One of the things you “know”, but may not have thought about, is
“what interests you.” You know what intrigues you, what you’d like to
learn more about, what you find absolutely fascinating. (Chances are,
some of this is reflected in your choice of magazines and books.) One
alternative to “writing about what you know” is to “write about what
you don’t know — but wish you did!”
No matter what you write, you’re going to end up doing a fair amount
of research. So why not research subjects that are of interest to you?
You don’t have to know a lot about them to start with. You simply
need to have a sense that, because this fascinates you, there’s a good
chance that it might fascinate someone else. Research techniques will
be covered in a later chapter.
Brainstorming Ideas
The process of developing ideas for articles is a curious mixture of
“zooming in” and “zooming out.” Imagine that your mind is working
like a telephoto lens. Sometimes you want to “zoom out” to get the
“big picture” — to see all the details, the perspective, the surroundings. At other times you need to “zoom in” to sharpen your focus, to
make sure that you are concentrating on the most important details.
This process goes back and forth, zooming in and zooming out, as you
work your way from “idea” to “article topic.”
A good way to start is with a wide-angle focus. Take another look
at the list of “idea sources” I provided earlier. Jot down the areas from
that list that you would particularly like to explore for article ideas.
For the purposes of discussion, I’ll pick “personal life.”
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If I were “brainstorming,” I’d write this topic at the top of a piece
of paper (or a computer file). By the way, sometimes ideas flow better
when you use old-fashioned approaches—if you find that you’re not
getting anywhere by staring at the computer screen, take a pad of paper
and a pencil to another room, get comfortable, and work there. Sometimes the computer brings out our “inner editor” (it’s so easy to get into
the mechanics of cutting-and-pasting)—and we need to just “shut that
off” by going back to a more physical approach to writing.
Anyway—you’ve now put “personal life” at the top of your “idea”
page. Now, shut down that inner voice that is whispering, “No one
wants to know about your personal life!” This is true, actually—I’ve
already mentioned the perils of writing about personal experiences—
but that’s not what we’re here for. We’re here to find out what aspects
of your personal life might lead to articles that people will want to
read. So let’s jot down a few things about “personal life.”
1) Family. Do you have a spouse? Children? In-laws? Parents?
Grandparents? Siblings? Extended family? Family members that don’t
speak to each other? Family members in other countries, or of other
cultures? Are you adopted? Is anyone in your family adopted? Getting more personal, what about topics like marriage, divorce, childbirth, or death in the family?
2) Holidays. Thinking about “family” might make one think about
times when families get together, such as holidays. Jot down a list of
the holidays you celebrate. Does your family have special ways of
celebrating particular holidays? Or does it avoid certain holidays for
some reason? Does your family celebrate holidays that are less familiar to the general public? Are holidays a good time or a bad time? Do
you find holidays joyful or stressful? What are some of the activities
that you share with your children during a particular holiday? (This
category might include “birthdays” as well.)
3) Pets. Do you have a family pet (or more than one)? How about past
pets? Pets of your childhood? What type of pet do you have, and how
do you take care of it? What problems do you experience with your
pets? What activities do you pursue with your pets? What challenges
have you faced and overcome? What tragedies have you endured?
How do your pets interact with your children?
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And so on....
This is part of the “zooming out” process. Notice that we started
with a single idea—“personal life”—and expanded that idea into at
least three subtopics (family, holidays, pets). We then expanded each
of those topics into a variety of more specific areas. If you try this
exercise with all eight of the subject areas proposed at the beginning,
you may find yourself with literally dozens of potential topics by now.
By the way, this is a good exercise to do with a partner—a spouse,
significant other, or writing buddy—who can help you come up with
ideas you might otherwise miss. Someone who knows you well is
likely to think of things that you might overlook simply because they
are so “familiar” that they don’t come to mind as potential topics.
Focus and Expand
So far, none of the subjects listed above are sufficiently focused to
serve as article topics. The next step, therefore, is to focus in even
more closely—and then to expand once again.
On another sheet of paper (or in another computer file), select just
one of the topics that you generated. For example, you might select
“holiday activities” as an interesting area to explore further. Obviously,
however, “holiday activities” is far too general a subject to make into
an article. It’s time to zoom that lens in a bit further: What holiday?
What activities?
The immediate temptation is to tackle “Christmas,” because it offers so many topics. On the other hand, it’s also the holiday that gets
the most “ink”—which means you’re competing against a lot of other
writers who want to cover this holiday. So let’s focus on a holiday that
tends to get a little less press: Easter. It’s time to brainstorm again,
jotting down everything you associate with Easter. Here’s my list:
• Eggs
• Bunnies
• Easter baskets
• Easter egg hunts
• Onion-skin Easter eggs
• Rabbits—good for pets?
• Chicks—same question
• Easter history/folklore
• Easter in other countries: Greek Easter candles
• Easter trees
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Now we’re getting somewhere. Some of these topics are still a bit
vague (what about Easter eggs, exactly?), but others are ripe for the
plucking. Let’s see what articles we might be able to generate from
this list:
Easter baskets—Is there someone in your town who makes fancy,
unique Easter baskets? (Check your local classifieds for a “gift basket” store.) That might make a good profile for a local paper.
Onion-skin Easter eggs—If you don’t know how to make these, don’t
worry; sooner or later, I’ll get around to writing my holiday article on
this family tradition.
Rabbits/chicks: Good for pets?—Again, this would be a good feature for a local paper, explaining why it’s not a good idea to get your
kids an “Easter bunny”. All you’ll need is an interview with a representative of your local humane society; you might also check online to
see if you can find any statistics on how many bunnies are sold in pet
shops at this time of year.
Easter history/folklore—This is a perennial favorite. I know, because
one of the very first articles I ever sold to a newspaper was on this
topic—and I am still selling that exact same article today, nearly 20
years after I first wrote it. No reason why you can’t do a bit of research
and sell something on this topic too!
Easter in other countries—We visited Greece on our honeymoon,
and I remember seeing families returning to the islands after shopping
on the mainland, all carrying elaborately decorated Easter candles. Might
make a good article someday, but it would need more research than I
want to do just now.
Easter trees—Never seen one? These are very popular in Germany,
and have a made a limited appearance in the U.S., but haven’t really
caught on yet. This could be a nice, crafty “how-to” article on how to
make your own “Easter tree”—something one could sell to a local paper, or possibly to a crafts or home-decorating magazine. Or maybe
you could slant this as a children’s activity—how kids can make an
Easter tree—and aim for a family publication such as Family Circle.
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I’ve just identified five articles that I might be able to write, with
very little effort, from this one subject: Easter. Easter, however, was
itself a subtopic of a larger category—holiday activities. Imagine how
many more article ideas I could generate if I go back to “holiday activities” and look at other holidays? If I take a step further back, to “holidays,” I can follow other branches—holiday foods, holiday safety, holiday reminiscences, nontraditional holidays—and develop dozens of
additional possibilities. Or I can go further back up the tree to “Personal Life” and try another major branch—e.g., “family”—and start
exploring those subtopics.
Keep in mind, too, that you’re likely to find ways that your categories overlap. If you have children, it’s going to be easy to put together
topics that combine “holidays” and “children”—crafts, safety tips, inspirational stories, etc. Or you might combine “holidays” and “grandparents” for a nostalgic look at holidays in your past. And so on...
Don’t Eliminate the Negative
Chances are that the things that first strike you as food for articles are
positive. Maybe some of the more negative things that came out on
your list made you shudder and move on quickly. But don’t overlook
the value of “negative experiences” in this exercise either. Let’s say,
for example, that you hate Christmas because that’s when the entire
“clan” gets together — and everyone picks up the old fights right where
they left off the previous year. No one gets along, and by the time the
holiday is over, you’re so stressed that you wish Christmas could be
banned forever.
Not a very happy picture, right? Besides, who wants to hear about
your troubles? No one, perhaps—but do you suppose that you’re the
only family with this problem? Or might there be hundreds of families
who go through something similar every year, and hate it just as much
as you do? Can you write something that speaks to those families?
Here’s where “writing what you know” meets “writing what you
don’t know.” What you know is that you hate Christmas because it
involves a huge, stressful family gathering. What you don’t know is
how to change that. If you could find out, you could share that information with other families—and write an article that might make a
profound difference in many lives!
So you’ve decided to write about stressful family holiday gatherings. What do you want to say? A rant about your horrible family
might not get an editor’s attention—unless you could make it humor-
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ous! Can you portray your family in such a way that many others see
their families in your experience—and find a way, at last, to laugh
about it?
Or, perhaps you’d like to help people avoid this type of horrible
gathering, but you don’t know how. That’s OK—all you need to do is
find someone who does! Try running a search that combines terms
like “holiday stress” and “family gathering” and see what comes up;
chances are, you’ll be able to track down (a) some excellent resource
materials and (b) an expert you can interview on this topic.
When “What You Know” Isn’t Enough
There’s an important point to keep in mind when generating ideas based
on “what you know.” Note that this chapter is about ideas—it is not
about how you turn those ideas into actual articles. “What you know”
is an excellent place to start. However, it is not necessarily enough to
develop a complete, marketable article.
For example, let’s say that you are a parent. You have children,
you’ve raised children through various experiences, you’ve dealt with
health crises and school and nutrition and a host of other things. And
perhaps you also have a passion for children—a desire to communicate some of the things you’ve learned and experienced along the way.
This is a wonderful place to start your search for article ideas.
However, “being a parent” is rarely, in itself, a sufficient credential
to actually sell an article. Consider this: A major parenting magazine
may go out to several hundred thousand parents—so its editors aren’t
going to consider the status of “being a parent,” by itself, to be particularly impressive. Instead, they are going to look for other credentials—
for example, if you wished to write about child nutrition, the editor
might be impressed to learn that you have a background in nutrition or
dietary studies. If you don’t, you’re almost certainly going to have to
find someone with appropriate credentials to interview.
Another common error is to attempt to write articles that are, basically, one’s personal opinion. For example, in one of my classes, a
student wanted to write about the harmful nature of reality shows. Such
an article might be marketable if it reflects the opinions of experts,
such as child psychologists. It will not be marketable, however, if it is
based simply on the author’s viewpoint—no matter how valid that viewpoint may be! Be very cautious, therefore, about article ideas that are
based on an opinion—something that you believe is good, or bad, or
should be changed.
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Again, personal experience is one of the best places to come up
with ideas for articles. When it comes to developing those articles,
however, you may have to go beyond that experience—as you’ll see in
later chapters.
Summing Up
The process of developing ideas is a process of “zooming in” and “zooming out,” changing your focus by brainstorming to develop a “big picture” or by selecting specific details to develop a focused topic.
You can begin by selecting broad areas of your life and experience—the “big picture”. Then “zoom in” to select a specific area—
e.g., “family.” This is too general a subject for an article, so you’ll
need to zoom out again to brainstorm all the topics you can think of
that relate to “family.” Zoom in on one of those—e.g., children. Still
too general for an article! Zoom out to brainstorm everything you can
think of that you might have to say about children. Now zoom in on
one of those topics—e.g., preparing a child for the first day of school—
and voila! You have an article idea. Zoom out to brainstorm all the
things that are involved in preparing a child for the first day of school,
and you have the points you’re likely to cover in your article.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Let’s put it to the test. For this exercise, ,
come up with five article ideas—ideas that are specific enough to take
to the “drafting table,” so to speak. Don’t just say that you want to
write about “Easter,” for example; decide what, exactly, you would
write about Easter. For each idea, explain why you would like to write
about the topic and/or why you feel able or qualified to write about it.
For “extra credit,” come up with a potential market (or more than
one) for each of your article ideas. Try to at least come up with a type
of market (e.g., “craft magazines”); if you can be more specific (Country Crafts), that’s even better. Jot down why you think this idea would
be appropriate for the market. (You’re going to need that information
for your query letter!)
Moira Anderson Allen
3: Developing
Your Concept
f you completed the exercise in the previous chapter, you should
now have a handful of ideas that you’re ready to expand upon, and
search out markets for. I mention these two concepts in the same
sentence, because they go hand in hand. An idea is great—but unless
you have a specific market in mind, you’re at risk of writing up an
article that nobody wants. This chapter, therefore, is going to talk about
finding the right “slant” for your idea based on a chosen market. Then,
we’ll talk about the step just about every writer dreads (but needn’t)—
the outline.
Categories, Subjects, Topics and Slants
I talked about “zooming in” and “zooming out” as one way to help you
develop ideas. Another way to look at article development is to view it
as a process of refinement. You start with the raw ore—a lump of
material, such as knowledge or a loose collection of ideas (“my family”)—and refine that ore through a succession of stages until you have
“pure metal” that you can work into an article. This chapter will talk
about getting from “ore” to “metal”; later, we’ll look at ways to forge
or craft that metal into an actual article.
To begin this process, you need to be able to recognize the difference between a category of ideas, a subject, a topic, and a slant. Each
of these is a stage in the refinement process, bringing you closer and
closer to something that you can work into an article.
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Category: This is where most writers start. A category is not an idea
for an article; it may not even be a subject. Often, it’s a catch-all bin
full of ideas, subjects, etc., that interest a writer. For example, if I were
to say, “I want to write historical articles,” I’m speaking of a category.
I haven’t defined a subject—I haven’t even defined a period or type of
history. However, I have defined the area in which I’d like to proceed,
both in developing article topics and in locating markets. The same
applies if I said I wanted to write about “health” or “pets” or “families”
or “cooking.”
Choosing a category is an important step. It tells you where to start
your refinement process. It tells you, for example, that it would be
wise to start researching markets that fit into this category. If your
category was “pets,” how many pet magazines or related markets (such
as online pet stores) are there? What do they want? Do they accept
freelance material? Gathering the answers to these questions can help
you move on to the next step.
Subject: This is the next level. Once you have a category of interest in
mind, pick a subject out of that category. If your category is “holidays,” your subject might be “Christmas.” From my category of “history,” I might choose a subject such as “Mary, Queen of Scots.” However, these are still not article topics. The obvious question an editor is
going to ask is, “Well, what about her?” Many lengthy books have
been written about Mary; if I want to write an article about her, I must
choose something more specific.
Topic: This is where the process starts to get interesting, because this
is where you begin to develop the seed of your actual article. Let’s
suppose that I know lots and lots about Mary (I don’t), and I’ve decided to focus on her years of imprisonment under Queen Elizabeth.
That’s the beginning of my topic. But what am I going to say? I could
still spin this off into four or five (or more) articles. That’s where it’s
helpful to have done some market research, to find out what type of
article on this topic might actually sell.
So... Off I go to Barnes and Noble, to see what kind of magazines
might accept an article on Mary. Obviously, Redbook is out. However, I pick up copies of BBC History Magazine, Renaissance, Realm,
British Heritage, and Scottish Life. I flip through my treasures, and
discover that BBC History Magazine is written primarily by experts,
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and focuses on topics that are being covered by BBC. Renaissance,
which focuses on history with an emphasis on re-enactment, might be
a place for a general historical piece. Realm focuses more on travel,
and I can’t figure out from the masthead how to contact them. Scottish
Life focuses more on modern Scottish life than on history. British Heritage, however, focuses on visiting places with an interesting historical
background. I decide to focus on that market.
(Just a brief aside—I’ve actually written for British Heritage, and
it took two years to get a check, and as far as I know, the article was
never published.)
Topic, Take Two: Now that I have a market in mind, I know that the
publication focuses as much on location as it does on history. A general history of Mary’s imprisonment probably wouldn’t fly here. But a
guide to the places (the various castles) in which Mary was imprisoned
sounds ideal. It also would provide great photo opportunities. So now
I’ve refined my topic to something very specific and workable: “The
castles in which Mary, Queen of Scots was imprisoned.”
Slant: But what am I going to say? I can’t just say, “Mary, Queen of
Scots was imprisoned in X castle, which is located here, and looks like
this.” Booorrring! I need to look at that magazine again, and determine what slant is going to attract the editor. Since British Heritage
focuses on places people might like to visit, my slant is going to be:
“Visit the castles that imprisoned a Queen.” In my article, I’m going to
take the reader on a guided tour of the castles where Mary was imprisoned. Where are they? What are they like? Can you still visit Mary’s
accommodations? I’ll provide a bit of history of each castle, details
about Mary’s stay, and what you’ll find if you visit today. (Should I
discover that those castles are supposed to be haunted, all the better!)
The article will have a nice sidebar on how to get there, any pertinent
tour details, hours, blah blah blah... If I’ve read my market correctly,
this is exactly the sort of thing (a mixture of travel and history) that
should get this editor’s attention.
(By the way, I liked this topic so much that when another author
pitched it to me, years after I originally wrote this lecture, I accepted it
for my travel website, That author wrote about
the castles that are reportedly haunted by Mary, Queen of Scots—several of which were ones in which she was once imprisoned.)
Breaking into Magazines
The point is, you can’t sell an article on the basis of a category
(“history”) or a subject. You may be able to sell an article on the basis
of a topic, but it’s difficult. Your best chance of selling an article is to
research markets as part of your “refinement” process, choose one that
you like, and slant your article directly toward that market.
Here are some additional tips on how to develop a workable slant.
1) Step out of your shoes and into the reader’s shoes. When you
begin the process of generating ideas, you are looking at areas of your
life and experience and interests that might provide good material. At
this point, you are thinking in terms of “what can I write about?” and
“what interests me?” To translate that information into potential articles, however, you have to step out of your “writer” shoes and into a
set of “reader” shoes. Start asking, “Why would a reader want to know
about this?” “What would a reader want to know about this?” “How
can this material be useful or helpful to the reader?”
2) Think “how-to” whenever possible. I would estimate that at least
80% of what is published in magazines and other periodicals (not counting “news” in newspapers) focuses on a “how-to” component. There
are magazines that carry other types of material; a history magazine,
for example, focuses purely on information, such as a profile of a historic figure or an account of an important event. Most magazines also
carry a small percentage of nostalgia pieces, profiles, etc. The majority, however, offer what is known as “take-away value”—something
the reader can “take away” from the article and apply in his or her life.
This is true of most categories of publications. Women’s magazines focus on how to improve your life, your relationships, your health,
your appearance, your household. Travel magazines tell you how to
find and enjoy a destination, how to have a better vacation, etc. Pet
magazines tell you how to take better care of your pet. Special interest
magazines (hobbies, crafts, activities, sports, etc.) tell you how to improve your skill or better enjoy the activity covered by the publication.
3) Think terms of an active phrase (with a subject and verb) when
developing your slant. Try to avoid “slants” that are simply “subjects” (e.g., “haunted castles” or “Christmas decorations”). Make your
slant active: “Tour the haunted castles of Scotland,” or “Decorate your
home Victorian-style.” (Notice that the “subject” in these phrases is
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“you”, where “you” refers to the reader.) Often, your slant can even
become the title for your article: “How you can decorate your home...”
“Best places to visit in...”
4) Forget about “I” (the writer) and focus on “you” (the reader).
Most of us start with articles about “I”—what happened to me, what I
know, what I did, how I learned, why I like, etc. This is a great place to
start but a bad place to finish. To be an effective writer, it’s vital to
move past “I” and focus on “you”—How this can help you, why you
should visit this location, how you can get the most out of a holiday
at..., ten ways that you can overcome this problem, why you’ll love this
product, etc. Putting “you-the-reader” into your slant is perhaps the
most important step you can take toward winning editors.
Once you have a slant, you have something else that is vital to the
next step: You have your core concept. You have the central idea,
theme, point, or whatever you choose to call it, that your article is
“about.” By the way, you should be able to sum up your slant and core
concept in a single sentence—“My article is about how you can .....”
Everything else must relate to this core concept. And that is why you
need an outline.
You Don’t Have to Dread Outlines
I don’t know any writer who likes the prospect of creating an outline.
That’s probably because we all remember being taught that ridiculous
“1,2,3 - A,B,C” format in high school. (Hands up, everyone who used
to get around those exercises by writing a paper first, and then creating
the outline after the paper was done?!) Relax—I’m not going to “teach”
that kind of outline.
An outline is simply a way to construct a road map of where you
want to go with your article. Another way to look at an outline is to
think of it as a filing cabinet. When you research your article, you’re
going to gather a lot of information. How will you know what to put
in, and what to leave out? By creating an “outline” that, in a sense,
places “headers” on the files in your cabinet, you’ll know whether the
information you’ve gathered fits into the “files” that you have—or
whether it doesn’t. If you don’t have a “file” for that information,
chances are that the information doesn’t belong in your article.
Here’s an example. When I decided to go “full-time” as a freelancer
back in 1996, one of the first articles I pitched was a piece on “cancer
Breaking into Magazines
in cats.” My own cat had recently died of cancer, so I had a personal
interest in the topic. When I got the assignment, I roughed out the
areas I planned to cover in my article:
• Types of cancer
• Breed-specific cancers
• How to detect signs of cancer
• My own experience with a cat with cancer
• Preventing cancer
• Treatments
• Hope for the future
• Hi-tech treatments
• Diagnostic techniques
A quick look at this list showed me that some ideas were sub-categories of others. “Breed-specific cancers” fit under “types of cancer,”
while “diagnostic techniques” fit under “how to detect.” “Hope for the
future” fit under “treatments,” as each treatment would have its own
“prognosis.” One category stood out as not fitting with the rest: “My
own experience.” I ended up with four “file folders” to work with:
• Types of Cancer
• Detecting Cancer
• Treating Cancer
• Preventing Cancer
This, by the way, is an outline. It can be as simple as that. Besides
serving as a framework for my article, this provided a framework for
my research: I knew what types of questions I had to ask, based on the
information I wanted to include. I researched this article on the web
and by interviewing experts, asking questions based on my four topic
areas—and “filing” that information in the appropriate place. If information came in that didn’t fit into one of these four areas, I knew that it
probably didn’t belong in my article.
I also had a slant—“What you need to know about cancer in cats.”
Note, again, how that slant can make a great title: “Is your cat at risk of
cancer?” or “How you can reduce your cat’s risk of cancer” or even
“Cancer: It doesn’t have to be a death sentence!”
Once again, having that core concept or slant is vital. This tells you
what is important and necessary to your article and what isn’t. If you
have information or thoughts that don’t relate directly to that core concept, then that information probably doesn’t belong in your article.
Moira Anderson Allen
Five Ways to Approach the Outline
Again, I’m no fan of the “1,2,3 - A,B,C” approach to outlining. There
are easier ways to put your ideas and information in order.
1) Ask yourself what questions a reader would ask. What would a
reader want to know about this subject? Make a list of those questions.
For example, a reader interested in cancer in cats might want to know:
• How common is cancer in cats?
• What kinds of cancer affect cats?
• What cats are at greatest risk?
• How can I tell if my cat has cancer?
• What can I do if my cat has cancer?
• What kinds of treatments are available to me?
• What are their success rates?
• What are their risks to my cat?
• How long will my cat live if it has cancer?
• Can I prevent my cat from getting cancer?
• Where do I go to get more help?
Sometimes, simply jotting down a list of questions is all you need
to define the basic areas your article will cover, and even the order in
which you might wish to cover them.
2) Think in subheads. You’ll notice that most published articles are
divided into sections, with subheads. This is a good way to organize
your information (and sending in a piece with the subheads already in
place always pleases an editor). The four “file folders” that I developed for my cancer piece would also serve nicely as subheads:
• Is your cat at risk?
• Protecting your cat from cancer
• Detecting the signs of cancer
• Choosing a treatment plan
Subheads give you a way to organize your information logically.
You’ll also be able to determine, as you fill in that information, whether
your article is “in balance.” If you have 250 words under one subhead
and 1000 under another, chances are you need to reorganize the article.
3) List events or concepts chronologically. What happened first?
What happened next? What happened after that? What happened last?
This approach works well for an article that focuses on events that
Breaking into Magazines
occurred over time—e.g., a historical piece, a personal profile, etc. For
example, women’s magazines often profile families who have coped
with a sick child. A chronological outline would tend to look like this:
• Family notices something isn’t right with the child
• Family goes to traditional doctor
• Family gets reassurances, goes home
• Child gets worse
• Family seeks more help; gets more reassurances
• Child gets worse
• Family gets desperate; seeks more information
• Family finds special doctor/support group/information
• Family locates specialist/special treatment/new cure
• Family is warned of risks of treatment
• Family goes ahead with treatment
• Child gets better
Note that this approach doesn’t work as well for a “how-to” piece
that doesn’t involve a specific “what happened next” chronology.
4) List points in logical order. Many how-to articles have an obvious
logical order: Do this first, do this next, do this next, and do this last.
Your outline here may consist simply of a list of things to do, and the
order in which the reader should do them.
A travel article might also have a logical order, based on the order
in which one would see or visit a location. If, for example, you’re
starting at Point A and traveling to Point X, a logical way to present
your information is in the order in which the traveler following your
route would encounter it. This works even for a single location: Trace
the route a traveler would take if walking through a site, such as a
castle or museum.
5) Make a list. List all the pieces of information you have that you’d
like to include in the article. Then, go over that list and assign numbers
to each point based on its importance or priority. For example, if you
are writing a piece on ways to improve communication between spouses,
jot down a list of all the tips you want to cover. Which tips are most
important? Which are less important? Which could be omitted without any real harm to your article? You may find, when you’re done,
that you have a selection of key points, and perhaps a few “leftovers”
that aren’t as useful. In some cases, your list may become the actual
structure of your finished article (“Five ways to improve communica-
Moira Anderson Allen
tion with your spouse”); in others, it may be retained as the “hidden”
structure that underlies your piece, even though you aren’t numbering
the points in the final article.
Working Within a Word Budget
A final consideration to keep in mind as you outline an article is the
fact that you have a budget—a word budget. Every magazine has specific requirements regarding the length of a feature article. The most
common feature article length is 2000 words; the range tends to be
between 1000 and 3000. Feature articles are rarely less than 1000 words
(shorter pieces are usually found in “departments”), and are rarely more
than 3000 words. (In some cases, a magazine may have a “cover story”
that is longer than the rest of its features.)
One of the most common amateur mistakes is to propose an article
that seeks to cover far more topics than can be covered effectively
within the required word count. Editors are quick to spot this error—
and equally quick to reject such queries.
For example, I reviewed a query letter from a woman who wanted
to write about a controversial treatment for breast cancer. So far, so
good. However, in 2000 words or less, she proposed covering the following topics in her article:
1) An overview of traditional treatments for breast cancer
2) Why woman aren’t told about alternatives
3) A description of the alternative treatment
4) A profile of a woman who chose the treatment:
• Her health and mental state before diagnosis
• Her reaction to her diagnosis
• Her search for alternatives
• Her health and mental state after diagnosis
• Her reason for choosing the new treatment
• Her experience with that treatment
• A followup of her health after treatment
5) Interviews with the woman’s doctor, including his views
on the treatment and experiences with other clients
6) Interviews with other patients at the clinic
See the problem here? This is practically a book. It also has no real
focus; as I told the writer, I didn’t know whether this article was supposed to be a personal profile of the woman involved, or an informa-
Breaking into Magazines
tive article about the treatment. As an editor, I’d reject this query immediately, as being unfocused and basically impossible to cover in 2000
words. (The article had one other problem: The woman had just begun
her treatment, so the writer as yet had no information as to whether it
even worked!)
Resist the temptation to throw everything you have, including the
kitchen sink, into your article! Remember that core concept/slant we
talked about? If it doesn’t relate to your core concept, it doesn’t belong
in your article.
This gets to be tough—you do all that research and you have all
that great information, and it’s hard to throw some of it out. But don’t
despair. Chances are, you can pick another slant on that same topic,
and use that extra information to write a completely different article
for another publication. There is also the option of including sidebars
to your main article, which we’ll cover in a later chapter.
Think about your word budget as you outline. Keep in mind that
the more subtopics you include in your article, the fewer words you’ll
have to allocate to each topic. If you have four major subtopics, you
can give approximately 500 words to each. If you have ten, you can
give each no more than 200 words. (Actually, you have less, as you’ll
need at least 200 words for your introduction and conclusion.)
This brings up the difference between an “in-depth” article and an
“overview.” If you have only a few subtopics (three to five), you can
write an “in-depth” article. If you have a lengthy list of subtopics,
ideas, tips, etc., then you will likely end up writing an overview (or
else trimming your topic list). An article with the title “Ten Tips on
Beating Holiday Stress” is almost certainly going to be an overview—
it will give you ten ideas, but not a lot of in-depth information on any
one of them. An article titled “Put an End to Holiday Stress,” which
involves an interview with a therapist and four or five basic suggestions, is likely to be much more in-depth.
Should you focus on an in-depth piece or an overview? This gets
back to your market research. What type of piece does the market
you’re targeting prefer? Choose the type of article that seems most
likely to appeal to the editor, and audience, of your chosen market.
(Family Circle, for example, loves lists: 100 ways to clean your house
with basic kitchen products, 30 things to do on a rainy day.) Just be
aware that the more subtopics you have, the less information you can
provide about any of them.
Moira Anderson Allen
With all this in mind, it’s time to go back to your list of article ideas and
make some additional decisions. Here’s your next task:
1) Choose one article idea that you would like to work with.
2) Research the potential markets for this idea. Find an actual publication that you think would be appropriate for this piece. (In other
words, don’t j ust decide it would be great for “a woman’s magazine.”
Which woman’s magazine? Why?)
3) Determine your article’s slant/core concept. Try to express that
slant in terms of an active phrase: “How you can,” “What you need to
know about,” “Why you should,” etc. Make sure that your slant reflects the reader’s perspective, not just why you want to write about it.
4) Provide a brief list of the ideas/subtopics that you want to include in your article. What are you going to tell the reader? Why? What
do you want the reader to gain from this article?
Breaking into Magazines
4: Writing the Query
don’t know of any writer who actually likes to write query letters.
I don’t. It’s a pain. I’ve been speculating as to why it’s such a
pain, and have come to the conclusion that it may be because we
would really prefer to have editors interact with our work, not with us.
When we send out an article, the editor reads the article and responds
to that (often with a form letter). But we aren’t really talking to the
editor. We aren’t having to establish a direct communication with someone we don’t even know. The query letter requires us to actually “talk”
to an editor, to try to sell ourselves to a total stranger. It’s tough, and
it’s generally not tons of fun.
However, it is essential. More and more publications are refusing
to accept unsolicited manuscripts; the only way to break in is through a
query. This is particularly true of the better markets—the markets with
a better reputation and those that pay better. In addition, many markets
that accept unsolicited submissions pay more if you’ve queried first.
Queries also save you time and trouble. If your article requires
extensive research and interviews, it’s a good idea to find out whether
anyone is going to buy it before you invest the effort into it. It’s also
helpful to be able to go to a potential interviewee with an actual assignment, rather than just “wishful thinking.” If it takes you, say, 20 hours
to research and write an article, that’s 20 hours wasted if you can’t find
a market. Queries prevent you from wasting that time, and enable you
to focus on the pieces that will sell.
If you’re serious about bringing in a significant income from writing, then querying will become a part of your weekly routine. I recom-
Moira Anderson Allen
mend sending out at least five queries per week. You can think of that
as one per day—but a better approach is to set aside one day per week
as your marketing and querying day—otherwise, it’s likely to interfere
with your writing time.
The Value of a Query
Queries benefit both editors and writers. Editors much prefer to review
a one-page letter than a 10-page manuscript, so queries spend less time
in the slush pile. They also enable an editor to determine, quickly,
whether you:
• Can write effectively
• Have a coherent, well-thought-out idea that fits the
publication’s content
• Have a basic grasp of grammar and spelling
• Have read the publication
• Have the credentials or expertise to write the article
• Are professional in your approach to writing
Queries save you time by ensuring that you don’t invest time and
energy into writing an article that won’t be accepted. Keep in mind that
articles are often rejected for reasons that have nothing to do with quality. An editor may already have a similar piece on file, or assigned, or
have covered something similar in a recent issue. It’s much easier to
find this out through a query, than to tailor an article for a publication
and then have to rewrite it and send it somewhere else. It’s also easier
to obtain interviews when you can say you have a solid assignment.
By querying first, you also give the editor a chance to provide feedback on your idea. The editor may want to suggest a particular length,
or approach, or recommend experts to interview. S/he may want you to
cover other aspects of your subject in sidebars. By finding out what the
editor wants before you start writing, you’ll avoid having to revise the
piece later.
A well-written query can also result in assignments you didn’t expect. If the editor is impressed by your style and credentials, s/he may
offer you some other assignment, even if your original idea isn’t usable. This can often be the beginning of a long, rewarding relationship!
Query Letter Essentials
But how do you “sell” an editor on your article when you have no more
than a page to explain your concept and display your writing skill? The
answer is: By including everything the editor needs to know about your
Breaking into Magazines
article—and about you. A successful query letter generally includes
these five basic components:
The hook
The pitch
The body
The credentials
The close
The Hook
Your very first line should grab an editor’s attention. It must demonstrate that you can write effectively and understand your market.
There are several ways to approach the “hook,” including:
1) The Problem/Solution Hook. This defines a problem or situation
common to the publication’s audience, then proposes an article that
can help solve that problem. Here’s an example:
The pet magazine market is an ideal place for newer writers to
“break in”. However, it is constantly flooded with inappropriate submissions. To break in, one must understand what these
magazines want, and what they won’t accept. (“Writing for
Pet Magazines,” sold to Byline.)
2) The Informative Hook. This usually presents two or three lines of
useful information (e.g., facts, statistics), followed by an explanation
of how this applies to the target audience. For example:
Thanks to a translation glitch, Microsoft was forced to pull its
entire Chinese edition of Windows 95 from the marketplace.
Microsoft recovered—but that’s the sort of mistake few small
businesses can afford! (“How to Localize Your Website,” sold
to Entrepreneur’s Home Office.)
3) The Question. Often, this is a problem/solution or informative hook
posed as a question, such as:
Did you know...?
What would you do if...?
Have you ever wondered...?
Moira Anderson Allen
4) The personal experience/anecdote. Many writers like to take a
personal approach, as it immediately establishes the credential of “experience.” Be sure, however, that your market uses more personal articles, or first-person accounts, before attempting a hook like this:
Forget-me-nots. I love their wistful name. I love their tiny blue
flowers. And yes, I love that growing them is as simple as pie.
(“Forget-me-nots: Simply Unforgettable Spring Flowers,” by
Mary R., sold to Fine Gardening.)
5) The attention-grabber. The goal of this type of hook is to make the
reader sit up and take notice—hopefully long enough to read the rest of
the story. This might be a good “hook” for a query about parachuting in
As I fell from the top of Yosemite’s El Capitan, I wondered if
my life would truly flash before my eyes—or if I would stop
screaming long enough to notice. [Yes, I made that one up.]
Hooks to Avoid
Certain hooks scream “amateur” and are guaranteed to speed a query
to the rejection pile, including:
1) The personal introduction. Never start with a line like “Hi, my
name is John, and I’d like to send you an article about...” Don’t offer
irrelevant information, such as “I’m a housewife and mother of three
lovely children. Recently I decided to pursue my lifelong dream of
2) The “suck-up” hook. Yes, editors like to know that you’ve read
their publication, but they also want you to prove it by offering an
appropriate query—not by saying, “I’ve been a subscriber for 20 years
and just love your magazine...”
3) The “bid for sympathy.” Don’t tell an editor that you’ve never
been published before, or that you need to sell this piece or your children will starve.
Breaking into Magazines
4)The “I’m perfect for you” hook. Never sing your own praises: “I
am a highly experienced professional and will be an asset to your magazine.” Don’t inform the editor that your article is “perfect” for his readers. Never declare that your article is “wonderful” or “fascinating.”
Prove it—with a good query.
5) The “I’m an amateur” hook. Never announce that you have never
been published before, or that you’ve tried to sell the same article to 20
other magazines, or that your writing teacher (or mother or spouse)
suggested that you send this to a magazine. Even if you haven’t sold
anything before, you can still act like a professional. (Yes, I’ve actually received queries that explain how many other publications have
rejected the same article. I always tend to think that those other editors
knew what they were doing.)
The Pitch
Once you have an editor’s attention, move on to the pitch. Usually, this
is your second paragraph, and its purpose is to explain exactly what
you’re offering. For example, the pitch that followed the “localization” hook, above, went like this:
I’d like to offer you a 1,500-word article titled “Internationalizing Your Online Market.” The article would discuss how small
businesses can take advantage of “localizing” agents to tailor
their products and market strategies to the international marketplace.” (“How to Localize Your Website.”)
If possible, your pitch should include a working title for your article
(titles help editors “visualize” what you’re proposing), a word-count
(make sure you’ve checked the publication’s guidelines!), and a brief
summary of what the article will cover.
The Body
This is where you really start to “sell.” The body of your query will
usually be from two to four paragraphs, and presents the details of
your article. Remember that an editor wants to know exactly what the
article will cover, so by this time you should have a working outline of
the piece in your own mind.
A good way to present an overview of your topic is to break it into
logical subtopics—e.g., the sections that would be likely to appear un-
Moira Anderson Allen
der subheads in the finished piece. The longer the article, the more
subtopics you can include (though it’s usually not advisable to have
more than four or five). For example, a 700-word article on cancer in
pets might only cover “The ten warning signs of cancer,” while a 2000word article on the same topic might cover “common types of cancer,
warning signs, and current treatment options.” A good way to determine whether you have the right number of subtopics is to divide your
word-count by the number of topics—e.g., a 2000 word article with
five subtopics gives you a budget of 400 words per topic.
Here’s how I described the content of an article on quilt care:
The article covers techniques of hand-cleaning delicate quilts
to avoid damaging fragile fabrics and prevent fading and staining. It discusses ways to remove spot stains (including blood
spots and rust stains from needles and other metal contact). It
also discusses ways to mend damaged quilts without destroying the integrity of an heirloom piece. Finally, it discusses the
best ways to store or display quilts in order to preserve and
protect them. (“Caring for Heirloom Quilts,” sold to
DownUnder Quilts.)
Some writers like to use block paragraphs; others like to use bullets. There’s no rule on the best style; choose a style that makes your
query visually appealing and easy to read.
The Credentials
Editors want to know why you are the best person to write the article
you’ve proposed. This is where your credentials come in. Don’t assume, however, that these must include writing credits. While a list of
previous articles on relevant topics is nice, you may also be able to
prove your qualifications with credentials such as:
• Professional experience (some publications accept
material only from qualified experts)
• Academic degrees or training
• Teaching experience in the subject area
• Personal experience (especially if the article relates to
personal issues/problems)
• Writing experience
• Interviews with experts (required if you aren’t one!)
Breaking into Magazines
Credentials are usually listed in the last or next-to-last paragraph. Here’s
an example:
As webmaster of, it has been my
job to connect music writers and photographers with the markets that need their work. This is the only site devoted to music
journalism on the Web. I’m also writing the first guide on the
topic. Reviews for my last book, The Van Halen Encyclopedia, are available at (C. Chilver’s pitch to Inkspot
for “How to Write for the Music Market.”)
The Close
Use the final paragraph of your article to thank the editor for reviewing
your proposal—and to offer one last “nudge” to encourage the editor
to respond. I usually include a time-estimate in this paragraph—e.g.,
“If you are interested in this article, I can have it on your desk within
XX days.” Here’s a typical closing paragraph:
I hope this topic interests you, and look forward to your response. If you would like to see the article, I can have it on
your desk within two weeks of receiving your go-ahead. Thank
you for your time!
The presentation of your letter can be as important as your content. A
traditional (paper) query should include the following elements:
1) A decent letterhead. At the very least, your name and address and
other contact information should be printed at the top of your letter
(not at the bottom or under your signature) in an attractive font. You
can have an inexpensive letterhead designed and typeset at your local
printing shop, or online through sites like Or, design your
own on your computer.
2) A business-style body. If you aren’t familiar with terms like “block”
or “modified block,” see the sample letters on pages 49-50. Always
include a blank line between paragraphs, and don’t indent more than
five spaces (if at all).
Moira Anderson Allen
3) A formal salutation. Don’t address the editor by first name unless
you know him/her personally.
4) Clean, proofread copy. Don’t rely on your spellchecker; review
your query yourself before mailing it out.
5) Quality paper. Use at least 20-lb. bond paper for queries. Some
writers like to use fancier papers—parchment, linen, etc.—on the theory
that a nicer paper with a professional tint will stand out amidst all the
white paper on an editor’s desk. Don’t go to “colors” however—pink
paper and blue type scream for rejection.
6) A SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope). Don’t use “insert” envelopes; fold a full-size business envelope (#10) in thirds and use that.
Be sure it has adequate postage. If you are submitting a query from
another country, be sure that your SASE has the correct postage for the
target country—or else include an appropriate number if IRCs (international reply coupons).
A brief note on the SASE: These days, many writers are asking
whether the SASE is simply a waste of time and money, as more and
more editors are simply throwing away unwanted queries without bothering to send a rejection. It is true that if an editor plans to accept a
query, he or she will most likely respond with their own letterhead and
envelope. Other writers prefer to use a return postcard with categories
for an editor to check, like “received,” “under consideration,” or “sorry,
not for us.” My feeling is that a SASE doesn’t cost that much money,
and if a magazine’s guidelines request it, you should send it. You’re
already investing hours of work into your article, so investing another
39¢ (at this time of writing) and an envelope isn’t such a sacrifice.
These guidelines are for traditional “paper” queries. Needless to
say, not all of these “rules” are possible when sending an e-mail query;
for more details on e-mail queries, see the next chapter.
Many editors ask for clips so that they can review a sample of your
writing style. Clips are simply copies of previously published materials. Never send copies of unpublished works! Don’t send clips of work
you’ve self-published or posted on your own website. And remember,
bad clips are worse than no clips at all.
Breaking into Magazines
It’s best to send clips that are relevant to the proposal, if you have
them. If you don’t, send samples from your most prestigious publications. If most of your published works are electronic, print out copies
from your website; don’t just ask the editor to “visit” unless you are
sending an e-mail query.
If you have no clips, don’t despair. Most editors consider the merits
of a query first and the clips second. (To be honest, many editors don’t
even have time to read clips.) If your query is strong enough, the absence of clips shouldn’t be enough to trigger a rejection, unless the
publication works only with published writers.
Following Up
How long should you wait for a response? Usually, you should wait at
least as long as the publication’s guidelines suggest (e.g., 4 to 6 weeks)—
and then add another two weeks “grace period.” Then, send a polite
follow-up. Attach a copy of your original query, so that the editor won’t
have to search the files for it. If you still hear nothing after another 3-4
weeks, consider a polite phone call. (No, it won’t cause your article to
be rejected.) If you still can’t get an answer, and you would like to
withdraw the query, send a final letter informing the editor that, as you
have received no response, you are officially withdrawing the query
from consideration. This protects you from charges of “simultaneous
submissions” if the first editor finally decides to reply after you’ve
already sent the query on to someone else.
The ability to write a good query is one of the most important skills
in a writer’s toolbox. A good query shows an editor that you can write
and that you are a professional—qualities that may result in an assignment even if the editor can’t use your original proposal. Think of your
query as a letter of introduction, your first and only opportunity to get
your foot through that particular door. If you make a good impression,
you’re likely to be invited back (even if your original pitch is rejected).
If you make a bad impression, you may find that door forever closed.
Finally, here are a few mistakes that are almost certain to get a
query rejected:
1) You’re trying to cram too much into an article. An editor will
immediately be able to tell if you have too many ideas, subtopics, subjects, etc., for the type and length of article you are proposing. (I often
get queries at offering to discuss everything one
Moira Anderson Allen
needs to know about writing an article in 750 words... Ha!) If you are
proposing a particular topic, and you say that you’re going to write
about the history and background of the topic, provide profiles of two
or three people involved with the topic, present a how-to guide to the
topic, and cover success stories about the topic, I will instantly know
that there is no way you’re going to be able to get all that into 2000
words or less. If you do, you’re not going to do it effectively. I call this
the “kitchen sink” approach—i.e., everything but the kitchen sink is in
your article. In this case, you’ll need to focus in and define the central
core of your article and write around that, and save the other stuff for
other articles (or sidebars).
2) You have too little to say in the article. I see this less often, but it
does happen—the topic is interesting, but you haven’t done enough
research or found enough information to really fill up 2000 words. In
this case, the solution might be to offer a shorter feature or department
3) You have questions but no answers. Beware of a query that includes phrases like “I’d like to explore whether” or “I will find out if”
or “I’ll look into...”, etc. These are a sign that you don’t know where
your article is going to go, or what answers you’re going to provide,
because you haven’t found out yet. Having an interesting question
(e.g., “how does divorce affect one’s adult children?”) is a great place
to start your article idea. By the time you get to the query, however,
you need to have answers—so that you can explain to the editor that
you will cover this and this and this...
Finally, you need to know where to send your query. Here’s how to
pick the right name from a masthead.
Your first choice should be a publication’s managing editor. This
is generally the person who makes the initial accept/reject decisions.
If no managing editor is listed, check to see if there is an associate
editor. Otherwise, send it to the editor.
For a major publication with a lengthy masthead, look for a features editor, an articles editor, or an editor of a specific department
(e.g., health, food, etc.). You’ll find titles like these on magazines like
Woman’s Day, etc.; you generally won’t find this kind of list on a smaller,
special-interest magazine.
Breaking into Magazines
Don’t send your material to an assistant editor, editor-in-chief, or
contributing editor. An assistant editor rarely has any authority over
acceptance decisions. An editor-in-chief usually supervises a group of
magazines but does not handle day-to-day management of any specific
publication. A contributing editor is not a staff person, but a freelancer
who either writes a column or frequently contributes to the publication. (For example, I am a “contributing editor” to The Writer, but
have absolutely nothing to do with editorial decisions.)
Check a magazine’s website for the most current contact information. Writer’s Market can be very outdated, and even the masthead of
the most recent issue can be three to six months out of date. If you
can’t find the right person, don’t hesitate to call; it won’t upset anyone
or hurt your chances to ask.
If you can find the magazine’s website, first check for “submission
guidelines” or “writer’s guidelines”; those will usually specify a contact. If they don’t, or no guidelines are available, look under “Contact
Us” or “About Us” for the electronic equivalent of a masthead.
Some publications ask you to address a query or submission to “The
Editor” or “The Editors.” In this case, do so.
Contrary to what you may have seen in various articles, most editors are not upset at receiving something addressed to their predecessor, provided they haven’t been at the desk too long. If they’ve been
there 10 years and you send something to their predecessor, they’ll
figure you haven’t done your market research. Same applies if you
send it to their predecessor’s predecessor! (It has happened to me!)
This is your first “real” writing assignment. Write a query about the
article topic you’ve chosen. This is not an exercise or a draft; you’ll
need to write the real thing. That means that you will need to take a
long, hard look at your existing outline or idea, and figure out how to
express it to an editor who doesn’t know you and may not know what
you are talking about. It’s now time to sell the idea you’ve been developing—to convince the editor that it will make a good article that is
appropriate for your chosen publication.
Note: This chapter, and the two sample queries on the next pages, are
excerpted from The Writer’s Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals.
Moira Anderson Allen
Sample Query
Moira Allen
address • city/state/zip
phone • fax
March 10, 1997
Marcia Preston, Editor
Dear Ms. Preston:
The pet magazine market is an ideal place for newer writers to “break in.” However,
it is constantly flooded with inappropriate submissions. To break in, one must
understand what these magazines want, and what they won’t accept. I’d like to offer
you an 1800-word article on how to write for the pet markets, covering the following topics:
The types of articles pet markets are hungry for (e.g., care, training, health,
breed), and how to write them even if you’re not an “expert.”
How to win assignments from the major pet magazines (and even how to be
considered for a column).
The types of articles pet magazines don’t want to see, and why (“my first
puppy,” “the day my cat died,” talking pets, etc.).
How to turn a personal experience article into a marketable service piece.
Understanding the different markets (including why all dog magazines are not
the same), what they expect, what they pay, and what to expect from them.
I’m the ideal person to write this article, as I was the editor of Dog Fancy for two
years, and am thoroughly familiar with all the major pet publications. I have been
writing for the pet markets for more than ten years, and am a member of the Dog
Writers’ Association of America. I am the author of the award-winning Coping with
Sorrow on the Loss of Your Pet (Alpine, 1996). I also teach professional and creative
writing at two local colleges, including a class on this topic.
If you’d like to see the article, I can have it in your hands within 30 days of your goahead. Thanks for your time and attention; I look forward to hearing from you.
Moira Allen
Breaking into Magazines
Sample Query
Moira Allen
address • city/state/zip
phone • fax
Editorial Team
Traditional Quiltworks
Dear Editors:
For anyone who enjoys decorating with antique or delicate quilts, care is a vital
concern. Most of us realize that we can’t just pop Granny’s handmade quilt into the
washing machine or douse it with bleach, but what are the alternatives? How can we
protect fine fabrics from further dirt and damage?
To help your readers answer this question, I would like to offer you a 1900-word
article titled “How to Care for an Antique Quilt.” The article covers techniques of
hand-cleaning delicate quilts to avoid damaging fragile fabrics and prevent fading
and staining. It discusses ways to remove spot stains (including blood spots and rust
stains from needles and other metal contact). It also discusses ways to mend
damaged quilts without destroying the integrity of an heirloom piece. Finally, it
discusses the best ways to store or display quilts in order to preserve and protect
An earlier version of this article appeared in Quilt in 1988. I am offering second
serial rights to the article, which has been revised and updated. I have been
freelancing for more than 18 years, and my articles have appeared in Quilt, Omni,
Writer’s Digest, Dog Fancy, and many other magazines.
If you are interested in this article, I can have it on your desk within a week. Thank
you for your time and consideration; I look forward to hearing from you.
Moira Allen
NOTE: Normally, one would address a query to a specific editor. However, this particular publishing group prefers queries and submissions
to be addressed to the “Editorial Team”—a fact I verified by phone
before sending the query.
Moira Anderson Allen
5: Preparing
E-mail Queries
decade ago, only a handful of periodical publishers listed in
The Writer’s Market provided e-mail addresses. Now, nearly
every publisher in that directory does so. While some editors
still prefer paper queries sent by surface mail, most prefer e-mail queries. Among electronic publications, such as e-zines and e-mail newsletters, that preference is almost universal. Many electronic publications will not even consider paper queries.
E-mail queries save postage and time. Your query will reach the
editor in seconds rather than days. You may also receive a response
within days (or even hours).
E-mail queries also have disadvantages, however. A common complaint of editors is that many writers don’t bother to prepare e-mail
queries carefully. Many seem to be written in haste, with little consideration for style or presentation, and no proofreading. E-mail queries
are often casual, chatty, even “cute”—qualities editors rarely find endearing.
Another problem editors frequently encounter is impatience. Just
because your query may arrive within seconds, that doesn’t mean the
editor is going to read it immediately, let alone respond within minutes. Nothing annoys an editor so much as a writer who starts nagging
for a response within days (or hours) of sending an e-mail query.
Breaking into Magazines
While e-mail queries contain many of the same elements as traditional “paper” queries, they also contain elements that need special
attention. These include:
The Header
With e-mail, you can’t impress an editor with nice paper or a snappy
letterhead. Instead, you must rely on your header to provide vital information about yourself and your query. Be sure to put the right information in these sections:
To: Address your query to the right person at the right address. Try to locate the exact e-mail address of the editor you
wish to contact.
From: You probably wouldn’t sign a traditional query with
a tagline like “Crystal Windsinger” or “Rafe Moondragon.” If
you use such an nickname to communicate online, however, it
may slip into your query by mistake. Be sure to set up an alternate, professional “personality” in your e-mail program that
includes your real name and a professional-sounding e-mail
Subject: Include the word “Query” in your subject line,
along with a brief (two to three word) description of your proposal—e.g., “Query: Cancer in Cats” or “Query: Writing for
Pet Magazines.” Never leave this line blank. Avoid cuteness
or excessive informality; a subject line like “May I have a
moment of your time?” looks too much like “spam” and could
cause your query to be deleted.
The Text
The easiest way to handle the text of an e-mail query is to treat it just
like a traditional query. However, many editors find that they actually
prefer shorter queries by e-mail. This is partly a display issue: The less
the editor has to “scroll” to read your query, the better.
Thus, more writers are turning to brief, one- to three-paragraph email queries. The hook is often eliminated entirely, allowing the writer
to get straight to the pitch, followed by a single paragraph of description, and closing with the writer’s credentials. Here’s an example of a
Moira Anderson Allen
query I received from a regular contributor to Inkspot:
Hello! I promised you a query, so here you go.
“Flash What?” is an exploration of the (at-first-glance) strange
medium of flash fiction. The article does not attempt to define
the form, as flash is virtually undefinable, but it does identify
the many styles of flash, and its many names. I cite such writers as Lila Guzman and Pamelyn Casto and their thoughts on
the form. Following this, I segue into a general how-to segment on writing flash, listing three essential questions every
flash writer must ask. Once that’s finished, I close out with
market listings and other resources.
With flash fiction becoming more and more prevalent in the
literary community, especially the online publishing world
(whole zines are devoted to the medium), I think that this piece
is very useful to Inkspot’s many readers who double as fiction
“Flash What?” is about 1220 words long. I’ll be happy to send
along the full piece if you are interested.
Thanks! Looking forward to your reply.
J. Gurley
When crafting an e-mail query, therefore, give serious thought to ways
that you can “condense” your information into a compact summary
that the editor can view on a single screen. Just be sure that your summary actually covers all the salient points that you wish to make!
Credentials and Clips
It’s perfectly acceptable to list your credentials in an e-mail query just
as you would in a traditional query. Many writers, also use this opportunity to provide a link to a Web site where editors can learn more
about the writer’s qualifications, or perhaps view writing samples.
Here’s an example:
I have been writing and editing for more than 20 years; many
of my published clips can be found at
Breaking into Magazines
[Note: in e-mail, always include the “http://” portion of a URL,
or your link may not “hotlink” at the receiving end.]
Some editors will check the sites you list; some won’t. It’s wise, therefore, to state your credentials explicitly, and offer Web sites only as a
backup. Never send “clips” in an attachment.
The Address Block
In a traditional query, your name and address and other contact information would go at the top of the page (or be incorporated into your
letterhead). In an e-mail query, it should go at the bottom, below your
typed signature:
Jane Smith
1042 Gloriana Lane
Whippet, IL 60606
(555) 123-4568 (fax)
[email protected]
The Signature Block
You may wish to use a standard “signature block” to include your Web
site and any special credentials you’d like to list. You can also include
your surface-mail address and contact information in a signature block,
but be sure you only use this block for queries and professional correspondence; you don’t want to broadcast that information on the Web.
Avoid overly cute signature blocks, or blocks that involve graphic elements. Save the cats, dancing weasels, and emoticons for more personal correspondence.
Removing the Gibberish
Sending a query or manuscript electronically isn’t simply a matter of
copying your material from a wordprocessing file (such as MS Word)
and pasting it into an e-mail. All too often, a straight cut-and-paste
results in a message that looks something like this:
%Please don,t reject my manuscript,@ the author cried, pleading ? but to no avail, as the editor wasn&t in the mood for such
%[email protected]!
Moira Anderson Allen
Even a single line of this can be annoying; having to wade through an
entire query—or worse, a manuscript—of this nature is beyond the
patience of most editors. Kind-hearted editors will send such a submission back and ask you to fix it; less-understanding editors will simply
send a rejection.
Gibberish and “nonsense symbols” are the result of transferring a
word-processed document directly to e-mail without “undoing” many
of the special characters and commands that such a program (like Word)
automatically embeds in your file. Unless instructed otherwise, for
example, Microsoft Word will automatically convert dashes (—) into a
special dash-symbol, turn all apostrophes and quotes into “smart
quotes,” transform ellipses (...) into yet another special character, and
superscript the ending of words like “1st” or “7th”.
These special characters look nice on the printed page, but are the
result of hidden codes in your electronic file that do not “translate”
when copied into an e-mail document. Instead, those codes are converted into various symbols and odd characters. Any formatting codes
(e.g., bold, underline, italic) will be similarly transformed.
To prevent these and other e-mail problems in your submissions,
be sure to take the following steps before submitting a query or manuscript electronically:
1. Turn off all special-character commands. In MS Word, you can
do this by going into the “AutoCorrect” menu under “Tools.” In the
“Autoformat as you type” and “Autoformat” menus, uncheck everything under “Replace as you type.” In the “Autocorrect” submenu, look
at the list of automatic corrections, and delete the correction that replaces an ellipses with a special character.
2. Replace special-character commands in documents. If you’re
submitting a document that you prepared before turning off these “replace” commands, you’ll need to do a search-and-replace on the problem characters. For smart quotes, simply enter a single quote in the
“find” and “replace” box and do a “replace all”; this will correct all
apostrophes and single quotes. Do the same for double quotes. To replace a dash, use the keyboard combination [option hyphen] to enter
the dash in the “find” box; replace it with [ --]. To replace ellipses, use
the combination [option ;] in the “find” box, and replace with [...].
Breaking into Magazines
3. Double-space between paragraphs. E-mail wipes out tabs, which
means that a manuscript that relies on tabs to indicate new paragraphs
will end up as a nearly solid block of text. If you don’t want to doublespace manually, simply do a search-and-replace on the “paragraph”
character. (In Word, click on “More” in the find-and-replace menu.
The paragraph command is the first item under “Special”—hit this
option once for the “find” box and twice for the “replace” box.) Also, if
you’ve formatted your manuscript or query in Word first, paste it into
your e-mail and send it to yourself before sending it to an editor. I’ve
found that double-spacing sometimes disappears in transmission, and
must be reinserted into your e-mail manually.
More Do’s and Don’ts
Editors will be even happier with your electronic submissions if you
follow these guidelines:
1) Do use a large, readable font. Sometimes I feel the urge to send a
query back simply because it seems to be written in electronic microprint. Make sure your font size is set to “normal”—or to a minimum of
12 points. If you’re not sure how “large” your type looks (it may look
fine on your own screen), ask someone else how your e-mails look.
2) Do include an appropriate subject header. A header such as
“Query: (article title/subject)” or “Article Submission: Title” always
works well. These days, many editors simply delete unidentifed e-mails
as spam or potential virus-carriers.
3) Do keep e-mail queries as short as possible. While paper queries
should be kept to a single page (if possible) because that’s easiest for
an editor to read, keep in mind that an e-mail “page” often translates to
the size of an editor’s screen. Try to present your query succinctly
enough to minimize the need to scroll through your message.
4) Don’t use HTML formatting in your e-mail. Turn off any commands that automatically convert your e-mail to an HTML document.
5) Don’t use colors. Just as you wouldn’t type a query in yellow ink,
don’t send an e-mail query in any font color other than black.
Moira Anderson Allen
6) Don’t use emoticons. Save them for personal correspondence.
7) Don’t send any “involuntary” attachments. If your e-mail program is set up to send a “vcard” attachment, turn off that option.
8) Don’t send “clips” as attachments. It’s always difficult to send
clips with electronic queries. One option is to state the availability of
clips, to be sent by e-mail or surface mail on request; another is to
provide links to online clips.
9) Don’t send a submission as an attachment unless a publication’s
guidelines specifically state that this is acceptable, or unless you have
authorization from the editor.
10) Don’t expect an editor to respond to an e-mail submission “instantly.” Although some editors do respond more quickly to e-mail
submissions than to surface mail, assume that a publication’s published
response time still applies, no matter how you submit material. (And
don’t expect the editor to “acknowledge” your submission; don’t send
it with a “reply requested” notation, for example.)
11) Do keep a copy of all correspondence with editors. This will
make it much easier for you to send a copy of your original query if
you need to follow up. One way to handle this is to create a folder in
your e-mail directory for “queries and submissions” that are still awaiting response, and another for queries and submissions that have received a reply. By checking your “awaiting response” file, you can
easily determine, by the dates of your e-mails, when a submission should
be followed up.
The ability to contact editors electronically has made life much easier
for writers around the world. To retain this ability, however, we must
make sure that we make life as easy as possible for our editors as well!
Breaking into Magazines
6: Conducting Research
and Interviews
ow that you’ve settled on a topic, and (theoretically) queried
an editor about this topic (and gotten a positive response), the
next step is usually to begin researching your topic. In reality,
you may have begun this step earlier—sometimes it’s necessary to conduct some preliminary research just to build a decent query (or to decide whether you really want to cover the topic). But the real research
process begins when an editor says “yes,” and you realize that you
have a month (or less) to deliver on your promise.
Fortunately, you have a huge advantage over writers of a decade
ago (or even of five years ago): you have the Internet. The power of
this tool to streamline your research process should not be underestimated. (At times, though, it’s also a good idea not to overestimate it
either!) What might have taken hours to find in a library (if you could
find it at all) may now be available in minutes with a well-planned
online search.
The Internet also puts experts around the world at your fingertips.
Often, all you need to do is find an “official” site on a particular topic,
and look for names of people associated with that site. For example,
when I was working on the article on “Cancer in Cats” that I mentioned earlier, I searched for “animal cancer” centers, and was able to
locate the names of several specialists. The fact that they were on the
opposite side of the country didn’t matter, as I could ask them questions via e-mail.
Moira Anderson Allen
This chapter will talk about using search engines effectively, and
about conducting interviews and using the quotes you get from those
interviews. It will also discuss a few “don’ts” related to research.
Finding Information Online: Search Engines
I am amazed by some of the questions I receive—questions that could
be answered by typing in the simplest of terms into a search engine.
When someone asks, “Are there any sites on 17th century costumes on
the Web,” I want to scream, “Have you even tried to find out?”
Search engines are amazing. Recently, I was retyping an article
that I’d written 20 years ago, and had just resold. I came across a quote
that had no attribution. I knew it came from a book—but what book?
The article was 20 years old! On a whim, I typed the first five words of
the quote into Google, and Whammo! Up popped the page from The
Golden Bough (which can be found on from which I’d
taken that quote. (“Whammo” is a tech-term for “search term found.”)
On the other hand, they can be frustrating. Suppose you wanted to
write an article about “cat care.” What would you enter? “Cats”? I’d
hate to see what would come up in that case—probably 25 million hits,
most of them not useful. “Cat care” might be a bit better, but not much.
A very big part of the process is defining effective search terms.
First, let me give you a quick course on how to search. My favorite
search engine is Google. You can search for single words, phrases, or
combinations of words on most search engines. You can also exclude
words. Each search engine has its own format for some of these tricks.
Fortunately, where once you had to actually indicate that you wanted
all the words listed in your search term, today’s search engines assume
this. Thus, if you enter a search for “cats nutrition kittens,” you will
receive only those results that include all the terms you listed. It is also
possible to exclude a term from your search results. For example, if
you wanted to search for limericks (the poetic form) and not receive
results on the town of Limerick, Ireland, you could enter (in Google)
the search criteria “limerick -Ireland” to exclude sites that include the
word “Ireland.” (Of course, that would also rule out Irish limericks...)
If you want to search on a specific term or phrase (more than one
word in a specific order), put that phrase in quotation marks. Let’s say
you wanted to find the speech that included the phrase, “Now is the
time for all good men...” You could easily put that phrase in quotes
and enter it. (On a good search engine, you could even put it in without
Breaking into Magazines
quotes and have a pretty good chance of finding what you want, but
quotes make it more certain.)
It’s also possible to refine a search even further (at least on some
engines) by specifying where a term should be found. You can specify
that you want it to be found in the URL, or in some other part of the
document. You can often specify a range of dates for your search —
that you want documents within a particular time frame (e.g., December 2005) or no documents prior to January 2004. All of these tricks
can help refine a search.
But the real trick is determining what to search for. Choosing effective search terms is half the battle (if not all the battle). Your goal is
to find the most relevant sites while excluding as many sites as possible that are not relevant.
Another goal may be to find sites that fit a particular profile. For
example, when I was researching cancer in cats, I didn’t want to find
personal websites about “my beloved cat who died of cancer” (and
believe me, there are a lot of those). I wanted to find medical sites. To
do this, I asked myself what how a veterinarian would refer to the
subject—and the answer was “feline oncology.” I searched on “cancer” and “cats” as well, but the veterinary term was more useful in
pulling up more professional sites.
Another way to look at a search term is to ask, “If I were writing an
article on this topic, how would I phrase it?” In this case, “cancer in
cats” struck me as a likely phrase that would be used in an article on
this subject, so I searched on that and found a great deal of useful information. Similarly, more recently I wanted to discover the “causes of
seizures in cats” and searched on that precise phrase, and immediately
found what I was looking for. If you are searching for “17th century
costumes,” use exactly that term—it’s bound to turn up in any article
or site covering the topic.
If you have a very specific piece of information you’re looking for,
try the most specific term you can think of. If you want to learn the
planetary mass of Jupiter, try entering [“planetary mass” Jupiter], where
“planetary mass” is within the quotes to indicate that you want these
words to occur together, while Jupiter is outside the quotes to indicate
that you want this word to appear in the same document. Or, you could
enter “planetary mass of Jupiter”—this will exclude sites about Jupiter
that don’t give the technical information you want.
Keep in mind that search engines are specific. They can’t “guess”
or provide information that is “close.” They can only find exactly what
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you input. Spelling your search terms correctly is important. (Googlewill
sometimes ask you if you meant a different spelling, if it finds a term
that seems close to the one you’re searching on.) Another thing to
keep in mind is that different countries have different spellings. If you’re
American, consider using a British spelling for a search term to find
non-U.S. sites; conversely, if you use British spellings, consider testing American variations. If you’re searching for information on a particular date in history, remember that while the U.S. usage would be
“May 4, 2001,” the European usage is more likely to be “4 May 2001”.
You can also search for information in another language, and search
for images.
Moving Beyond Search Engines
Search engines are not the only way to find information online. Far
from it! They’re just a great place to start. I don’t have space (or
energy) to get into all the different ways that you can track down information online, but here are some other opportunities.
1) Newspapers. If you’re researching a story or article that relates to a
particular area, or local events, or an area’s history, you might find it
useful to check the newspaper archives for that area. Some newspapers
put only their current issues online, but others are building extensive
archives. You’ll find a list of newspaper directory sites at .
2) “Gateway” sites. If you want to find the best references on a topic,
go find someone who has made that topic their specialty. That site is
likely to have the best links to the best references—far better than what
you’ll turn up on a search. The way to start your search is by plugging
terms into a search engine; typically, if you’re lucky, that will take you
to one or two really good sites on the topic, from which you can explore the links those site hosts have selected as “the best.” I’ve found
that many of the links I find on such sites never do turn up in my searchengine search.
3) Webrings. You can find a lot of information through webrings. When
you find a useful site, scroll to the bottom of the page, and see if it is
linked into a webring that seems relevant to your research topic. Some
webrings have a “list” link that lets you view all the members of that
ring. This gives you a way to locate other sites on the same topic.
Breaking into Magazines
4) Databases. Information in databases will not always turn up on an
ordinary search; database pages can’t always be “spidered” by websearch robots (though search engines are getting better at this all the
time). Thus, there’s a huge amount of information online that can only
be found if you know where to find the databases. What you can do is
use a search engine to find databases. Try this by typing in a search
term that you’d like to find information on, plus the term “database.”
(For example, I recently tried “database medieval” to see what would
come up—and I could spend some happy hours perusing the results!)
A Caveat
While the Internet is a great source of information, it’s also important
to make sure that the information you find is accurate. No one is monitoring this stuff, and there’s lots of false or inaccurate information online.
The best guide to accuracy is common sense. When you visit a
website, ask yourself if this appears to be a professional site that seems
reliable. Is the material presented in a professional manner? I’m very
wary of sites in which text is presented in huge, bold type, with lots of
exclamation points or caps. Which would you feel was more reliable?
Ernest Shackleton died on January 5, 1922.
Shackleton DIED TRAGICALLY on January 5, 1922!!
Both statements are true, but I’d be more inclined to trust a website
that doesn’t seem to be making some sort of emotional point. (If you
search on “Shackleton” and “died”, you’ll find at least one website that
states that he died on January 4—a good example of why it’s wise to
crosscheck information. In this case, since a dozen sites say “January
5,” I’m inclined to believe the majority.)
Is the site trying to push an agenda, prove a point, persuade you to
a particular view, or badmouth the opposition? In any of these cases,
be cautious about the information you find there. Is it obviously trying
to sell a product? I’m always wary of any “medical” information that
is associated with a site that is trying to promote some sort of vitamin
or supplement, or someone’s book on an “overlooked treatment,” etc.
Early articles on “evaluating online information” used a sort of conventional wisdom that recommended .org or .edu sites over .coms, but
this wisdom is flawed. Anyone can get a .com, .org, or .net site—you
don’t have to prove that you are an organization (or whatever) to use
Moira Anderson Allen
that suffix. Many of the best information sites on the web are .coms.
Conversely, many .org sites belong to organizations with specific agendas—which means that their information may be biased or one-sided.
A .edu site does not mean that a site is “sponsored” by a university (and
therefore, presumably, scrutinized for accuracy); it simply means that
the site is hosted by that university’s server. It could be run by a student or a faculty member—and it may have no scrutiny whatsoever.
So site suffixes are not a way to judge the value of a site’s information.
While you can get loads of wonderful information from the Internet
(or from books or magazines), the key to a successful article is often
getting good interviews. The thing to keep in mind here is that an
article is not a research report. Forget everything you learned in school
about writing a “paper.” The approach of finding lots of information in
previously published material and then spitting that information back
out in ten pages does not work when trying to sell articles.
It is true that some types of articles can be almost “pure research.”
Magazines that cover more “informational” (vs. “how-to”) topics may
be more inclined to accept research materials. Magazines with a historical slant are more open to pure research. But the majority of publications want either (a) personal expertise or (b) expert interviews.
Interviews frequently scare new writers. We feel that we don’t have
the “credentials” to even ask for an interview—that we may even insult an expert by approaching them. And I’ll share a little secret: If
you’re not the outgoing, go-get-em type, you may never enjoy doing
interviews. I’ve been in the business more than 20 years and I still
don’t really like this part of the job. But this can be your little secret
(and mine). Your interviewee does not have to know this. It’s perfectly possible to absolutely hate and dread interviewing—and still
present a professional, impressive “face” to your interviewee.
One of the questions that frequently comes up is whether to contact
prospective interviewees before you have an assignment (to help you
get the assignment), or after you have the assignment (to help you get
the interviews). I generally prefer to line up a list of possible experts,
and contact them after I have an assignment. However, if I believe that
my query will be strengthened by the promise of speaking to a specific
person, then I may contact that person first and find out if s/he would
be willing to speak to me if and when I get the assignment—and then
use that person’s name in my query.
Breaking into Magazines
What I do not recommend is interviewing people before you actually have an assignment. This could be a big waste of your time, and
theirs. (Theirs is more important—it won’t appear professional to interview someone for an article that never appears.) There are always
exceptions to this rule, too, however—for example, you might be traveling and come across the perfect idea for an article, and need to interview folks right then and there, before sending a query.
How do you get interviews? How do you “do” them? What are the
protocols for following up? Here’s the quick-and-dirty...
1) Find the Interviewee. Your first step is to find appropriate experts
to interview. If you’re doing a profile, obviously your main interviewee
is the subject of that profile—but you may also want to interview people
who know that person (a boss, a spouse, a friend). If you’re covering a
particular topic, you’ll want to interview people who are experts on
that topic. For an article on “cancer in cats,” for example, you don’t
want to simply interview your family veterinarian; you need to interview someone who specializes in animal cancer treatments. As I’ve
mentioned above, the easiest way to find experts is through a search on
your topic online.
2) Choose the Method: Phone, Flesh or E-mail? Your next decision
is whether to interview by phone, in person, or by e-mail. This depends a great deal on what you are trying to accomplish. If you’re
doing a profile, you’ll typically want to do this in person, as you’ll
learn as much from seeing the person in his/her environment as from
the actual questions. (Thus, it’s usually best to profile someone that
you can actually meet without traveling across the country.)
Telephone interviews are still the most common and effective way
to interview someone who is not in your immediate area (or even someone who is)—especially if you are simply gathering information rather
than profiling the person. They are less intrusive than personal interviews, and require less “scheduling.” Just be sure, if you and your
interviewee are in different time zones, that you are clear as to what
time the interview should take place in each zone. Don’t just say “OK,
I’ll call you at 10 a.m.”—make sure the interviewee knows whether
you mean 10 a.m. your time or his time. (I’ve made this mistake more
than once.) Phone interviews are also a good way to get information in
a hurry—e.g., if you’re on deadline and need an answer now.
Moira Anderson Allen
E-mail interviews are also a good way to gather information. They
are even less intrusive than telephone interviews, and work very well
with someone who is comfortable writing down their thoughts or information. However, they don’t work well with someone who doesn’t
respond well to written questions—and you can’t immediately follow
up or probe for more information or clarification if the person doesn’t
provide the information you want. I use e-mail interviews when I interview authors (on the sometimes mistaken assumption that an author
should be “comfortable” writing answers). E-mail can also be a good
way to follow up on a phone interview if you have more questions.
3) Make Contact. Once you find a potential interviewee and decide
how you’d like to conduct the interview, the next step is asking for the
interview. This is where you need to remember that they don’t need to
know you’re nervous. You may be shaking in your boots; it doesn’t
matter. They don’t have to know. And you don’t have to tell them.
If you’re going to interview someone by phone or in person, you
can make contact either by phone or by e-mail. If you wish to make
contact by phone, simply call the person (at work if possible) and explain who you are and what you are writing about. For example:
“Hi, my name is Moira Allen, and I’m working on an article for Cats Magazine about cancer in cats. Would you be
willing to talk to me about some of the treatments your clinic
provides for feline cancer patients?”
If you don’t have an assignment yet, just say “I’m working on an
article about...” Nine times out of ten, they’ll never ask what publication it’s for. If they do, just say “I’ll be pitching this to...” and fill in the
magazine name.
If the person says “yes” to the idea of doing an interview, ask when
would be a good time. Be prepared to do the interview on the spot.
Frequently, the person is likely to say, “This would be a good time.”
Have your interview questions ready, just in case—and make sure
you’ve called when you have time to do the interview. It’s embarrassing to have to tell someone, “Oh, gee, sorry, I don’t have time to talk to
you right now; can we schedule an appointment?” If the person wants
to do the interview at another time, s/he may want to know how long
the interview will take, so you should have a time estimate (e.g., half
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an hour). Generally, you should call the person for the interview (it
should be on your nickel). The exception is when a person can’t guarantee being available at a certain time, and so would prefer to control
the timing of the interview by calling you.
Increasingly, writers are making initial contact by e-mail. The same
basic approach works (leaving out the “Hi”)—just explain who you
are, what you are writing about (and for what publication), and that
you would like to arrange an interview. Most people who contact me
in this way provide a phone number, but I always respond by e-mail,
and give the interviewer my number and suggest a good time to call. I
also make sure that the interviewer knows what time zone I live in!
Some interviewees (especially in business) will want to see your
questions in advance, so that they can prepare. When you’re simply
gathering information about a topic (e.g., cancer, gardening, etc.), this
is fine; don’t hesitate to provide your list. (You may get lucky and get
a nice long response by e-mail.) If this is a more controversial issue,
you might want to send some questions, but indicate that these are a
“starting point” for the interview.
4) Conduct the Interview. Whether you interview someone in person
or by phone, having a list of your primary questions is a must. Otherwise, you’ll start working on your article only to learn that a vital piece
of information is missing. You can brainstorm your questions much as
you brainstormed your article outline—by asking yourself what questions the reader would want answered.
However, once the interview starts, don’t be surprised if you end
up deviating from your list. The interview may go in different directions than you expected—you may find that you’re getting information in other areas that is more important or useful than what you started
out in search of. Just be sure that you do get the information that you
absolutely require for the article.
Sometimes this means mastering the art of nudging someone back
on track. Having your list is a good way to do this. You can take a look
at what hasn’t been covered, and say something like “Getting back to
the issue of...” Don’t be surprised when interviewees go off on tangents; sometimes this is helpful, but it can also derail your interview if
you have a tight time-limit for the talk and the person doesn’t address
your key points in that time.
Learn to create “open-ended” questions rather than questions that
can be answered “yes” or “no.” For example, if you were interviewing
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a children’s author, don’t ask, “Do you enjoy writing children’s books?”
That begs for a simple “yes” answer—and then you have to follow up
with something like “why?” Instead, ask something like “What do you
enjoy most about writing children’s books?” or “What is the most fulfilling part of writing children’s books?” Questions like these require
the interviewee to provide a more in-depth answer.
If you’re lucky, that’s exactly what will happen. However, from
time to time you’ll run into someone who can still manage to say virtually nothing—such as “I find writing children’s books really rewarding.” Why, you ask? “Because they’re so much fun.” What makes
them fun? “Oh, the process, I guess.” Could you tell me more about
the process? “It’s really hard to describe. You have to just do it, I
guess...” Yes, some interviews will go like this, and you’ll want to
strangle the interviewee before you’re done—but throughout it all, you
will maintain your professionalism!
When you’re interviewing someone in person, should you take notes
or use a tape recorder? I prefer both. I hate transcribing notes from a
tape recorder, but it gives me a good backup if I can’t read my scribbles
or remember the exact words used. It’s also good backup if you are
writing something controversial and might ever need to prove that the
person actually said what you say they said. When you’re interviewing someone by phone, it can be more difficult to use a tape recorder,
although some answering machines can be set up to record a telephone
conversation. If you do tape a telephone interview, keep in mind that
you are required to inform the interviewee that s/he is being taped.
When I conduct a phone interview, I simply do so in front of the computer, and type in the information as I talk. (If you write faster than
you type, you might prefer to take longhand notes.)
It should be obvious that you need to be polite and professional,
show up (or call) on time, and thank the person when you’ve finished.
If you find that you don’t like the person you’re interviewing, keep that
detail to yourself.
If you’re writing a profile and interviewed someone in person, jot
down details about the person’s surroundings, appearance, tone of voice,
etc.—anything that will contribute richness to your story. Did the
person’s clothing clash with the “personality” you expected (such as a
rich CEO wearing torn cutoffs)? What did you notice about the person’s
environment? Was it filled with mementos, or barren and austere?
Did it seem to reflect the interviewee’s interests and personality, or
seem to clash with them? What did you notice about the person’s body
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language and facial expressions—when did the person seem comfortable, when did s/he seem tense? Pay attention to questions that make
your interviewee tense—they could be leading somewhere important.
(Don’t be afraid to ask “tough” questions, when appropriate.) Does
the person’s facial expression or body language match the words? For
example, if someone says, “I have a wonderful marriage,” but sits back
with crossed arms and a frown, you might have doubts as to the truth of
that statement.
Don’t be afraid of silences. Silences are wonderful tools—because
they make people uncomfortable, and people tend to try to fill a silence. If you’re not getting a response to a question, or if the response
seemed too short or insufficient, just wait a moment without saying
anything—often this will cause the person to say more, just to fill that
silence. Do not rush to fill silences yourself!
5) Use the Material Wisely. Once the interview is finished, write up
your notes as soon as possible, while it is still fresh in your mind. Try
to be as clear and accurate as possible.
You’ll often find that you have far too much information to actually fit in your article, but that’s fine. Some of what you’ve gathered
might spin off into another article, or you might find that a personal
experience makes a great sidebar. Interview material is like raw ore;
your task is to refine it, and find the “precious metal” hidden inside.
There are ways to do this and ways not to do this. The one absolute
rule of using interviews is this: never twist a person’s words to imply
something the person did not mean. Do not use quotes out of context,
or partial quotes, as a way to make it seem that someone said something they did not. This is absolutely unethical.
Other issues are less clear. For example, there are two schools of
thought on “cleaning up” quotes. Let’s say that you have interviewed
someone who does not speak clearly or in an educated way. Maybe his
quote sounds something like “Well, uh, y’know, really, that’s tough,
but I’d have to say, I think, probably, I’d want to see the guy fry,
y’know?” There are some who would suggest using the entire quote.
There are others who would use only the last eight words (or even cut
the final “y’know”). The “use it like it is no matter what” school says
that if a quote is grammatically incorrect, you still use it just “as is”.
This can get a bit sticky when you’re doing e-mail interviews. When
you interview someone on the phone, you are responsible for the spell-
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ing. You don’t know whether the person knows how to spell the words
he’s using—and you don’t care, because all the spelling is happening
at your end. But what if the person has sent you an e-mail interview
full of misspellings? Should you use it verbatim (or riddle it with “sics”
to indicate that he, and not you, was the source of the misspellings)?
My view is that, unless you have a profound reason to keep those errors, it’s better to clean it up. Again, keep in mind that had you done
this interview orally, it would have been spelled correctly because you
transcribed the interview. Not everyone has a perfect grasp of spelling,
and I believe that an interviewee should not be made to look stupid—
especially when that person has done me the favor of giving me the
information I asked for.
I compared interview material to ore, and that’s exactly what it is.
You don’t want to dump everything the person said into your article.
Instead, you want to mine it for quotes that add spice to the article
(assuming the article isn’t a Q&A interview to begin with). That doesn’t
mean you can’t use more of the person’s material—however, you’ll
find that your article usually works best if you paraphrase most of it
and add direct quotes that bring home the point you’re trying to make.
For example, here’s the actual text of an e-mail interview I conducted with author Kate Elliott:
The American Heritage Dictionary defines culture as ‘the totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs,
institutions, and all other products of human work and thought
characteristic of a community or population.’ According to
the OED [Oxford English Dictionary], the word ‘culture’ is
related to ‘cultivate’ in the sense of tending crops.
Words grow from specific roots for a reason. Definitions
of ‘cultivate’ include “To improve or prepare (land), as by plowing or fertilizing, for raising crops. . . To grow or tend. . . To
promote the growth of. . . To nurture. . . To form and refine.”
I think that these definitions and that relationship between
culture and cultivation can give writers clues as to how to approach writing, and creating, a ‘believable’ culture in fantasy
or science fiction novel.
For that purpose, one can draw out the metaphor of tillage,
however labored it might become in time: When the writer
creates a culture in the sf/f field, she starts with untilled ground,
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a kind of blank slate. That ground has to be prepared, tended,
formed, and refined. A culture, likewise, must show arts, beliefs, institutions (to whatever extent), technologies, and roles.
In the role of “cultivator,” the writer can, in addition, not merely
impose her own notions onto that developing culture but see
what comes of giving it a little room to evolve naturally in the
course of planning and writing the novel.
Here’s what I wrote in the final article:
Elliott likes to draw an analogy between “culture” and “cultivate,” two words that spring from the same root. “When a
writer creates a culture, she starts with untilled ground, a kind
of blank slate. The ground has to be prepared, tended, formed,
refined. Likewise, a culture must show arts, beliefs, institutions, technologies, and roles. In the role of ‘cultivator,’ a writer
doesn’t simply impose her own notions onto that developing
culture, but gives it a little room to evolve naturally in the course
of planning and writing the novel.”
In this instance, you’ll note that I also “edited” some of the sentences I did use to make them more “manageable” in the paragraph.
Some writers and editors believe that this sort of editing is a no-no—
but I’ve found that most interviewees prefer it, if such cleaning (a)
does not distort the quote and (b) makes a better article.
Should you send the article to the interviewee for review before it is
published? This is one of the most common questions asked. Also,
many interviewees will try to pressure a writer into letting them “review” (or “approve”) an article before it goes to the editor.
The consensus among authors and editors on this point is no. Never
promise to let an interviewee see your article before it goes to press.
Never give an interviewee any “approval power” over your article. If
an interviewee puts any pressure on you to do this, simply say that
you’re sorry, but your editor won’t permit it.
The only exception to this rule, in my book, is when I’m interviewing someone about a highly technical subject and I want to be absolutely sure I’ve gotten all the information right. In such a case, the
only interest the interviewee is likely to have in reviewing the article is
the same as mine: Accuracy. If I have any doubts about how I’ve tran-
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scribed and presented the interview information, I may pass it back to
the interviewee for a check—but not for “pre-approval.”
One reason many interviewees want to see an interview before it is
published is because they’ve had bad experiences with writers who
want to put their own, biased spin or slant on an interview. In such a
case, be understanding—but still be firm about not granting a “preapproval” condition.
It should also be pointed out that an interview is not about the interviewer. I’ve read too many interviews in which the person doing the
interview keeps intruding upon the interview itself—with thoughts,
reactions, interpretations, personal observations, etc. When an interviewer does this, it not only presents that interviewer in a highly unprofessional (and often unethical) light, but also causes the interviewer
to “get in the way.” The interviewer becomes a sort of filter (or screen)
between the reader and the interviewee—to “see” or “hear” the person
being interviewed, the reader must first see and hear the person conducting the interview.
For example, I’ve seen interviewers write things like “I really felt a
connection with what Mary was saying about her marriage, because of
my own bad experiences...” If the article is about Mary, what is the
interviewer doing in this picture? Even worse is an interviewer who
attempts to “interpret” the interviewee’s comments for the audience—
especially if the interviewer is trying to cast the interviewee in a bad
light. If you feel that an interviewee is a horrible person, let that person’s
words speak for themselves—and let the readers draw their own conclusions. Don’t try to force your reactions onto the reader.
6) Follow up. It goes without saying that you should thank the interviewee after the interview itself. I like to send a follow-up note a bit
later, with any information I have on when the article will be published
and where it will appear. When the article is actually published, I like
to send a copy to the interviewee as a courtesy. Most people love to get
articles that feature them. I do not do this when I’ve conducted a survey—where I may have interviewed 20 or 30 people—but I do let them
know when and where the article has appeared.
One of the big “don’ts” in this business is pulling “interview quotes”
out of someone else’s material. I once reviewed an article that had
been accepted by a pet magazine, purportedly on “how to train your
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cat.” Unfortunately, all the writer did was go to several different books
on training, and pull out quotes. Her article read something like this:
“According to Amanda Trainer, ‘Training cats is a simple process,’” or
“John CatWorker says that he has had ‘great success with clicker-training.’” This is perilously close to plagiarism, and most editors won’t
touch an article created in this way. When you interview someone
directly, that person is giving you permission to use their words and
their knowledge to create an article. When you pull quotes from
someone’s book, the author has not given you permission to use their
words. Again, an article is not a research paper. Your goal is to create
something new, not reprocess what has already been written.
Interviewing is an important skill to master, because most editors
prefer articles that have information and quotes from a recognized expert. If you are the expert, that’s great—but if you aren’t, you’ll need
to be able to gather this information from those who are.
Don’t be intimidated by an expert’s credentials. Don’t assume that
you are “imposing.” Most people enjoy the publicity and recognition
created by an interview. Yes, they are doing you a favor—but in many
cases, you are doing them a favor as well, by promoting their work or
their knowledge. Don’t approach someone in awe, and for heaven’s
sake, don’t “kiss up.” If you are familiar with a person’s work, it’s fine
to say so, but don’t gush about how that person is your favorite writer,
singer, artist, etc. A professional approach will get you through almost
anything—and remember, when you interview by phone or e-mail, no
one has to see you quivering in your fuzzy bunny slippers.
In my class, there was no assignment for this lecture; however, if you’re
intimidated by the thought of conducting an interview, a good exercise
would be to interview a friend, coworker or family member. Come up
with a subject that you will both be comfortable with—the story of
your friend’s favorite pet, for example—and develop a list of questions
on that topic. Try doing an interview with and without a tape recorder
to see which you prefer.
Moira Anderson Allen
7: Beginning Your Article
he moment has come. You’ve sent off your perfect query, and
received a warm, enthusiastic response from the editor: “Yes,
please make my day and send your article!” (Well, maybe not
quite that warm, but what’s life without a little fantasy?) Now it’s time
to deliver the goods. And now, if you’re like most of us, is the time you
freeze. That article sounded like such a good idea when you queried
it—but suddenly you wonder what on earth you’re going to say. (Sometimes, at this point, I feel as if I’ve completely forgotten how to write!)
The goal of this chapter is to get you past that awful moment of confronting “the blank page.”
Starting Your First Draft
Few things are more intimidating than the blank page (or screen) when
you have a deadline. You may have known exactly what you wanted to
say when you started your query, but now, perhaps, you have a stack of
research notes, and no idea how to get started. Or, perhaps you can’t
find a way to “open” your article—you’re sticking at the first sentence.
This isn’t just something that happens to “new” writers—after 20+ years,
it still happens to me. Here are some ways to get that article going.
Step One: Do you know exactly what your article is supposed to be
about? You may have thought so before you did your research, but
now your brain may be stuffed with all sorts of information, which
you’re having trouble “sorting out.” It’s time to go back to the basics.
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Make sure that you can state the central concept (or “thesis”) of
your article in a single sentence. Make sure, as well, that this sentence
has no more than one “and” in it. Here are some examples:
Article title: “Your child’s first hike”
Market: Family-oriented travel or hiking publication
Good Topic Sentence: How to introduce your child to hiking
safely and enjoyably.
Bad Topic Sentence: How to introduce your child to hiking,
and what to pack, and where to go, and a look at my own experiences taking the kids on hikes, plus a look back at my first
hike when I was a child...
Article title: Discover the new Olympic sport of skeleton!
Market: Winter sports publications
Good Topic Sentence: What “skeleton” is and how to get
Bad Topic Sentence: What “skeleton” is, how to get involved,
profiles of some notable “skeleton” athletes, a history of skeleton and the Olympics (including why it was added to the
Olympics), and places where you can learn how to do it, plus
some of the risks...
The purpose of a topic sentence is not only to help you focus on the
central point (or “mission”) of your article, but also to limit you. Everything in your article should relate back to that topic sentence. If it
doesn’t, then it probably doesn’t belong in this article, no matter how
interesting it may be. A tightly focused topic sentence will keep you
on track; a rambling topic sentence will get you lost.
Another good way to define your topic sentence is to turn it into a
question—e.g., the question that would be asked by the person about
to read your article. Examples:
How can I introduce my child to the sport of hiking?
What is “skeleton” and how can I get started in this sport?
By turning your thesis into a question, you now know exactly what
your article has to “answer.” Here are some other sample questions
that would make good “core concepts” for articles:
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Should I refinance my house? (Why or why not?)
How can I refinance my house?
How do I learn how to crochet?
What on earth do you do with chestnuts?
How can I communicate more effectively with my spouse?
What do I need to know about “natural” vitamins?
Where can I find a contractor to remodel my home?
Where can I stay in New York for less than $100 a night?
Why should I spend my honeymoon in Aruba?
What are some romantic things I can do for less than $20?
How can I keep the kids entertained on a rainy day?
What would be an ideal gift for my mother-in-law?
Who was Florence Nightingale?
(Better: What was Florence Nightingale’s contribution to
modern military nursing?)
What was the Battle of Manassas?
(Better: What was significant about the Battle of
Manassas? Extra credit for anyone who asks “First
Manassas or Second Manassas?”)
Not every article idea can be expressed as a question, but you might
be surprised by how easy it is to turn most ideas into questions. From
there, the process becomes simple:Your goal is to answer the question.
Step Two: Once you’ve defined your topic statement and/or question,
identify the subtopics or “sub-questions” that directly relate to or support the original thesis. For example, your article on a child’s first hike
might cover:
1) How to make a trip enjoyable
2) How to make a trip safe
An article on whether or not to refinance one’s home might include:
1) Circumstances in which refinancing is a good idea
2) Circumstances in which refinancing is a bad idea
3) How to get more information
Each of these subtopics, in turn, may lead to more logical subtopics.
Child’s hiking trip -> Safety -> RISKS: common trail hazards,
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including sunburn, dehydration, toxic plants, insect bites, animals/snakes, accidental injuries such as cuts, bruises, sprains.
Child’s hiking trip -> Safety -> PRECAUTIONS: Warning your
child about hazards, things to pack in case of hazards, how to
protect against sunburn, etc.
Child’s hiking trip -> Safety -> REMEDIES: What to do if any
of the hazards are encountered (e.g., how to treat poison ivy,
snake bite, etc.)
If one of these subtopics isn’t where you want to focus your article,
you can always pull the information out and use it as a sidebar, and
focus your article on the other subtopic (how to make a trip enjoyable).
The key is to make sure that everything you are trying to cover in the
article directly relates to your core topic. If it doesn’t (e.g., your reminiscences about your first hiking trip), save it for another piece!
Step Three: Determine whom your article is for. Once you have established the “question” that your article will be answering, you need to
know who would be asking that question. If, for example, your article
is covering “How to plan for retirement,” you need to know who will
be reading the piece. The questions asked by a 20-year-old single
woman would be very different from those asked by a 40-year-old man
with children about to enter college, or a recently divorced woman, or
someone who is self-employed, etc. The more you know about the
publication you are writing for, the better you’ll be able to answer this
“who’s asking?” question.
Going back to our “child hiking” article, you would want to know
whether you are writing for a magazine aimed at experienced hikers—
or perhaps a more general family magazine whose readers may not be
that experienced. You’ll have to explain many more “basic” concepts
to the latter audience, while the more experienced audience might be
more interested in high-tech equipment that is suitable for kids, or the
best hiking trails for kids in a particular region.
Step Four: Be sure you know how long your article is supposed to be.
As I mentioned in an earlier lecture, a word-count is like a budget. You
have only so many words that you can allocate to each “point” in your
article. The more points you want to make, the fewer words you can
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budget to each point. The fewer points you need to cover, the more
“in-depth” your coverage can be on every point.
While there is no hard-and-fast rule, I feel that for an in-depth article, you need a budget of at least 300 to 500 words per subtopic. A
2000-word article would thus give you room for no more than four
major subtopics. A 1500-word article would work for three, etc.
If you need to cover a larger number of subtopics, then your article
will become more of an “overview” than an in-depth exploration. Often, overviews work well as “list” articles. For example, you might
write an in-depth piece on “how to keep your children entertained on a
rainy day”—or, you might write a list-overview titled “Ten ways to
keep your kids entertained in the rain.” An article like “Romantic things
to do for under $20” would work perfectly as a list: “Twenty romantic
things to do for under $20.”
Step Five: Determine the best order in which to present your information. Often this is as simple as defining the question; once you know
the question, a logical “order” for the answer may be intuitively obvious. Here are some typical ways to “order” your article:
1) Logical Order. What comes first, what comes next, what
comes after that? If your article is about the sport of “skeleton”, the first logical question that would be asked (and answered) is “what is it?” If you’re writing this as a “winter sports”
article, the next might be “how can I get involved?” A third
might be “where do I get more information?” My article on
cancer in cats proceeded in the order of “types of cancer, how
to detect cancer, how to treat cancer, how to prevent cancer.”
2) Chronological Order. This works well for articles that
cover a sequence of events: What happened first? What happened next? What happened after that?
3) Instructional Order. If your article is explaining how to
do something, you might present it in the order in which the
person should proceed: Step One, Step Two, Step Three, etc.
4) List Order. If all the points of your article are of equal
“value”—i.e., no single point is more important than any other,
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and there’s no particular reason to put one first—then you can
present the material as a list. This works well for articles along
the lines of “five ways to...” or “ten reasons to...” You don’t
have to number your list to follow this order. Shorter lists (up
to five items) can work well without numbers; longer lists (of
ten items or more) generally work better with numbers. If you
are using a number in the title (e.g., Ten Ways to...), numbering the list itself is usually a good idea.
If all else fails, and you can’t figure out a way to present your information, try what I call “sculpting.” Just write down paragraphs, at
random, based on your research information. Don’t worry about putting them together in a logical sequence, or polishing them; the goal is
to simply get something on the page. I call this “sculpting” because it
reminds me of the process of throwing together wads of clay that will
eventually become a sculpture. The first step is simply to get all the
clay together in the right place. Then you can worry about shaping,
smoothing, etc. Once you have your “clay”—a bunch of paragraphs—
you’ll find that “revising” it into an article is a much easier process.
Style and Presentation
Once you know what your article will include, you need to address
how you want to write it. This section will look at some of the “tools”
that you can include in your basic article-writing toolkit.
Style and Voice
Most of us evolve our own distinctive style over time. However, style
is also dependent on the market you are writing for. Your articles may
have a great deal of stylistic variation, while still retaining your unique
“voice.” Some of the issues to consider here are:
1) The level of the audience. Knowing your audience’s reading level, and its level of knowledge/expertise on your subject,
will have considerable influence on how you approach your
article. Does your audience expect technical terminology, or
simple writing with lots of explanations? Does it expect the
author to be a friendly, hand-holding guide—or a more distant, authoritative “expert?” These are all factors that you can
determine by reading a sample issue of the publication.
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2) The appropriate “narrative voice.” Should you write your
article in first-person (“I/we”), second person (“you”), or third
person (“he/she/they/one”)? Again, this depends on the publication. Some publications use no first-person narratives. Some
prefer this style. Some types of articles (such as how-tos) rely
on second-person (“Do this, then do this;” “You can do this...”,
etc.). Some prefer third: “One can understand this by...” A
note on first person: This is a very tempting voice for many
writers, but should be used sparingly. Often, the writer can get
in the way, acting as a filter between the reader and the information. For example, a writer who says “The sunset painted
the sky with crimson and gold banners” is letting the reader
see the sunset. The writer who says “I watched in awe as the
sunset painted the sky...” is forcing the reader to watch the
writer watch the sunset. If you choose to write in first person,
make sure that you’re not standing between the writer and the
information you want to provide.
3) Personal vs. impersonal. Some publications prefer more
personal, conversational articles; some prefer articles to be very
impersonal, presenting information without a sense of the author being “present” in the article. My own preference leans
toward a balance: I like articles to be accessible and “userfriendly,” but I don’t care for “chatty Kathy” pieces that ramble
on about how much the writer enjoys doing this or that, or
what the writer thinks about everything s/he is discussing.
Presentation Elements
One thing many writers tend to overlook is the number of “presentation tools” that are available. You don’t have to write every piece as a
straight narrative from beginning to end. There are lots of ways to add
variety to your writing, including:
1) Anecdotes. Used sparingly, anecdotes can spice up a piece,
providing a “personal example” to illustrate your information.
Your entire article can be based around an anecdotal example—
or, you could open with an anecdote that introduces your subject, and then close with an anecdote that shows how your introductory story “turned out.”
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2) Interviews/quotes. These should be used sparingly, like
spice. Instead of quoting everything a person says, paraphrase
the bulk of the information you obtain through interviews, and
use quotes that serve to highlight the content of your article.
3) Statistics. Some people love numbers; some people don’t.
Some people are bored with an article packed with numbers.
(I once read an article in Writer’s Digest in which the author
raved over the idea of opening an article with about a dozen
statistics. My eyes glazed over halfway through, and this was
just an article about using statistics, rather than one that really
needed numbers.) I believe numbers, like quotes, should be
used sparingly, for effect and to make a point—but not as a
4) “Made up” anecdotes. I’ve never been a big fan of articles
that contrast the experiences of imaginary people—e.g., “John
backed up his computer data, so that when it crashed, his business wasn’t ruined, but poor Mary failed to make backups...”
However, a lot of publications use this type of approach, so
don’t overlook it as a possible tool.
5) Personal experiences. Some articles are, of course, straight
“personal experience” accounts. In a more factual “how-to”
piece, however, you can often use personal experience to illustrate what you are explaining. Keep in mind that in this case,
the experience is the “vehicle” for your information—it isn’t
the point of your article. For example, if you were writing
about taking care of a pet with diabetes, you might use your
own experience with such a pet to (a) help the reader identify
with you as a person (if you can do it, he can do it!), and (b)
provide a logical way to “walk through” the information, from
diagnosis to treatment.
Beginnings, Middles and Ends
In the past few years, I’ve seen an odd trend in articles: Writers who
just stop when they get to the end of their information, without providing any sort of “conclusion.” This leaves the reader hanging—or turning the page, wondering where the rest of the article went.
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Every article needs a beginning—an introduction that “hooks” the
reader and draws her into the article. Generally, your introduction should
be no longer than one paragraph. Use your introduction to set the
scene—to establish what the article is going to be about and why it will
be relevant, or interesting, to the reader. (You will often find that your
query hook works very well as an article hook, or vice versa!)
The “middle” of your article—or rather, everything that falls between your introduction and conclusion—should fulfill the promise
made by that introduction. Don’t promise anything that you can’t deliver! Also, make sure that the tone of your article matches the tone of
the rest of the article; don’t open with a joke and move on into an
article that is morbid and depressing.
The end, or conclusion, of your article should provide a sense of
closure to the piece. The reader should be able to feel that everything
that needed to be said has been said; it’s time to turn the page and move
on. If at all possible, try to mirror your introduction in your conclusion. For example, if you open with an anecdote, close with an anecdote. If you open with a quote, close the quote. Bring the reader “full
circle” with the conclusion of your piece.
One common approach to “beginning/middle/end” is to set up your
article as “problem/solution/call to action.” Often, the introduction to
your article establishes a “problem to be solved” or a question to be
answered. It may explain to the reader why this issue is a problem, why
the reader needs to know more, why the reader needs to take action.
For example, a common type of article you’ll see in women’s magazines is “ten health warnings you can’t afford to ignore.” The introduction will invariable explain that these health symptoms can be signs
of serious illness—establishing the problem that needs to be solved.
The middle goes over the ten symptoms, and what they could mean.
The end will then be a “call to action”—if you see these symptoms, go
to a doctor!
Similarly, an article on “how to write good query letters” would
probably begin with an explanation of why good queries are so important in selling articles. The middle would explain how to write one.
The conclusion would say, “Now go out and apply this and start selling
more work!”
Articles that cover a personal experience (your own or someone
else’s) should conclude with “the end of the story.” There is a corollary here: Don’t try to write an experiential article until you know the
Breaking into Magazines
end of the story!For example, if you’ve just gotten divorced, don’t try
to write an article about “surviving divorce” until you’ve actually gone
through the process and are in a position to look back on it (and don’t
try to write it while in the midst of a court battle).
After you’ve finished organizing your article, chances are that you have
information left over that doesn’t “fit” into the main text. This is often
perfect material for a sidebar.
Editors love sidebars. In some cases, they are required; for example, travel magazines generally require sidebars that explain basic
“how to get there, where to stay” information. In other cases, they are
extras that add information or interest to a feature. Here are some
basic types of sidebars:
1) Lists. If you have a list of short pieces of information, consider
pulling this out into a sidebar. For example, on that article about hiking and children, consider making a list of trail hazards, or first aid
supplies to take along, or equipment to take. If it’s for a regional publication, consider listing local trails that are good for children.
2) Personal experiences. Sometimes a short personal account makes
a good sidebar to a longer, more factual piece. At Dog Fancy, I always
liked to balance a technical medical article with a shorter, personal
article about a dog owner who had dealt with that disease or injury.
3) Factual information. The reverse is also true: Try balancing a personal article with a brief overview of factual information on the topic.
(At Dog Fancy, if I had a longer personal experience article about a
canine disease, I’d try to balance that with a brief factual overview of
the topic.)
4) Quizzes. Editors always love quizzes. (For more information on
how to develop a quiz, see “Five Steps to Writing Great Quizzes,”at
5) Where to find it. A sidebar on where to find more information,
where to buy specific products mentioned in the article, where to find
organizations related to the article topic, etc., are always useful. Today, sidebars listing where to find information online are also a good
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bet. If you’re writing about a sport, you might include a sidebar on
where to find the right equipment, where to get training, where to practice the sport, or where to find organizations dedicated to the sport.
This is only the tip of the iceberg on the tips of sidebars you can
include. Here’s the insider secret: Sidebars are (a) a great way to use
some of that extra information that you can’t fit into your article, (b) a
sneaky way to get past a word-count limit, and (c) a good way to get
extra money, because editors will often pay extra for sidebars.
I am often asked how to format a sidebar so that one can “show the
editor where it goes.” The answer is: You don’t. Just add your sidebar
to the end of your article, with a heading like “Sidebar 1: Title”. The
editor will figure out where to put it in the final article.
Formatting Your Manuscript
I’ve always assumed that writers know the basics of manuscript format: Double-spacing, one-inch margins, and so forth. However, judging by the types of manuscripts I’ve been receiving lately, that faith
seems to be misplaced. Frankly, I’m not picky over double-spacing; in
fact, I prefer single-spacing, since all the manuscripts I review arrive
as e-mail attachments and I must print them out myself—so I’m more
than happy to save paper. (I suspect that this may become a more
widespread attitude as more and more submissions are sent by e-mail.)
The most common (and astonishing) problem I’ve encountered, however, is manuscripts with absolutely no attribution: No author name at
the top, not even a byline after the title.
Keep in mind that your manuscript and the cover letter or e-mail
may become separated when they reach an editor’s desk. Nor do editors have perfect memories. More than once, I’ve dredged an article
out of the file that I accepted months earlier, and I can’t remember
who wrote it. There isn’t anything much simpler than putting your
name on your manuscript—so do it!
Beyond that, you’ll find the basics of manuscript format in my article at I’ll
wrap this up with a few questions writers often ask about submissions:
1) Does it matter what font you use? Some editors do request that
you use a specific font. Most often, they’ll ask for Courier (because it
is a “nonproportional” font and thus gives a better idea of how many
words are on a page). I just found a set of guidelines the other day that
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asked for Times Roman. Most editors, however, really don’t care if
your manuscript is in Times Roman or New Century Schoolbook or
Bookman or whatever—so long as it is easy to read. A 12-point font is
generally best; never go smaller than 10 points, and don’t go up to 14
points. A “serif” font (like Times) is generally much easier to read than
a “sans-serif” font (like Helvetica).
2) Should you underline or italicize? In the days of typewriters, we
had no choice but to underline text that should be italicized. (Bold was
out of the question.) Now you have a choice. The advantage of underlining even in a computer file is that it is easier to see than italics—you
know exactly where the underlined section begins and ends. It’s also
easier to read. Some fonts become hard to read in italics. So—this is
“your choice,” but I’d recommend underlining rather than italicizing.
3) How do you calculate word count? You’re likely to come across
all kinds of bizarre formulas for figuring “word count”. Again, these
are based on pre-computer days. Yes, a single page usually contains
from 250 to 300 words, but you don’t have to count characters and
divide by 5 or any such nonsense. Word counts are never “exact” anyway, and your computer program’s word-count function will do just
fine. Round your count to the nearest 50—e.g., if you have 1735 words,
call it 1750; if you have 1807 words, call it 1800.
4) Should you put extra spaces between paragraphs? This is the
one place where print and e-mail subs diverge. You don’t need to doublespace between paragraphs in a print manuscript if you’re double-spacing. Instead, use a tab to indicate a new paragraph. You do need to
double-space between paragraphs in an e-mail submission, because email text will be single-spaced, without tabs.
5) Should you put one space or two after a period? This is becoming
another of those hotly contested format issues. Us oldtimers who used
typewriters were taught to put two spaces after a period—and our fingers tend to do this automatically. In today’s era of wordprocessing,
the new standard is to put only one space after a period. I have actually
heard of an occasional editor who was nitpicky enough to reject a manuscript on that basis. However, most won’t. And let’s face it, if you’re
a two-space typist and you’re dealing with a one-space editor, the solu-
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tion is simple: Type your manuscript, and when you’re finished, do a
search-and-replace to replace all “two spaces” with a single space.
5) Does it matter what your mailing envelope looks like? I highly
recommend investing in a “labelmaker.” This handy device hooks up
to your computer and prints out labels, which make your submissions
look much more professional than hand-writing a name and address.
(I covet the newest model, which will actually hold three different size
labels at once.) If you don’t want to invest in a labelmaker, use a typewriter to type labels. It’s generally too much trouble to try to print a
single label from a label sheet on your printer.
I’ve also read that editors will be “turned off” by an envelope with
a lot of mixed stamps. Frankly, I think this gets into the “who cares?”
department—an editor who worries about what stamps you put on an
envelope is an editor with way too much time on her hands!
These days, all manuscripts are generally considered “disposable,”
so don’t bother trying to put enough postage on your SASE to cover
the return of your material (unless you are sending photos). Instead,
just put a single first-class stamp on a #10 envelope, with your return
address on a regular-size mailing label or typed onto the envelope. Do
not use a return-address sticker as your mailing label on a SASE; it
looks tacky. It’s also not necessary to include your return address on
the envelope in addition to your mailing address.
It’s time to start working on your article!
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8: Selling Photos
here is no question that quality photos and/or other types of
artwork can help make a sale. As editor of Dog Fancy, I some
times purchased (or even commissioned) articles on the basis
of photos. For example, one person sent some wonderful photos of
their dog “around the world”—they had traveled literally around the
world with the dog. The photos were great, and I asked them to write
an article to go with them.
But what if you’re not a great photographer? Is the corollary to
what I’ve just said also true—that a lack of photos can hurt your chances
of making a sale?
In some markets, the answer is “yes.” Travel publications, for example, depend on a combination of text and artwork; without the art,
the text often won’t sell. Some publications do say that photos are a
“must,” so one can assume that in those markets, if you can’t take a
focused picture to save your life, you’re not going to make a sale. (Another example is the craft market, where a magazine may expect you to
provide photos of the process of creating the craft project you are describing in your article.
In other markets, the presence of photos may make a sale, but their
absence won’t necessarily unmake a sale. I’ve never bought a poor
article on the basis of artwork. (Well, that’s not entirely true either; at
Dog Fancy I once bought articles from a “regular” contributor who
had the world’s cutest dog, but only because the editor-in-chief insisted;
I finally managed to dump him.) In general, don’t expect good photos
to make up for a bad article!
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More to the point, there are ways to obtain photos and artwork without being a photographer yourself. Here are some of them:
1) Find out if the subject of your article has photos that can be
offered to the publication. For example, if you were writing a breed
profile for a pet magazine, you’d probably be interviewing several breeders. Ask them if they have any high-quality pictures of their dogs/cats/
whatever that could be submitted with the article. Generally, you’ll be
able to get permission to use these at no charge to you. Similarly, if
you’re writing a profile of an individual, find out if that individual has
any photos of him/herself that could be shared. Sometimes “candid”
shots with a historical context, such as a school photo, a photo of the
subject as a child, etc., can be useful as well.
2) If you’re writing about a location, find out if there is a tourist
board or similar agency that can provide copyright-free publicity
photos for publication. Many tourist organizations do have such shots,
and would be glad to provide them for the publicity. (Talk to the chamber of commerce, or the equivalent, for the town or region that you are
visiting; in England, for example, every town has a council with a PR
office, and you can find these organizations easily on the Internet)..
Often, these agencies will be able to supply you with high-quality
professional photos (usually on a CD-ROM). Similarly, if you’re staying at a particular inn or B&B, and want to include a photo of that
facility in your package, ask them if they have any publicity photos
they could share.
3) Find a photographer to work with you. No matter where you
live, there’s bound to be a professional photographer in your area. If
you absolutely need photos to sell the article, and the price is right,
consider working with a professional photographer to get the shots you
need. In this case, you may want to have the publication negotiate
separate payment arrangements with you and the photographer, so that
you’re not stuck trying to pay the photographer out of your fee. (This
can even work long-distance. I once wrote a piece for Cats Magazine
on a particular vet clinic, and it turned out that an acquaintance on a
discussion list was a professional photographer who lived in the same
area as my interviewee. I let the editor know, and the photographer got
the assignment to illustrate my article.)
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In short, if you don’t have good photos of your own, ask. If you are
able to acquire photos from others, here are some tips on how to handle
1) Find out whether the photos need to be returned. If so, you need
to make a decision: Do you want to be responsible for the photos, or do
you want to trust the magazine to return them to their owner? My own
preference is to include a SASE and ask that all photos be returned to
me, whereupon I’ll get them back to their proper owners. (I don’t trust
editors to “get it right.”) If you want the photos sent back to you, be
sure to put your name and address on the back of every photo. The best
way to do this is to use a return-address label; many inks don’t work
well on photos, and may smear on the face of the photo beneath.
2) Handle with care. You can obtain photo sleeves for slides and prints
in any high-quality camera shop; these are a good way to mail and
protect photos. They come in all sizes. When mailing photos, package
them in sleeves and place a piece of stiff cardboard (e.g., from the back
of a notepad) on each side of the photos to protect them.
3) Make sure that each photo includes a credit for the photographer. Photos are covered by copyright just like articles, so it’s important to provide photo credits. This can get tricky, however, as you may
not know who took the photo. If you don’t know who the photographer is, then say “Photo courtesy of...” (the provider). Keep in mind
that many people have professional photos of themselves (or their
pets)—and that it is technically a violation of the photographer’s copyright to publish these without permission.
4) Make sure each photo is captioned, or identified in some way—
and make sure the captions are accurate!
OK, let’s say you have a pile of photos contributed by the subjects of
your article, and you’re trying to decide which to send. Here’s a quickand-dirty overview of what editors want from photos.
1) A good picture. You’d think this “goes without saying,” but believe
me, lots of folks have no idea what a “good picture” is. If they’re in it,
it’s a good picture. From an editor’s perspective, a “good” picture is
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one that shows the subject clearly and attractively—and (in most cases)
will make the reader want to linger and look at the image rather than
turn the page quickly.
2) Good color balance. If you’re using color shots, make sure the
colors are accurate. Do the reds look red, or pink? Is the sky blue, or
3) Focus. One problem with many photos is that the larger the enlargement, the fuzzier the focus. If you work with slides, learn how to
use a jeweler’s loupe (magnifying glass) to identify whether the slide
is really sharp when enlarged. Shots that look great at 35mm can look
very blurry at 4x5 or larger. The first thing an editor or art director will
do when getting a pack of photos is to head for the lightbox with a
loupe, and inspect them for focus.
4) Contrast. Watch out for photos that are overall too dark, or too
light—or that are too light in some sections and too dark in others.
5) Odds and ends—does that closeup of a dog’s face make it look like
a redeyed something from beyond the tomb? Does that shadow make
a person look like he has two noses? You’d be amazed at what you
don’t see when looking casually at photographs. Be sure that an editor
will spot the oddities that most of us miss!
For more information on submitting film photos, see my article at
Going Digital
The majority of publications listed in the 2005 Photographer’s Market
prefer (or require) digital images. They don’t want slides, they don’t
want prints. They want images submitted on CD-ROMs or via e-mail.
The reason is simple: This saves them a huge amount of time and money
in “separating” color images the old fashioned way, because once an
image is digitized, this can be done quickly and easily by computer.
But they don’t want to have to mess around with scanning your slides
and prints; they expect you, the writer, to do this yourself.
The fact that more and more publications want digital images, however, does not mean that they necessarily want what we normally think
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of as “digital photos”—that is, photos you took with your digital camera. “Digital images” is a term that applies to two types of images:
Digital photos (as I’ve just defined), and scanned images: scans of
photos that were taken the “traditional” way.
If you’ve been taking photos with a film camera for years, this means
that you should seriously consider beginning to convert your film archives to digital archives. Such a process has additional advantages: It
gives you an easy way to back up your photo files, and preserve them
from loss and deterioration. Your entire photo collection is likely to fit
on a single DVD, and you can make copies of this and store them in
different locations, so that even if your house burns down, you’ll still
have a copy of all your photos.
I’m not going to try, here, to tell you “everything you need to know
about taking, scanning, storing, and manipulating digital photos.” Instead, I’m going to try to give you an overview of the basic information you will need to start sending out digital images. We’ll start with
a brief look at digital photography, then talk about scanning your nondigital archives, and finally talk a bit about digital photography software and how to e-mail digital images.
Digital Photography
If you don’t have a digital camera yet, you may be wondering whether
you ought to switch over. There are good reasons to do so, and there
are also good reasons to hold onto your film camera. Let’s take a quick
look at the pros and cons of digital photography.
One of the most obvious “pros” is that you can take a digital camera along on your vacation, and take as many photos as you want, without ever having to worry about what you are spending on film. On my
trip to England in 2003, I took an average of 100 photos every day—
something that would have cost several hundred dollars in film processing fees when I got home. You never have to worry about whether
you brought enough film along, or about running out when you’re in
some remote location where you can’t just pick up another roll. (You
do need to worry about running down your battery or running out of
storage space—but those issues are more easily addressed.)
You also don’t have to worry about paying good money for bad
pictures—you know, the ones where you cropped off someone’s head,
or your thumb got in the way of the castle, or the wind started blowing
just as you snapped the shutter. You don’t have to worry about getting
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home only to find that you shot a whole roll on the wrong setting—
whereupon, of course, it’s too late to hop on a plane and go back and
try again. With a digital camera you can review your shots as you take
them, so that you know whether you got what you intended right on the
spot—and can try again if something doesn’t come out.
The fact that you’re not paying for film and can review shots on the
spot is likely to encourage you to become more experimental and creative as a photographer. You can play with different angles, lighting,
or compositions, because if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter. To me,
one of the greatest advantages of digital photography is feeling free to
try new things; there’s no penalty for failure. And that makes me a
better photographer.
Digital cameras also have the advantage of being lightweight; most
will fit in your purse or even your pocket. Images are stored on “cards”,
which you can buy in various storage sizes; these days you can get
them at 520 MB or larger, which will hold a lot of images.
But there are some downsides as well. One of the most important
is image size. Most mid-range digital cameras on the market offer a
size of 3 or 4 megapixels (sometimes five). I’m not going to get into
technical details here; suffice it to say that the larger the megapixel
number, the larger the image that you can capture. This is an important
consideration. When you’re taking traditional photos, a good, sharp,
clear slide or print can be enlarged far beyond its original size—it’s not
difficult to get a poster-sized image, for example, from a tiny little
35mm slide or print. In the world of digital photos, however, you cannot enlarge an image in the same way, because that image is recorded
in pixels—and you can only go up to the largest size that you’ve captured in an image.
Most “general consumer” digital cameras are marketed with the
“snapshot shooter” in mind—the person who wants to take pictures of
their kids, their dogs, their family vacations, and put those snaps in a
traditional photo album. Photo printers will give you traditional 3x5 or
4x6 prints of your digital images, and you can buy photo paper in that
size, to fit into your regular photo album. Most digital cameras boast
that you can print out clear “8x10” images. But while that’s nice for
home use, it’s often not adequate for print publication use.
You may be thinking, “but when I download my photos, they’re 35
inches wide!” Yes—but they are usually 35 inches wide at a resolution
of 72 ppi (pixels per inch—also referred to as “dpi” or “dots per inch”).
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Most print publications require an image with a resolution of at least
300, and often higher. When you convert that digital image to a resolution of 300 ppi, chances are that it is no larger than 4x6. If you need
to crop the image, it’s going to get even smaller—and if you need to
increase the resolution (to, say, 600 ppi), it’s going to get smaller still.
This means that the average digital camera will not give you images that will come out large enough to be used as covers, single page
photos, or two-page spreads. In other words, a 3-megapixel photo won’t
give you the resolution size that you need to make the big money from
selling your photos. If you’re serious about using a digital camera and
about selling magazine photos, you’re going to need to step up to the
larger-megapixel range. The good news is that 8-megapixel cameras
are now available for less than $1000, and 10-megapixel cameras are
beginning to move to a more reasonable price range.
If, however, you’re not that concerned about making the cover of
National Geographic just yet, a regular digital camera will still give
you all the quality you need for “spot” photos, which is to say, smaller
photos used with an article (even up to half a page). And that’s what
most editors want. They can always get their covers from their “regular” pro photographers, but they can’t always get the photos that you
can provide from having been “on the spot” with your camera.
Other things to consider when using a digital camera are storage
space and battery life. Since I increased my image size option to the
maximum, my battery begins to die after about 50 shots. It may last
for up to 100, provided that I don’t use flash—but taking even a couple
of flash photos burns it out rapidly. Finding yourself out in the middle
of a scenic vacation spot with no battery is every bit as frustrating as
finding yourself without film. So always, always have at least one
fully charged backup battery on hand. The next most frustrating thing
is to find that your memory card is out of memory, so again, always
have a second card available, even if it is a less-expensive one with a
smaller amount of memory.
Another risk to digital photographers is having your camera stolen.
If your film camera is stolen, all you’ll lose (besides the camera) is
whatever images were on the most recent roll of film. If, however,
you’re on vacation and have stored all your images on your memory
card, and that card is in the camera, a theft means losing all the images
you’ve taken so far. So it’s always a good idea to download your images daily to a storage device—either your laptop, or a separate device
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designed to hold and display images. If you take your laptop traveling,
you can then easily make backup CDs of your photos and store them
separately (so that your images will be safe if someone steals your
laptop!). You can also download your images from one storage card
and upload them to another that you keep stored away in your suitcase,
leaving one card “clean” for the next day’s shooting.
The final risk to digital photographers is idiots (like me) who can’t
read the menu, and end up wiping out your photos. I did that to my
sister when she was showing off her new camera, with her shots of the
North Carolina coast, and she’s never forgiven me. Hint: When shopping for a camera, see if the menus are easy to follow!
Scanning Traditional Images
If you do not have a digital camera, or would like to convert your archives of traditional film images to digital format, you’ll need to look
into scanning. Fortunately, scanners have come a long way in the last
three to four years. They are much faster, much easier to use. If you
have prints only, you can purchase an ordinary “reflective” flatbed scanner. If you have slides, or if you would also like to scan your negatives
(not a bad idea as a way to back them up), you can easily find a scanner
that offers a “transparency” option.
A word about slides. Most likely, if you’ve ever used slide film,
you used 35mm. However, if you are old and gray, or getting there,
like I am, you may have used what is today referred to as “medium
format” slides. My first camera was a hand-me-down from my grandmother—a huge, boxy Rolleicord that took 2.25x2.25 slides. I’ve been
scanning those old slides and they are crisp and gorgeous and bursting
with color. But—it’s hard to find a scanner that will handle this size of
transparency. They exist, but they’re expensive.
When you’re scanning slides or prints, you need to remember, again,
the difference between simply “enlarging” a photo the traditional way,
and working with pixels. Pixels are stubborn little things; they don’t
expand. You’ve undoubtedly seen the “jaggy edges” that result when
you try to enlarge pixels beyond their actual resolution.
So when you start scanning your photos, you will want to scan
them at a fairly high resolution. If you’re just scanning snapshots (prints)
for archival purposes, a resolution of 150 ppi will be adequate for most
of your needs. If you are thinking of making 8x10 enlargements, go to
300 ppi. If you’re thinking of marketing your prints for publication,
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I’d recommend scanning them at 600 ppi. Going higher than this probably won’t get you better results, as many prints have a grain that will
start to show up at higher resolutions anyway. (That’s why most of the
really big magazines won’t use prints in the first place, but insist in
slides—and why professional photographers always use slide film.)
If you are scanning slides for publication purposes, you’ll need to
scan them at a minimum of 1200 ppi. I’m scanning most of mine at
2400 ppi. My scanner goes up to 3600 — but when I set up three slides
to scan at this resolution, I can literally go off and eat dinner and come
back before they’re done.
The results, however, are worth the wait. When you’ve scanned a
tiny little 35mm slide at 2400 ppi, you can enlarge that slide to “cover
photo proportions” with no trouble whatsoever. Plus, you can zoom
in, crop in, highlight details that would make interesting separate photos, and more. You can also save an archive of lower-resolution copies
of these images for your own albums.
Another way to scan slides is to purchase a slide scanner. A scanner that accepts only 35mm (and comparable) sizes costs around $500,
and you can probably find one used for less. These scanners work very
fast, and will give you high-resolution prints much more easily than a
flatbed scanner. If you have a lot of 35mm slides, I’d definitely recommend this piece of equipment. Unfortunately, if you have “medium
format” slides, a slide scanner that accepts both sizes may cost $1000
to $1500 (or more), even used. The good news is that slide scanners
also come with software such as “Digital ICE,” which will remove
dust and give you exceptionally crisp, clear images.
If you don’t want to buy a slide scanner, and don’t want to sit beside your flatbed scanner for the next 20 hours of your life, another
alternative is to pay to have your slides scanned. Most photo shops
will scan 35mm slides and put them on a CD-ROM for you. The cost at
a photo shop is around 75¢ to $1 per slide. If you’re putting together a
selection of photos to send off with an article, this is not a bad investment. Then just make a copy of the CD and send it with your article.
If you have a great many slides to scan, or medium-format slides,
you might want to search around a bit for a slide scanning service. I
searched on the web, and found a place called “”
( that gave me a very reasonable price
on my old, archival slides. And that brings me to the next topic:
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Whether you take digital photos directly, or are scanning film photos,
you will need to master some very basic elements of a photography
software package. The program most commonly used today is
Photoshop—either Photoshop Elements or some version of Photoshop
itself, such as Photoshop CS. I use Photoshop 7 on my Mac laptop,
and Photoshop 5 on my “vintage” Mac working computer.
Photoshop has become such a well-known program that
“photoshopping” is becoming a verb, as in “then you need to Photoshop
your photos.” Since it is also the only program I know, it’s the only one
I’m going to talk about here. You can do some amazing things with
Photoshop, without even understanding a fraction of its options.
Volumes have been written on Photoshop—in fact, Barnes and
Noble has an entire bookshelf dedicated to such books. However, most
of these books are written for artists and photographers—people who
want to learn how to do all sorts of marvellous and often bizarre things
with their images (like add artificial snow to a scene). You and I are
probably not in this category—what we want is to be able to prepare an
image so that it can be submitted to a publisher. So I’m not going to try
to teach you “everything you need to know about Photoshop”—just
the things that you’ll need to know to get your photo from the camera
to the editor.
The first step is getting your images onto the computer. Your digital camera undoubtedly came with a “download” program. However,
you don’t actually need it. All you need is a “reader” that will read
your memory card. These are available in any computer, electronic, or
camera store, and cost around $20. You can get one that reads only
your type of card or one that accepts several different kinds. The reader
plugs into your USB port, the card plugs into the reader. Your computer then treats this card as a “drive”—just as if it were a CD-ROM or
any other type of input device. You then simply transfer the appropriate folder or files over to your hard drive. Once they are transferred,
you can use your preferred photo program to open and modify them. If
you’re scanning images, it’s even easier, as your scanner software will
place those images into the folder that you designate.
Older digital cameras generally save photos as JPG files. Newer
cameras (and those with larger megapixels) often offer the option of
saving photos as “raw” or “tiff” files. JPGs always compress the data
of your images to some degree; raw files give you all the information
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your camera recorded, untouched. For that reason, they can be very
large. As you prepare your photos for submission, you will be most
likely converting raw files to JPGS, as this is what most publishers
want (though some do prefer TIFFs).
One of the first tools that you’ll want to become familiar with in
Photoshop is the “lightness/contrast” tool. You’ll find this under the
“Image/Adjust” menu. This tool will help you “fix” photos that are
over- or under-exposed. For some reason, digital cameras have a tendency to overexpose photos slightly; scanning tends to underexpose
them. So if you have a photo that looks washed out, don’t despair. Try
using this tool to reduce the lightness; then increase the contrast.
Chances are, you’ll see a remarkable change in your image—often
enough to convert a “so-so” picture into a usable photo. This tool really helps when you’ve had to shoot on a hazy day, or at noon when the
light is flat. Conversely, you can use it to lighten up photos that you
had to shoot on a dreary, cloudless day.
Another tool that you can use for this same purpose is the “hue/
saturation” tool. You can reduce or increase the lightness of a photo
using this tool, and you can also “pump up” the level of color (saturation) if it seems drab. (I’ve never had much success playing with the
“hue” part of this tool; use it only if you really, really need to correct
the color values of a photo.)
The next tool that you’ll want to experiment with is the “sharpen”
filter. You’ll find this under the “Filters” menu: Filters > Sharpen >
Sharpen. You can simply instruct Photoshop to sharpen your entire
photo, or you can select a portion of the photo to sharpen. You can also
adjust the amount of sharpening. This tool is very helpful if your shot
is just a bit blurry or hazy. I also find that after changing the size of a
photo, I often need to sharpen it, as compressing a JPG can result in a
bit of blurring.
It is a tool to be used with care, however. If you have a lot of lines
or squares—such as a brick or stone wall—in your image, you’ll find
that the sharpen tool can create an undesired effect. Always be ready
to hit the “undo” button. (If you’re going to make lots of changes, save
an original copy of your photo before you start so that you can always
start over from the beginning.)
For a lighter or more selective touch in sharpening, use the “sharpen”
tool in the “tools” menu—it’s the little triangle or pyramid. Click on
this icon and “rub” it over the area that you want sharpened. Note that
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you can adjust the settings of this tool so that you can control the amount
that it sharpens. I find this tool very handy for bringing out the detail
in a “spot” area on a photo.
Another tool-box tool that is useful is the “burn/dodge/saturate”
tool. In your tool-box, it looks like a closed hand, a sponge, or a black
lollipop, depending on which tool was used last. “Burning” makes
sections of an image darker; “dodging” makes them lighter; and “sponging” heightens the color. (You can also set the sponge on “desaturate”
to reduce the intensity of a color.)
One of the reasons I keep an older version of Photoshop on my
working computer is that these tools work much better in the older
version, in my opinion, than in the newer version. In the newer version, the area to be covered, and the intensity of coverage, are harder to
adjust. However, this is still a very helpful set of tools. For example,
let’s say that you find a very dark section in your photo, with no detail.
Try going over it lightly with the “dodge” tool, and you may find that
unexpected details emerging from this section. Conversely, if you have
a totally washed out spot, try going over it with the “burn” tool, and
again, unexpected details may emerge. The “sponge” works great to
heighten the colors in, say, a photo of a garden. The burn tool also
works well to create contrasts—sometimes better than the “contrast”
tool itself. The best thing to do is sit down with some photos and just
“play” with these tools to see what they can do for you.
You’ll also need to learn how to use the “marquee” tool—the square
in the upper left of the tool box. This is the tool used to select or crop
areas of your photo. If, for example, you want to crop in on an element
of your photo, use the marquee to select that area, then choose “crop”
from the image menu. If you want to copy a section of your photo into
a new file, select it with the marquee tool and copy it. Then open a new
file—it will automatically be the size of the copied section—and paste.
The marquee tool can also be set to a circle rather than a square, by
toggling it with the option or command key on your keyboard.
One of the final and most important things you need to master in
Photoshop is how to resize a photo. Most editors do not want to see
your full-size image file when they are reviewing your article. The
reason: Because a publishable image file is likely to be anywhere from
1 to 5 MB in size. No one wants to receive that big a file as an attachment just for review purposes (let alone five or ten of them).
So—you need to know how to save a copy of your photos at a size
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that is appropriate for review purposes. This means creating a file that
has (1) smaller dimensions and (b) lower resolution than the file that
would ultimately be sent to the editor for publication.
This is not as simple as just going into your image file and changing the resolution in the “image size” box. For example, if you have a
photo that is three inches wide at 300 ppi, and you set it to 72 ppi, it
will still be only three inches wide. (Maybe later versions of Photoshop
“fix” this problem; mine doesn’t.) Here’s my method for changing an
image size:
1) Open the original image. If you want to send the entire
image, do a “select all” and copy. If you want to use only part
of the image, use the marquee tool to select the portion of the
image you want, and copy.
2) Open a new image file. Set the resolution in this file to 72
ppi. Click “OK.”
3) Paste the image you’ve copied into the new file. Note that
if you started with a very small 300 ppi image, you may now
have a very large 72 ppi image. For example, if your original
image was four inches wide, it may now be 12 inches or larger.
4) Go into the “image size” menu and choose the image size
that you would prefer to send to the editor—such as 6 inches
in width or height.
5) Go into the “layers” menu and choose “flatten image”. (Otherwise you won’t be able to save the image as a JPG.)
6) Save the image. You will be asked where you want to save
it, and for a file name. You will also be asked to choose the
quality of the image. Set the image quality at no more than 5.
(Do not save it at 10 or 12—this creates a very large file.)
When you have followed these steps, you should end up with a
very manageable photo file that is of just the right resolution to review
on a computer screen, and that is small enough to e-mail to an editor.
Most likely, your file size will be between 50 and 100 KB. You really
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don’t want to e-mail an editor anything larger than that. Trust me—we
get testy when someone sends ten 1-MB attachments by e-mail, since
this means we can often go and get a cup of coffee while all your files
download into our inbox. This does not make our day.
To make editors really happy, however, it’s better not to send individual photos as attachments at all. One problem with photo attachments is that most e-mail programs try to open them within the body of
the e-mail. So if you’ve sent 20 photos to review along with your
article, the editor is again going to have to sit there while her e-mail
program opens each and every photo—which can be a long process
and can sometimes cause a crash. So the best way to send your photos
is to place them into a folder, and then use a program like WinZip or
DropZip to zip that folder. Then simply send the folder as an attachment. The editor will be able to unzip the folder and look at the photos
separately. Both of these programs are available for free; just do a
Google search to find them if you don’t already have one.
Once an editor has reviewed your sample photos and has decided
to buy your article, she will tell you how she wants the “real” photos to
be delivered. She may want them e-mailed in the same way, in a zipped
folder. Or, she may want you to put them on a CD-ROM and snailmail them to her. (Be sure to label the CD-ROM so that she knows
whose photos they are when the arrive!) Need I say that it’s wise to
always give the editor exactly what she wants?
If you do send a CD-ROM, don’t ask for it back. CDs cost as little
as 25¢ apiece these days, so you can afford to make extra copies. Do
send it in a jewel case to protect it in the mail.
This obviously isn’t “everything you need to know about digital
photography,” but it is enough to get you started submitting your digital or scanned photos to editors.
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9: What Happens Next?
K, you’ve researched and interviewed; you’ve brainstormed
and outlined; you’ve written your first draft, revised it to death,
formatted it perfectly, and sent it off to an editor. What happens now?
We’re about to enter a highly classified, top secret area here... Sshhh.
What I’m about to tell you must never go beyond this room, or I’ll
have to kill you... Just kidding. Really, what goes on in an editor’s
office isn’t nearly as mysterious as you might think!
First off, what do you envision when you think of an editor? Does
an image of “Perry White” (from Superman’s Daily Planet) come to
mind? A paternal, grizzled veteran of the publishing arena, wielding
authority over a room full of underlings?
That may have been the case 50 to 80 years ago, but today the truth
is often a very different story. Most publishers don’t want to spend a
lot of money on editorial staff (or editorial matters of any kind). Consequently, a great many publications hire the kind of editor they can
get cheap. Frequently, this will be a young woman (or young man)
who has recently graduated with a journalism, English, or communications degree. It may not be a person with any experience as a writer—
let alone someone who has sold articles on a freelance basis—and it
may not be a person who has had any “formal training” as an editor.
There is no “school” for editors; the only “school” is experience, and
lots of today’s editors don’t have any.
Consequently, when you deal with an editor, there is a very good
chance that you are dealing with someone younger and with far less
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experience than you. You may not be dealing with a writer, a former
writer, or someone who understands what the business (or craft) of
writing is all about. In some cases, you may be dealing with a person
who is utterly clueless.
Lest you suppose that I am writing this out of some sort of bitter
experience with young, clueless editors, let me hasten to tell you that I
know whereof I speak—because I was this person at one time. When
Fancy Publications hired me to edit Dog Fancy, I was 25, had never
edited anything before, and had minimal freelance experience. I hadn’t
even applied for the job of editor—I wrote to see if any editorial positions were available, and was called in because (a) I had experience
with dogs and (b) the editor-in-chief really wanted to get rid of the
current editor and was eager to grab any possible replacement. Most
of the editors on staff were equally young and inexperienced—because
that’s the kind of person you can hire cheap. I did at least have good
writing and editing skills; when I left, the person who replaced me
literally could not spell. (Fortunately, she was ultimately replaced by
my assistant editor, who remained at Dog Fancy for about 10 years.)
This can be a bit of a shock to the writer, because you probably
envision yourself as being in a subordinate position to an editor. The
editor seems the voice of authority, the awesome “person in charge”,
whom you approach almost as a supplicant. It’s definitely a shock
when you talk to an editor over the phone and realize that this person is
young enough to be your child, or grandchild.
Unfortunately, this tendency to hire young, inexperienced editors
works against writers. Because many editors have never had any experience as freelance writers, they do not have any empathy or understanding of your situation. They don’t consider how frustrating it is to
wait six months for a response, or to get no feedback on a rejection, or
to have your article totally rewritten without your approval. Keep in
mind that a great many editors these days are simply “employees,”
working for a company and a salary—they are not necessarily enthusiasts who want to share quality writing with the world.
Negativity aside, though, what exactly happens when your manuscript hits an editor’s office? Here’s a typical scenario:
1) You send a query to an editor by surface mail. It arrives in the
mail room, and gets routed to that editor within a few days.
When the editor will actually open and read your query depends on
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where the editor is in the monthly publication schedule. Publications
go in cycles. When a magazine is about to “go to press,” everything
else tends to go on hold for a week or even two, while last-minute
articles are edited, artwork is found, layouts are approved, type is proofread, etc. During this time, mail often stacks up unopened. So your
query may be opened immediately—or sit on an editor’s desk for two
to three weeks before it is read.
Don’t assume, by the way, that sending your query by e-mail is
going to magically speed up the process. The editor’s time is still dictated by the magazine production schedule—which means that e-mail
queries aren’t going to receive any faster attention than surface mail
queries. They are, however, often preferred because they’re easier to
review and process quickly.
2) The editor reads your query and makes an initial decision. Here’s
an important point to keep in mind: Saying no is easy. Saying yes is
more difficult. It’s easy to spot a query that is inappropriate, badly
written, etc.—and so rejections tend to happen quickly. However, an
editor will rarely say yes “on the spot”—if a query seems good, we
prefer to think about it. So:
If a query is lousy, inappropriate, etc., it will be rejected at once
If a query is good, but a similar article is already on file or in the
works, an editor may reply with a personal comment, recommending
that you try again. (Not always, but sometimes!)
If a query seems like a real possibility, a wise editor will “sit on it”
for a few days and let it “cool.” Most of us have found that on a second
read, a query may not look as interesting as it did the first time. At this
point, some editors may write a quick note on the rejection—but many
will not.
If a query still looks good after a few days of “cooling off,” then the
editor will start to look at the editorial calendar and see if it will “fit”
into a future issue. This is the crucial period. Editors can’t just buy
anything that they like. They have a budget—both of money and of
space. Most magazines are planned up to six months in advance, so
the editor must be able to find a place to put your article if it is accepted. (This is also why, once your article is accepted, it may not be
used for up to a year.) Otherwise, an editor ends up with a drawer full
of accepted articles that have no “place” yet—I know, as I’ve done
this! Keep in mind that many articles get rejected at this point not
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because they aren’t good, but because there is no place to put them in
the editorial schedule.
If the editor has full “acceptance” authority, and can find a place
for your article, then you may get an acceptance letter at this point. If,
however, the editor must clear acceptances with a higher editor (an
associate or managing editor will usually have to check with the editor,
and an editor or managing editor may have to check with an editor-inchief), then it will take longer. In some offices, articles that an editor
would like to accept will immediately be routed to the next person in
the hierarchy; in other offices, editors may have monthly meetings to
decide what articles to accept. (One magazine that I write for has editorial meetings every six months, so you can imagine how long it takes to
get a response from them!) Typically, you may have to wait four to
eight weeks for an approval.
Once the idea is approved, the editor will respond to your query. In
some cases, the editor will ask you to go ahead and write the article
exactly as you’ve pitched it. In others, the editor may ask for changes—
a longer or shorter word count, or perhaps significant modifications to
the article idea itself. Sometimes these modifications make a better
article; sometimes they make you wonder what the editor is thinking!
3) Your query is accepted—with changes. This is the point at which
you are most likely to enter into “dialogue” with the editor. An editor
may even call you to discuss your article. If an editor requests changes
to your article, and you’re not sure you understand just what is wanted,
be sure to discuss the matter before you begin work. Otherwise, you
could waste a lot of time on a piece that won’t be accepted.
Your article idea may be accepted as an “assignment,” or “on speculation.” If you are new to the publication and do not have an impressive array of writing credentials, chances are that you’ll be asked to
produce the article “on spec.” Many writers are deeply offended by
this, because it means that acceptance is not guaranteed. However,
speaking as an editor, my sympathies are fully with the editors on this
one. I have been burned many times by “accepting” an article from an
unknown writer, on the basis of a strong query—and ending up with a
piece that is totally unusable. (I’ve even had a writer call me halfway
through an assigned piece to ask for more money!) Asking for a piece
“on spec” is the only way an editor can protect himself, and his company, from having to pay out money on an article that can’t be used.
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If a piece is actually assigned, then technically this is a guarantee
of acceptance, and of payment. In reality, it doesn’t always work that
way—many publications will still reject an assigned article without
paying a kill fee—but that’s the way it’s supposed to work. Technically, if you have an assignment, and the editor then decides not to buy
your article, you should get a “kill” fee (usually around 25% of the
promised payment).
If you are lucky, you’ll only need to talk to the editor once about
changes to your article idea. Ideally, you’ll then write your article,
submit it, get a contract, and wait for the check. However, in some
cases you may have an editor who doesn’t really know what she wants—
or a “tinkerer,” someone who keeps changing her mind—and your article. This is the editor who e-mails you when you’re halfway through
the article and suggests a complete change of direction. It happens.
My advice in this case is: do what you can to make the sale, but then
think very carefully about working with this publication again!
4) Your article is completed and submitted. Now you wait. Remember, the rule that applied to queries also applies to articles: If it arrives
during the magazine’s “busy” time, it can sit on an editor’s desk for
two or three weeks without being read. Since most editors schedule
material fairly far in advance, they don’t have to read it “right away.”
Eventually it gets read, and several things can happen.
A) The editor may suggest changes and revisions. If so, again,
make sure you understand exactly what the editor wants. Did you exceed the word count? Do your best to trim it back to the required
length. Does the editor want more information on a particular point?
Try to find it. In most cases, the editor will have reasonable requests;
however, in some cases, you may find that the editor is now asking for
something completely different from what you were originally asked
to write. In such a case, again, I advise you to try to meet the editor’s
requirements (especially if a good sum of money is involved)—but
think carefully before working with this person again. Also, find out
whether the article will be accepted once the revisions are made—especially if the material was submitted on spec in the first place. If you
go to the trouble of making the changes (or getting more information),
are you guaranteed acceptance? Or could the editor still say “no,” in
spite of all your extra effort? (It’s generally not considered very ethical to ask a writer to make extensive revisions with no “promise” of
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acceptance once they are made.)
B) Your article is accepted—with or without changes. You should
now receive some kind of official letter of acceptance, and a contract
that spells out the terms under which your article is being accepted. In
some cases, you’ll just get a contract.
5) You get paid, right? Not necessarily! Even though a magazine may
claim to “pay on acceptance,” most publications have ways of postponing this payment as long as possible. One way is to delay sending
a contract. Most publications will not pay you until a signed contract
is in hand. So a way to delay payment is to simply not send you the
contract until two, three, or four weeks after the article has been verbally “accepted” by the editor. And since many publications don’t actually cut a check until about a month after a contract is issued, this
means that it can be two to three months before you actually get paid—
even though, supposedly, you’re “paid on acceptance.”
What Happens to Your Finished Article?
What happens to your article now? This may also depend on the editor. If you are lucky, the editor will pretty much leave it alone. A good
editor will make sure that it is “clean,” taking care of any grammar,
spelling, and punctuation problems but not messing with style and content. A more amateur editor is likely to “rewrite” your article—some
editors tend to rewrite articles in their own style. (It’s really embarrassing to have your article rewritten by an editor with less grasp of
grammar than you have!) Keep in mind, however, that editors have the
right to make certain types of changes to your article. They can change
the style, cut things for space, etc. What they do not have the right to
do is change the meaning of your article. They should also not introduce inaccuracies into your article—e.g., by cutting something that is
important to the text, or by introducing information that is incorrect. It
does happen, and when it does, there isn’t much you can do about it.
The next time you see your article should be when the editor sends
(or faxes) “galley proofs” to you for review and correction. Galleys
are copies of the typeset article. In the “old days,” galleys were strips
of typeset copy. Today, they tend to be the article laid out as it will
actually appear in the magazine, as typesetting and layout are now often done at the same time by computer. Your job is to make sure that
there are no errors (such as typos, grammatical errors, misspelled names,
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etc.) in the galley. (Some magazines are now sending galleys in PDF
format, which is vastly better than sending them as faxes.)
You may notice, as you review the galley proof, that your article
has been revised or rewritten by the editor. However, at this time, you
really don’t have the option of trying to get it “back” to its original
form. A galley proof is one step away from “going to press,” and most
editors will not make substantial content or style changes at this point.
You may also find that your article has been “cut” at this point. If it
has, there often isn’t anything you can do. Editors tend to be at the
mercy of the advertising branch of a publication—they may make room
for a nice long article, only to have a last-minute full-page ad come in
that requires drastic cuts. When this happens, there is rarely time to
ask an author to make revisions.
However, there are exceptions. I once sold an article to Writer’s
Digest, and found that the galley had been rewritten to the point that it
almost completely missed the point of the original article. I realized
that the editor had needed to cut the article by about 30%—and instead
of sending it back to me for such cuts, had undertaken to rewrite it
himself. I re-rewrote the article to the length desired and sent it back
with a request that he use my rewrite instead of his—and he did.
Some editors will also insert questions to be clarified in a galley. If
so, answer the question if you can—and if you can’t, see if you can
rewrite the paragraph or delete the information so that the question no
longer matters!
Editors usually want galleys proofed and returned within four or
five days. Mark your changes clearly, and simply fax them back. If
you don’t have changes, you can usually simply e-mail the editor to let
them know that all is well (and of course you should do this if you
received the galley by e-mail).
If you’ve received galley proofs of your article, you should have
gotten paid by that time (especially if this was a “pay on acceptance”
market). If you haven’t, try to find out where your check is. (This may
also not be the case if you’ve been asked to turn in an article very close
to publication deadline, which has happened to me more than once—
but only with a market that I already know will pay me eventually!)
When the article is published, you should also receive at least one
complimentary copy of the issue in which it appears. I always ask for
two copies—one that I can file, intact, in my archives, and one from
which I can tear out the article for my portfolio. If you expect to write
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for the same publication more than once, ask to be placed on their
comp-copy list—that way you’ll always get a second copy of any issue
that has your material.
Some Final Words About Editors
To many writers, editors live in a sort of mystical world—the unreachable “Avalon”, inaccessible to mere mortals. We may view them as
angels or devils—angels who say yes, or devils who are determined to
prevent us from getting published.
The reality is that editors are just ordinary folks—and so fall into
the entire gamut of “folks” that you’ll find anywhere else. You’ll find
good ones and bad ones, smart ones and dumb ones. You’ll find editors who got hired because they’re related to the boss. You’ll find editors who got hired for no discernible reason that you can comprehend.
You’ll find editors who are brilliant and make you shine like a diamond. You’ll find editors who turn your diamond into coal. They’re
all “out there.”
However, to really understand editors, you need to spend a bit of
time on the other side of the desk, and find out how editors see writers.
There is an interesting article in Salon on just this topic
If you are a writer who becomes an editor, chances are that you go
into the job thinking that you’re going to help other writers like yourself get published. You have high expectations of writers, because,
after all, you know what it’s like. You understand those hopes and
dreams, and you want to help.
You will, however, be very quickly disillusioned. What you will
learn is not that editors “aren’t like you,” but that the vast majority of
writers “aren’t like you.” In fact, the vast majority of writers aren’t
like anything you’ve ever imagined. Some of them aren’t like anything on earth.
Editors have to deal with the most whacked-out, clueless people in
the universe: Wannabe-writers. These are the people who submit 80page single-spaced manuscripts written in first-person by a poodle. They
are the people who type poems in font-script, in blue ink, on pink paper. They are the people who send book proposals hand-written on
engagement-calendar paper, in a cigar box. They are the people who
submit a manuscript about Atlantis—and who mean it. They are the
people who call you and try to pitch an article by phone. They are the
Breaking into Magazines
people who call you two days before you have to put their article into
the magazine, to ask for more money before they deliver. Some writers make editors laugh hysterically. Some writers make us want to cry.
Those writers, however, are the ones that stand out in our memory.
The vast majority of the writers we encounter do not stand out in our
memory, good or bad, because their material is neither good nor bad.
It’s not bad enough to be atrocious; it’s not good enough to publish. It’s
just—dull. Nothing there, no spark, no worthwhile information, no
real reason for being. Most of the slush-pile is quickly forgotten.
Unfortunately, this tends to give editors a very jaded view of writers. We see good writers so seldom that we tend to forget that they
exist. We start to feel that the bad writers are representative of writers
as a whole—and for some editors, this is what brings about the
adversarial nature of the writer-editor relationship.
As you “go forth and submit,” you’re going to encounter some of
these editors. You’re going to meet the clueless editors and the burnedout editors. You are going to meet editors who do not treat you courteously or professionally. The point I want to make here is: do not take
this personally. If you meet an editor who treats you badly, it is not
because of you (assuming that you have behaved professionally). It
may be that the editor never did learn professional courtesies—or it
may be that the editor has simply developed a negative view of all
writers, and is treating you accordingly. When that happens, don’t let
it “fuss” you—and don’t let that editor’s negative vision of you change
your vision of yourself.
But you are also going to meet good editors. You will meet editors
who still want to encourage writers, and who are still capable of being
delighted by a high-quality submission. (Chances are, these are editors who are writers themselves, and who know what it takes to write
well.) You will meet editors who become professional allies, who think
of you first when they have an assignment in mind, and who contribute
to your growth and your career. Sometimes you’ll meet editors who
make you work a little harder than you would otherwise—and while
you may resent having to do that rewrite, you’ll find that the resulting
article is better and stronger than it was before. You may even meet
editors who become genuine friends.
Your goal is to become the kind of writer who can delight the editors who are still capable of being delighted. This may not happen
overnight, but with dedication and faith, it will happen!
Moira Anderson Allen
10: Rights, Contracts,
and Getting Paid
his chapter will cover one of the most important issues you’ll
have to deal with as a writer: Handling contract negotiations.
This aspect of the writing business frightens many people (especially first-time writers)—but it needn’t. The important thing to remember is that you always have a choice—if contract terms aren’t acceptable, you can always walk away.
The issue of rights and contracts actually begins long before your
article is accepted. There is really no excuse for a writer to get to the
acceptance point and then, and only then, start asking, “Oh, by the
way, how much do you pay?” or “What rights do you want?” If you
have reached this point without having this information, then you’re in
a very bad position to start negotiating your way out of a bad contract.
You’ve probably invested a lot of energy and emotion into getting that
article out the door and accepted—and if you suddenly discover that
the publication pays poorly or demands all rights, it’s hard to suddenly
“pull out” once you’ve achieved your goal. It’s also unprofessional.
In short, find out whether a market pays a fee you’re willing to
accept before you approach that market. If you must spend 10 to 20
hours researching and writing this article, will the fee be worth your
time? (It’s always a good idea to have a preferred “hourly rate” in
mind as you approach a project—e.g., $20 per hour.) Similarly, find
out what rights the market is asking for—does it want first rights, or all
Breaking into Magazines
rights? If a market doesn’t meet your requirements, don’t bother submitting there in the first place.
What You Need to Know
1) What does a magazine pay? Most magazines post a range of payment rates in their guidelines—e.g., “Pays 5-8¢/word,” or “pays $100
to $250 for feature-length articles.” (If a magazine doesn’t list this
information, try to find out the payment range before submitting.) Some
publications pay by the word; some pay “flat rates,” and some pay by
the printed column or page.
Magazines that pay by the word may pay for the number of words
submitted—or for the number of published words. Thus, if you submit
a 1500-word article and the editor trims 500 words, you might only be
paid for 1000 words. Try to find out which basis of payment is used,
especially if you’re being asked to submit an invoice.
Magazines that pay by the printed column or page generally will
not be able to give you a precise payment rate until the article is actually typeset and laid out. Generally, this type of magazine pays “on
publication,” for obvious reasons: it can’t calculate a payment until the
magazine is ready to go to press. However, such a publication should
be able to give you an estimate based on the length of your article.
Magazines that pay a flat rate generally have a range of rates, depending on the difficulty of the article (e.g., the amount of research
required), the experience and skill of the writer, and how much work
the editor has to do to whip the article into shape. If you find that an
editor is offering you the low end of the scale, ask what it takes to get
up to the higher end!
Keep in mind that almost all quoted rates are (a) ranges and (b)
represent the lowest range that a publication is willing to pay. Many
publications offer higher rates to regular contributors, and to “better”
contributors (i.e., folks who do lots of research and whose work needs
little or no editing). I generally don’t recommend asking about “higher
pay” on your first submission to a publication, but if you expect to be
working for that publication on an ongoing basis, or if the editor comes
back to you with new assignments, start asking how to get a higher
rate. Even if you don’t get one, it never hurts to ask.
2) Does a magazine pay extra for sidebars or illustrations? Editors
often try to get away with paying a flat rate for text and photos. However, if you did not have photos, that editor would have to pay another
Moira Anderson Allen
photographer extra, so there is no reason why you shouldn’t receive
that same amount of compensation. If you’re going to submit photos,
therefore, find out what a magazine pays for artwork alone—e.g., $25
per b/w photo. Find out how much it pays for articles, e.g., 10 cents/
word. Then, discuss getting paid for each item rather than a “package
deal.” Offer the editor a “deal,” if you wish—ask only $15 per photo
instead of $25 — but try not to let the editor pay you the same amount
for “text and photos” as he would for text alone. (Keep in mind, too,
that cover photos generally pay very handsomely; if you’re a good
enough photographer to get a cover, you should be paid for it.)
Some publications won’t pay extra for sidebars, but others will.
Generally, sidebars “pay” if you’re being paid by the word. They’re a
good way to sneak in extra material over and above your “assigned”
word count. If you’re writing a 2,000-word article that pays 10 cents/
word, add on a 500-word sidebar and see if you can’t boost the payment up another $50!
3) When does the publication pay? There are two basic payment schedules: “On acceptance” and “on publication.” A publication that pays
“on acceptance” will pay you once the article has been received, approved, accepted, and contracted for—regardless of when it is actually
published. A publication that pays “on publication” will pay you only
after the material has been published—and not necessarily soon after!
Most markets that pay “on acceptance” will pay you only after you
have signed a contract. As I said in the previous chapter, however, “acceptance” usually means “after you’ve returned the signed contract,”
which can mean a delay of one to three months between your acceptance letter and your check.
Markets that “pay on publication” generally issue a check at the
end of the month in which the publication is issued. If your article
appears in the “November” issue of a magazine, for example, the publisher may issue checks at the very end of November, or even the beginning of December (even though the magazine itself may have been
on the newsstands or sent to subscribers as early as September). Again,
this is a way for publishers to hold your money as long as possible.
I do not like to write for pay-on-publication markets, because there
is often no way to determine when a piece will be published—and
therefore when you will be paid. (I will send reprints to such markets,
since I’ve already been paid for my original investment of time, but
prefer not to use them for original work.) If you do write for such
Breaking into Magazines
markets, here are some ways to protect yourself:
• Try to get a commitment from the editor as to when the article
should appear. Keep in mind that editor plan as much as a year ahead,
so it could be a year (or longer) before you get paid. If possible, get a
specific issue date.
• If you can’t get a specific issue date, consider having a clause inserted into your contract that specifies that the article will be published
within a certain time limit (e.g., two years). If possible, try to include
a kill fee if the material is not published within that time—then, if it
isn’t published in two years, rights revert to you and you will receive
25% of the promised payment. Not all magazines will do this, but it
never hurts to ask.
• Keep following up on the piece if it doesn’t appear. I’d contact an
editor at least every six months to inquire about “anticipated publication date.” Keep in mind that as long as this article isn’t published, (a)
you aren’t being paid and (b) you can’t use it as a reprint.
4) What rights are being demanded? This question can be even more
important than the question of payment, because it influences what
you can do with your material in the future. You’ll find that print publications tend to be far more demanding of rights than electronic publications—and the reason is fairly simple. A print publication can easily
(and inexpensively) launch a website, and so might have a future need
for electronic rights. An electronic publication, however, cannot easily and inexpensively launch a print publication—so it is not likely to
ever want your print rights. Thus, while most e-pubs don’t ask for any
form of print rights, most print publications do ask for some (or all)
electronic rights.
Here are some terms you’ll need to understand when negotiating
1) Exclusive vs. nonexclusive rights. “Exclusive” means that only the
publication offering the contract can use the material, for the time or
use specified. For example, if a publication wants “exclusive” electronic rights, that means no other publication can use the material online.
If the publication wants “exclusive electronic rights for three months,”
Moira Anderson Allen
no other publication can use the material online for three months—but
it can be used online thereafter. “Nonexclusive” means that other publications can use the same rights at the same time—e.g., “nonexclusive
electronic rights” would mean that the material could appear in more
than one electronic publication at the same time. (Keep in mind, however, that if you’ve sold nonexclusive rights to one publication, you
can’t sell the material to another publication that wants exclusivity.)
2) First rights vs. one-time rights. “First” rights means that a publication will be the first, in that particular medium, to use the material. It
does not mean, however, that a publication can claim the right to be
first in any or all media to use the material. Thus, if you’ve sold first
electronic rights, you could still sell first print rights to the same piece.
(It might be difficult, but technically, you could do it.) One-time rights
means that a publication has the right to use the material “once”—but
not necessarily before any other publication. One-time rights are often
used when selling reprints or syndicated columns. “First” rights, by
definition, are also “exclusive”—as only one publication can be “first”
in a medium. One-time rights are generally nonexclusive.
3) Use rights vs. distribution rights. Most publications obtain the license to use your material—that is, to print or otherwise publish it.
However, a few also want to buy the right to distribute your material—
meaning the right to sell it to other publications or to databases. Many
periodicals sell their content to online databases and similar firms, and
these may, in turn, offer your material to subscribers for a fee (for which
you get nothing!).
Watch out for terms like “nonexclusive right to distribute the material electronically.” This means that a publication can sell your articles
(e.g., to databases) and not pay you a penny from the profits. You still
retain the right to resell that material yourself—but you have no idea
where it might turn up without your permission.
4) All rights vs. work for hire. There is a subtle difference between
these two sets of rights, though from the perspective of the writer, it
doesn’t make a great deal of difference. In both cases, you are giving
up your rights to ever use that particular piece of work again. The
subtle difference is that, when you sell “all rights,” you still retain the
copyright to your work—you are the author, and the publication has
Breaking into Magazines
only obtained use rights; it can’t remove your byline, or put the material out under someone else’s name. If you sell the work as “work for
hire,” the copyright to the material is owned by the publication, not by
you. This means that the publication not only owns all uses of the
material, but could change the byline, put it out under someone else’s
name, etc. In addition, if you sold an article as “work for hire” and
then wrote a different, but similar, version of that piece to sell elsewhere, you could actually be sued for plagiarism—as you would no
longer be considered, legally, the “creator” of the original piece. This
is not the case if you sell all rights. This is something to keep in mind
if you write fiction—if you were to write a story and sell it as “work for
hire,” you might not be able to write another story about the same characters or “world” (if you invented that world), because you would not
be legally considered the creator of the first story. (For more information on selling all rights, see
5) “Rights” vs. “use”. Many authors become confused over what constitutes a “use of rights.” I get questions like, “How can a magazine
own my rights if they didn’t pay me?” or “How can putting something
on my website be a use of first rights?” The answer lies in the issue of
“usage.” When you create something (such as an article), you own the
copyright to that creation—which means that you have a bundle of
“rights” to “use” that material in various ways. You can sell or give
those rights to others, or you can use them yourself. When a piece of
writing is “used” in a particular way, the accompanying right is said to
have been used as well—whether you used it yourself, or whether you
were paid. Thus, if you post your entire novel on your website and
invite the world to come and read it, you are “using” the “first publication rights” to that novel—even though you have not sent it to a publisher. (To give a better example, when I write an article that I publish
in my own electronic newsletter, I am “using” first electronic rights to
that article, even though it is my newsletter and I’m obviously not paying myself for the material.)
“First” rights, once used, cannot be “returned.” I always get a kick
out of guidelines that say “all rights revert to the author after publication.” What the editor means is that the publication doesn’t have any
more claims on your material, and that’s nice. But don’t let such a
statement fool you; once the material has been published, first rights
Moira Anderson Allen
have been used up; you can’t resell “first print rights” (e.g., First North
American Serial Rights) to some other publication. Equally misleading are publications that state that they claim “no” rights from the author—again, if they use the material, they are using a set of rights, and
it may be that those rights will thus be “used up forever.”
For a more thorough overview of the types of rights you can sell,
and what they mean, see “Rights and Why They’re Important,” by Marg
Gilks, at
Here are a few more important points about rights:
1) Do not assume that, because you are a new writer, you have to
accept what a magazine offers/demands. Many new writers feel
that this is their one big chance to make a sale. They don’t want to
blow that first chance by getting picky over a contract. And so, if a
magazine asks for all rights, they’ll take the deal. The reality is that if
you are any good at all as a writer, you’ll have other chances. You do
not have to accept the first offer that come along; if it isn’t good, you
can always walk away.
2) Do not assume that a publication will blacklist you (or spread the
word that you’re a “difficult” writer to other publications) if you try to
negotiate a contract. Actually, editors are well aware that it is the more
professional writers who try to negotiate (because they are more knowledgeable)—so politely attempting to negotiate a contract will not harm
you. You may not succeed, but it won’t make you “look bad.”
3) Do not assume that you will never use a piece again. It’s very
easy to think that you have no other possible markets for an article, so
“why not sell all rights”? I’ve done this myself—and every single time
I’ve been convinced that I would never use a piece again, a market has
come up for it. Granted, I can often rewrite those articles for the new
market—but that’s extra work.
4) Be aware that certain rights can only be transferred through a
written agreement. If you have no contract with a publication, that
publication cannot claim that it owns “all rights,” or that your work
was “work for hire.” The general rule is that if no contract exists, a
publication can only be assumed to have acquired “first” rights or “onetime” rights. Never let a publication try to bully you into believing that
Breaking into Magazines
it owns more than it does. (For example, I once got a letter from a man
who was being told by a publisher that “collective copyright”—the
copyright that applies to a magazine as a whole—meant that the magazine owned his article. It doesn’t.)
4) If you don’t understand what rights are being requested, ask.
I’ve seen some weird phrases that aren’t intuitively obvious. Don’t
worry about appearing ignorant—chances are, the ignorant person is
the one who made up the terminology in the first place!
Getting and Negotiating a Contract
When a publication accepts your article, you should receive a contract
shortly thereafter. In some cases, the contract may be as simple as a
“letter of agreement,” signed by the editor. In others, it may be four or
five pages of dense legalese. Now what?
First, read the contract! This sounds obvious, but it’s very easy to
just scan it and think it looks OK. I’ve done this! (That’s how I missed
the “electronic distribution” clause from one of my regular markets.)
Also, don’t assume that, just because you’ve written for a publication
before, its contracts will always be the same. Always read every new
contract you get; you never know when something might change.
At a minimum, the contract should specify:
• The title of the article
• What you are to be paid
• When you are to be paid (acceptance or publication)
• What rights you are giving up
Some contracts will also specify a publication date, but not all will.
If you are happy with the contract, sign it and return it (be sure to
keep a copy!), and (with luck) you should get a check.
If you are not happy with the contract, it’s time to negotiate. (If a
contract does not match the publication’s stated guidelines, keep in
mind that those guidelines are not binding, and are often out of date.)
Can you actually negotiate with an editor? Can you really get a bad
contract changed? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. But ask!
When attempting to negotiate a contract, be polite and be reasonable. What do you actually want out of this? What are you prepared to
offer? Are you willing to sell the range of rights requested for a higher
fee? Or are you simply not prepared to give up the requested rights?
I’m going to toss out an idea here that I haven’t actually used, but that
Moira Anderson Allen
seems intriguing—if a publication asks for “all rights,” try offering
them “the nonexclusive right to reprint the material at any time, in any
medium.” Note the term “nonexclusive” here. You’re offering them
the right to reuse the material whenever and wherever they wish—
which is usually all the publication wants. But, you are also retaining
the right to reuse your material yourself. If that doesn’t fly, try asking
the publisher to grant you that same right.
Keep in mind that the editor may actually not be empowered to
negotiate a contract. In larger companies, the contracts are often drafted
by the legal department, and the editors have no authority to change
them. If this is the case, you’re pretty much stuck—but even then,
some editors may be willing to negotiate while others won’t. Again, it
never hurts to ask—but if an editor says s/he can’t, and seems firm on
this, there is little point in pushing.
If the editor won’t negotiate, it’s now up to you to make a decision.
Will you accept a contract you don’t like—or will you withdraw the
article? Only you can make this decision. Don’t let anyone else make
it for you. You’ll read lots of articles by writers who urge everyone to
walk away from all-rights contracts. That’s easily said, but if you’re
trying to earn a living as a writer, you may find that you aren’t willing
to do so. Your choice is your own; do not let someone else pressure
you or make you feel guilty for your decision.
In addition to the question of payment, rights, and publication date,
a contract may have a lot of other clauses that can seem confusing or
intimidating. Here are some of the more common “extra” clauses:
• A statement that the article is original and your property. This
ensures that if someone else comes along and claims that they wrote
the article, and that you stole it, the publisher isn’t liable. If you have
signed a contract stating that the article is yours, you are the only person liable in an infringement case.
• A statement that the magazine is entitled to edit the material. This
is standard, and most publications understand that this means “within
reason.” Basically, a publication has the right to do any amount of
editing as long as the basic substance and meaning of the article remain unchanged. If the editor doesn’t like your style, and rewrites the
piece from top to bottom—well, that’s what some editors do.
Breaking into Magazines
• An indemnification statement. You’ll often see a long block of text
about indemnification issues—i.e., if someone wants to sue over the
article, for whatever reason, the publisher wants to be sure that you are
the person who gets sued, and not the publisher. This doesn’t happen
very often, but it’s one of those legal clauses that lawyers like. (I actually did run into an example of this type of situation: A woman once
tried to sue a pet magazine for running a product profile of a leash that
she managed to trip over—she wanted to sue the magazine for “recommending” a “dangerous product.”) If you see a statement that declares
that everything in the article is “true and accurate,” it’s a good idea to
insert the phrase, “to the best of the writer’s knowledge.”
• A statement that the magazine can use the material, or excerpts of the
material, to promote the publication. This is also standard.
If a publication doesn’t send you a contract (not all do), I recommend sending a letter to the editor stating the terms of the sale as you
understand them: Title of article, amount to be paid, rights to be granted.
Once you’ve sent the letter (by mail or e-mail), follow up with an email or phone call to make sure that the editor agrees to those terms.
Be sure to keep a copy of this letter, as you want to establish a “paper
trail” if a question of payment or rights ever comes up later.
Getting Paid
Getting your contract is often just half the battle. The other half is
getting your check.
Some publications will only pay once they have been invoiced—a
contract alone is not enough. Thus, it’s a good idea to learn how to do
this, even if the editor doesn’t specify that an invoice is needed. An
invoice can be very simple—it’s just a statement of what is due to you
and why. Some publications like to be sent an e-mail invoice; in this
case, here’s what I send:
TO:(Contact name, publication, address)
(My name and address, for payment)
FOR: (Article title)
(Include a word-count if the amount is based on number of
Moira Anderson Allen
AMOUNT DUE: $XX (2000 words @ 5c/word)
SSN: (Your social security number)
That’s all there is to it! If you are a U.S. resident billing a U.S.
publication, you’ll need to provide your social security number for tax
purposes. If you don’t wish to do this by e-mail, send it be fax or
You can also develop a more formal invoice template to send by
fax or surface mail. I have a standard template that I’ve created in
Excel (shown on page 121).
Send your invoice to the editor first. The editor is responsible for
getting that invoice to the accounting department for payment. If, after
a reasonable time has elapsed, you aren’t getting paid, contact the editor. If that doesn’t help, send your invoice directly to the publication’s
accounting department. Some editors are good about making sure you
get your check; others are not so good.
There isn’t room here to go into all the things you can do if you
don’t get paid; for more information on that, see “What to do when you
don’t get paid,” at
There is one more question writers often ask, and that is “what if
the magazine never publishes my article?” Does this mean that you
can resell it? The answer is: That depends.
First of all, be aware that purchasing an article does not obligate a
publication to actually publish that article. The publication purchases
certain rights; it is under no obligation to use those rights. So the answer to this question depends on what rights you sold, and whether
you were paid.
If, for example, you sold all rights to an article, and were paid, you
do not have the right to resell that article somewhere else, whether the
magazine ever uses it or not. You’ve sold the rights, so you don’t have
them anymore; the magazine owns them, and can use them or not.
If, however, you sold first rights to a magazine that pays on publication, and two years have gone by with no indication that the piece
will ever be used, you would be justified in going back to the editor
and asking when (or if) the piece will be used. In this case, you could
choose to withdraw the article after a period of time—because you
have not been paid for the rights and therefore they have not been officially transferred.
The key question is “who is violating the contract?” If you sell
certain rights, and then try to use those rights yourself, you are violat-
Breaking into Magazines
ing the contract. If, however, the publication has bought certain rights
but has not paid for them (assuming it’s not a “pay on publication”
market), it has violated the contract (by not paying you)—and you have
some recourse. If you don’t get paid, and the article hasn’t been used,
you can cancel the contract and withdraw your article, on the grounds
that the magazine has violated the terms of the contract.
Of course you want to see that article in print—that may have been
more important to you than the money. But in some cases, it never
happens—and all you can do is sigh, shrug, and move on. (And remember, in most cases, you can always write a different version of the
article and sell it somewhere else anyway!)
Some notes on the Excel invoice, opposite:
1) Note that the boxes and underlining can all be created within Excel,
using various “border” commands.
2) I like to assign a number to each of my invoices. I begin with the
year (“5” for “2005”) and then number each invoice sequentially within
that year—so this example would have been my 8th invoice in the year
3) The “P.O.” field stands for “purchase order,” for those cases in which
you are given one. Generally, you won’t need this.
4) I’ve included a column for “words” for those articles that are invoiced on the basis of word count.
Moira Allen
Sold To:
Invoice #
Jane Smith, Editor
Fantastic Magazine
Project Description
P.O. #
Article: "Breaking into Magazines"
Breaking into Magazines
More Information
Basics/Getting Started
Finding Time to Write - Moira Allen
Take Control of Your Time! - Kelle Campbell
Enforcing Boundaries: Making Sure Others Respect Your
“Right to Write” - Kristi Holl
Setting Effective Writing Goals - Moira Allen
Coping with Rejection - Moira Allen
Why You Get Form Rejection Letters - Jenna Glatzer
Excuses, Excuses... How to Guarantee Failure as a Writer Lee Masterson
For more tips on getting started, visit
Moira Anderson Allen
Personal Experience Articles
How to Turn “First Experiences” Into “First Sales” - Moira Allen
Mastering the Personal Experience Article - Deborah Newton
Writing (and Selling) Personal Experience Articles - Moira Allen
Finding Markets
Exploring New Markets - Moira Allen
Finding Sample Magazines Without Breaking the Bank - Moira Allen
How to Study a Magazine You’ve Never Seen - Mridu Khullar
Researching Markets: Looking Beyond the Obvious - Karen Ray
Mastering the Markets - Terri Mrosko
Organizing and Maintaining Your Market Notes - Hasmita Chander
For information on specific market areas (e.g., travel writing, essays,
etc.) plus information on developing a column, visit
For links to market resources, visit or
Queries, Cover Letters, and Submissions
A Quick Guide to Manuscript Format - Moira Allen
What to Do if You Don’t Have Clips - Moira Allen
Breaking into Magazines
Cover Letters: When, How and Why to Use Them - Moira Allen
Cover Me - I’m Going In! - John Floyd (more on cover letters)
Pros and Cons of Simultaneous Submissions - Moira Allen
Writing Your Bio - Terje Johansen
Conducting Interviews,E-mail Interviews and Surveys - Moira Allen
Expert-Finding Strategies - Mridu Khullar
Creating an Expert File - Kathryn Lay
Don’t Reach for Any Old Quote - John Rains
How to Write Like an Expert - Moira Allen
Rights, Copyright and Contracts
Understanding Rights and Copyright - Moira Allen
Rights: What They Mean and Why They’re Important - Marg Gilks
Protect Your Electronic Rights - Moira Allen
Selling All Rights: Right or Wrong? - Moira Allen
Understanding Contracts - Moira Allen
Moira Anderson Allen
Got the Contract! Now What? - Jenna Glatzer
Increase Your Market with a Creative Commons License Josh Smith
Research or Plagiarism? - Moira Allen
Understanding Fair Use - John Savage
For more information on rights and contracts, visit
For more links to information on rights, visit
Income, Expenses and Record-Keeping
Handling Writing Income and Expenses - Moira Allen
Keeping Records - Moira Allen
Getting Paid
The Worth of a Freelancer’s Work - Donald Denier
How Much Should a Freelancer Charge? - Moira Allen
Five Magic Phrases: Tips for Negotiating Like a Pro - Jenna Glatzer
How to Make Sure You Get Your Check - Felicia Hodges
When Clients Don’t Pay - Melissa Brewer
Breaking into Magazines
Expanding Your Career
Building a Writer’s Business Plan - Moira Allen
Creating a Writer’s Resume - Moira Allen
Newspapers: A Great Source of Freelance Opportunities Sue Fagalde Lick
To Plunge or Not to Plunge? Things to Consider Before You Quit
Your Day Job - Moira Allen
Fifty Tips on Taking the Plunge - Moira Allen
Making the Leap from a “Real Job” to Freelancing - Kathy Sena
Selling Reprints
Making the Most of Your Inventory (Selling Reprints) - Dana Cassell
One Article, Many Checks: Selling Reprints - Kelly James-Enger
Selling Reprints - Moira Allen
Can I Sell a Previously Published Article? - Moira Allen
Selling Photos
Eight Steps to Professional Travel Photos - Bob Difley
Have Digicam, Will Travel - Terry Freedman
Picture Perfect: Using Photos to Sell Your Articles - Christine Ridout
Moira Anderson Allen
Selling Your Photographs - Moira Allen
For more photography links, visit
Technical and Business Writing
Succeeding as a Technical Writer - Michael Knowles
Marketing the Wily Technical Writer - Michael Knowles
Looking for Work as a Scientific Communicator - Geoff Hart
Ten Tips to Reaching Financial Success as a Freelance Writer Bev Bachel and Jennifer Lawler
Breaking Into Corporate Editing - Moira Allen
Writing Corporate Newsletters - Moira Allen
13 Tips on How to Tech-Talk to Non-Techies - Hasmita Chander
Digital and Personal Tech: Writing for The Next Generation of
Technical Magazines - Mridu Khullar
For more information on business and technical writing, visit
For business/technical writing links, visit
The International Marektplace
The Global Marketplace - Michael Sedge
Breaking into Magazines
How to Become an International Correspondent—Without Leaving
Home! - Ysabel de la Rosa
How to Become an International News Reporter - Huw Francis
Handling an Overseas Writing Business - Moira Allen
Improving Your Global Image - Huw Francis
Reaching International Markets Electronically - Moira Allen
Selling International Rights - Moira Allen
Taxes Abroad - Nancy Arrowsmith
For more information on international writing opportunities, visit
Promoting Your Writing
Self-Promotion for the Emerging Writer - Gayle Trent
Creating an Online Portfolio - Moira Allen
Do You Need an Author Website? - Moira Allen
The Nuts and Bolts of an Author Website - Chris Gavaler
Your Publicity Photo - Patricia Fry
For more promotional tips, visit
For more promotional links,visit
Moira Anderson Allen
Scams, Hoaxes and Other Pitfalls
Avoiding Writing Scams - J.A. Hitchcock
Canning the Spam - Moira Allen
Help! Someone Stole My Article! What To Do When It
Happens To You - Moira Allen
How to Protect Yourself from Editorial Theft - Kyle Looby
Protect Your Writing from Plagiarism - Moira Allen
Protecting Your Work from Electronic Pirates - Charles Petit
Watching Out for Web Scams - Moira Allen
Writing Contests: When Winners are Losers - Moira Allen
What Is Libel? - David Taylor
For more information on scams and perils, visit
For more links on scams and perils, visit
More Information also offers nearly 1000 links to such areas as:
Sites for Writers
Publications for writers
The Business of Writing
Breaking into Magazines
Job Sources
Writing Classes (online and real-world)
Critique and Discussion Groups
Dictionaries and Glossaries
Essays, Memoirs and Journaling
Travel Writing
Christian Writing and Market Resources
Columns and Syndication
Website Development
Sites for Young Writers
Electronic Publishing
Other Categories...
Moira Anderson Allen
You are also welcome to download the following e-books:
2000 Online Resources for Writers (last updated in 2004)
The Market Guide Series (offering a total of
about 1700 market listings in 14 categories; last updated in 2003)
Further Reading
Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, by Moira Allen
(Allworth Press)
The Writer’s Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals, by Moira
Allen (Allworth Press)
For more information on these books, plus links for ordering, visit
Breaking into Magazines
About the Author
Moira Anderson Allen has been writing professionally for more than
25 years, and is the author of several hundred articles and seven books,
including Creative Internet Strategies to Advance Your
Writing Career; The Writer’s Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals; and Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer (all from Allworth
Press). Allen has worked as the editor of a national magazine, a business and technical writer/editor, a publisher, and as web editor for the
prestigious website Inkspot. She has also served as a columnist for
such publications as Entrepreneur’s Home Office and The Writer. Allen
now hosts, one of the largest websites for writers
in the world. She lives in Virginia with her husband and a varying
number of cats. Her websites include: - - offering more
than 600 articles and columns on nearly every aspect of writing, plus a
monthly e-mail newsletter and contest database. - - the history buff’s guide to destinations in England and the UK (bimonthly).
The Pet Loss Support Page - - a site dedicated to helping pet owners deal with the pain and bereavement of pet
loss (Allen is also the author of the award-winning book, Coping with
Sorrow on the Loss of Your Pet). - - a site that showcases
Moira Allen’s digital photography.