So you want to write an article? Maybe you already have, lots of times, and have had lots of rejections. There may be a very good reason for those rejections (though, to be honest, it may also depend on the editor’s mood, whether the publication has recently done something similar, or the phase of the moon).
Here are some ways to tip the balance in your favor:
- Know the publication. Buy (or at least read) a copy. The whole thing. Look for tone, read letters to the editor, see what readers are interested in. Obtain the publication’s submission guidelines and follow them. Don’t waste the magazine’s time or yours by pitching random ideas: try to reflect what you have learned about the publication in your query.
- If an idea is worth pitching, it’s worth pitching well. Don’t query until you’re ready. This doesn’t mean that the article has to be completed (although that is a good idea if you’re just starting out); it means that the idea has to be complete. Don’t submit until you know what you are doing and where your idea is going.
- Don’t send a first draft. Editors will respect you only if you follow the rules and submit polished, finished copy.
- Make sure that everything is spelled correctly. Do not rely on your word processor’s spellchecker: this is a case where you may actually need to look something up. Don’t be afraid-the dictionary is your friend! As one magazine says in its editorial guidelines: “If, for instance, you must invoke, say, Gorbachev, at least have the wit to spell his name properly.” (Dubliner)
- Look out for clichés. No one wants to read them anymore. If you look over your copy and something sounds too familiar, it’s probably a cliché-get rid of it. You can do better. Clichés are for the intellectually lazy. Besides, they’re red flags for editors.
- Give your story a catchy lead. Your first sentence is extraordinarily important. It needs to say what you’re going to be writing about-but in a way that grabs a reader’s attention and makes them want to read the whole piece, rather than continue thumbing through the magazine. Sound hard? You bet. But essential if you want to get published and continue to be published.
- Quote an expert. Unless you are yourself an expert recognized worldwide (in which case, why is this the first time you’re pitching an article?), readers don’t want to know what you think of the topic: they want to know how experts see it. For example, if you’re writing about marriage, find a suitable marriage counselor to quote.
- Include anecdotes and examples. Straight lecturing about a topic does not an interesting magazine article make. Be sure that you illustrate what you’re saying with quotes (see above), examples, and anecdotes that show the truth in what you’re saying.
- Make sure you have a solid beginning and ending. The ending should come back in some way to the beginning, so that the reader feels you’ve taken him or her on a journey from which you have returned, wiser and more knowledgeable.
- Write logically. I recently read an article in a hobbyist magazine that was all over the place; it had the potential to be interesting, but was unorganized and ultimately uninteresting.
Writing for magazines can provide a decent career, but don’t kid yourself: it’s hard work, both breaking in and then writing good, solid pieces. Some community colleges and organizations offer classes (and, of course, so do I!); it’s not a bad idea to take one. Another good place to hone your skills is through a critique group; check out the Internet Writing Workshop if you’re looking for one online.