decided to earn money writing magazine articles to supplement your
fiction habit. Now what? You must approach this venture in much the
same way you approached writing projects in school: examine the who,
what, when, where, and why of it all.
WHO: Who is
your target audience? Who is this article meant to reach? Middle-aged
women? Senior citizens? Businessmen? Children? Mothers? Fishermen?
Scrapbookers? Entrepreneurs? Homeschool parents? World travelers?
People struggling with illness? Pet lovers? Writers? If you don’t slant
the piece to your intended audience, then you will likely miss the mark
when it comes to targeting your potential publishing house—your article
must be a fit for the magazine and its readers. You won’t leave a
lasting memory with the reader, either . . . should you be fortunate
enough to have your article published. Aim for your reader, then give
him not only what he wants, but what he needs. Isn’t this what you’re
already doing in your fiction? Sure! You’re writing for a specific
group of people.
will you write? Oh, I know you’re writing a magazine article. But what
type? There’s the motivational/inspirational piece, the
expose/tell-all. Then there’s the profile/interview article. Of course,
you could always write a human-interest piece—editors love those.
They’re also crazy about round-up articles (informative pieces). If
you’ve got a compelling personal experience piece, you might try
submitting that, particularly if the takeaway is clear.
If you’re travel savvy, you
could consider putting together an article about your latest venture to
an exciting destination. I’m a personal fan of how-tos and quizzes, and
I have even written a few essays, or opinion pieces, in my day. The
possibilities are endless, particularly if you have new information to
share with the reader. Just choose your topic, then select the best
possible article type to win over your editor and your readers. Lest
you think this “article type” thing is complicated, it’s no different
from writing in different fiction genres. Just choose the one that’s
the best fit.
WHEN: When do
you submit? That depends. Have you done your research? Are your sources
reliable? Do you understand the submission process? Have you taken a
look at the publishing house’s guidelines? Is your piece the right word
count? The right slant? Is it formatted correctly? Are you offering
first rights, all rights, or reprint rights? Will this be a
simultaneous submission? Have you conquered the art of writing a great
query letter? Have you gotten over your fear of rejection? No, you
don’t have to have your act together to submit, but it helps to
understand the process (just as it helps to understand the process when
you’re submitting a novel). Remember, you get only one chance to make a
first impression, and you want it to be a good one. Don’t turn that
editor off by calling him by the wrong name or not following the house
guidelines. In other words, be a professional.
Where will you submit? This is a tricky one. A lot of this depends on
your target audience, which we addressed above. If you feel most
comfortable writing for women, then shoot for a magazine that speaks to
women’s needs. If you have a knack for communicating with kids, you
might pitch an idea to a Sunday school take-home paper or scholastic
magazine. If you’re into sports, then write what you know and submit to
the magazines you read. It’s also a good idea to target magazines that
specialize on the area where you live. In my case, I live along the
Gulf Coast, so I often submit to publications in this area.
not sure which houses to
target? Here’s a fun idea: Visit your local Barnes & Noble or
other bookstore. Spend the afternoon perusing the magazine section. Get
to know the publications. You will likely walk away with dozens of
fresh ideas. And if you haven’t already joined www.writersmarket.com,
this is the time to do so. If you’re targeting the Christian market,
pick up a copy of Sally Stuart’s Christian Writers’ Market
Guide. (For more information, go to www.stuartmarket.com.)
WHY: Why are
you writing this article? Hopefully you’re writing to meet the felt
needs of the reader. If you’re unsure of what a “felt” need is, study
the lives of your friends and coworkers. What are the regular/everyday
needs in most of their lives? We all have a need to be loved. And we’re
longing for healthy relationships. Everyone desires to be needed and
wanted. We need to stay healthy, too. These topics are considered
“evergreen” because they’re always in fashion. When you’ve published a
few evergreen pieces, you can being to dig a little deeper, offering
that editor an article fashioned around a “felt” need that goes below
For example, I once sold an
article entitled “When Mental Illness Strikes the Christian Home,”
covering the very delicate issue of mental illness from every angle.
You can do the same by covering topics that are “out of the box.” When
coworkers are complaining about workplace relationships, what are they
“really” dealing with? Likely there’s more to the story than meets the
eye. And be careful not to judge a book by its cover. You might be
covering a story about a well-to-do woman who looks like she’s got the
perfect life. But as you dig deeper, you might find that things are not
as perfect as they appear.
So that’s it for this month,
article writers! I hope I have opened up a whole new world of
possibilities for you. After figuring out the who, what, when, where,
and why, try your hand at several different article types to up your
chances at getting better assignments. Then give those editors exactly
what they’re looking for—a beautifully crafted article, loaded with
information that readers are sure to enjoy.