Janice Hanna Thompson

Janice Hanna Thompson—a south Texas native—is the author of over sixty novels and non-fiction books for the Christian market. She supplements her fiction habit by writing magazine articles, devotions, write-for-hire books and more. One of the chief joys of Janice’s life is training writers to earn a living with the written word. Check out Janice’s “Becoming a Successful Freelance Writer,” course at www.freelancewritingcourses.com. The ten lessons in this course were developed to strategically train freelance writers to earn top dollar. Each lesson includes an audio file (mp3 for download), a corresponding audio script, a downloadable worksheet, a power point video, a bonus feature, and full access to the site’s forum. Email Janice at booksbyjanice[at]aol[dot]com to learn more, or visit her website at www.janicehannathompson.com.

The Who, What, When, Where and Why of Magazine Article Writing

You 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.

WHAT: What 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: 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.

Still 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 the surface.

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.