Magazine writing is an area many aspiring journalists find attractive. As a published writer with commissions from popular UK magazines, many people have asked me for advice over the years.
Some of the aspiring writers who asked me how I got noticed may have been writing for longer than me; some may have been better writers. It confounded and annoyed a few people that I was getting published in magazines while they were getting rejection after rejection. However, some writers were inspired by my successes and were driven to ask questions to improve their own chances of success. They were the positive ones.
So How Did Magazine Writing Prove Successful For Me
There are many reasons why editors grabbed my features with both hands and wanted more. However, I will concentrate on the three reasons I think are the most important for any wannabe magazine writer to consider. Others may disagree but this is what worked for me.
1) Give magazine editors exactly what they want – make your copy irresistible.
This is not rocket science. It is very easy to give editors exactly what they want as long as you know what that is. How do you find that out? Easy, just go get a copy of whatever magazine you want to write for and look at what they are publishing. So many writers fail to do this. Editors are busy people. They are bombarded with submissions from budding writers who may be good at what they do but who have failed to understand the needs of the magazine. There is nothing more off-putting to a busy editor than a writer who has obviously not done their research. You do not want editors to remember your name for the wrong reasons!Editors are busy people deluged by writers who have failed to understand their magazine's needs. Click To Tweet
There are many valuable on-line resources for writers and one such site is www.writersandartists.co.uk . Although this is a brilliant site, I have always loved the print version – The Writer’ and Artists’ Yearbook – and I faithfully bought it every year for many years.
It is an absolute must for writers to study markets and understand how to submit work to hundreds of publications. As it is essential to adhere to submission guidelines, this book has always been an invaluable tool for me.
If you use an authoritative industry website/resource book such as those mentioned above, your magazine writing endeavours are more likely to pay off. Once you have a clear idea of who wants what, go out and buy several editions of their magazines and study them closely. What writing style do they favour? Can you tailor your writing to their needs? If you feel you can’t, then find a magazine that has needs you are able to accurately meet. My journalistic background had been in writing to very tight deadlines for an extremely wide variety of audiences so it was very easy for me to adapt my writing style to suit different magazines and markets. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to write in the voice of the publication you are trying to get work into.Know what editors want before you submit. Don't waste their valuable time. Click To Tweet
Editors who accepted my work or commissioned further articles did so because I made their lives easier – and that is the bottom line. Know what editors want. All the features I have ever submitted have been exactly the right subject, length and tone for that particular magazine. It was rare for my features to be hacked about, changed or worked on in any way because I did my research so thoroughly, my articles could be placed into the magazine with very little work by busy magazine staff. You can do the same – it is not difficult. It just takes time and dedication.
2) Supply your own high quality images with whatever you submit
With modern foolproof digital cameras and a little training, it is not difficult to learn how to take stunning pictures to illustrate your features. I began my journalistic career as a press photographer. I did not qualify as a journalist until years after I had been working as a press photographer. I later became involved in commercial, industrial and advertising photography, so I had a pretty good idea how to set up competent, attractive images in difficult situations, often working within a limited budget. This was a massive help in getting my magazine writing into print because again, I made life easy for editors who wanted great images to display on their pages.
Using my photographic background to enhance my attractiveness as a writer was definitely an asset. I am certain this was why editors would come back to me and ask for more. They knew they would get the whole package from me. People saw very quickly that I put as much thought and effort into my photography as I did my writing. Think about it from the editor’s point of view, if you had a choice between two features, both good enough to accept but one with high quality, high-resolution images, which would you buy? Again, it’s that time- saving, value for money element that comes up trumps.
There is not one of my published features I can think of that did not have good strong images to go with it. So if you are struggling to get good submissions accepted, go and do a photography course. Learn about lighting and composition. Learn how to be creative about photographing people, objects and places when the conditions are not ideal. Read up on the subject, ask professional photographers how they handle difficult situations. Ask what tricks they use to pull great shots out of less than ideal conditions.
With most of the features I wrote, the photographs were taken at the places where I interviewed the people. That often meant in their own homes where I had little control over available space or lighting. I always carried a few props in my car so I could set up a makeshift mini-studio if needed. I used reflectors to push light where I wanted it. My goal was always to come away from an interview or assignment with the very best pictures possible. Again, with a little work and dedication, you can do the same thing. I was not born knowing all I know about photography – I learnt it by studying, working long hours and applying my knowledge. If I can learn then so can you.
3) Know your subject inside out
Writers will often tell you to write only about ‘what you know’. I have heard this so many times it is starting to annoy me. It almost implies there are areas you should not touch because you don’t ‘know’ about them. There is a little thing called research which any good writer spends a great deal of time doing. Two of my big passions in life, beside writing and photography, are art and craft. I tended to write about arty crafty issues or photography because I was enthusiastic about those subjects. I also enjoyed talking to people about their hobbies. I loved seeing their work and I was genuinely interested in what they were doing. However, before I fell into the arty crafty writing niche, I had written professionally about all manner of things I knew absolutely nothing about. How did I manage that? Because I spent years polishing my research skills and used them to dig out the information I needed to write a coherent, knowledgeable article on whatever had been thrown at me.
As long as you do your research properly, there is no reason why you should not write about practically anything you want. However, I do mean you must be thorough and research as many reputable sources on the subject as you can. The internet makes that so easy. But beware, there is a huge amount of material on-line that is factually wrong. So always use several sources and rigorously compare notes on your subject before committing anything to print. The next time someone says ‘only write about what you know’ – think it through. Just because you don’t know something well enough to write about it does not mean you can’t get the knowledge.As long as you do your research properly, you can write about almost anything . Click To Tweet
Of course I am not advocating you write a feature on how to do a heart transplant – there are limitations – but don’t limit yourself to what you ‘know’ – or you may have a very short writing career. The important thing is to be so passionate and enthusiastic about the subject that you want to read everything there is to read. Then you can write with confidence in your own voice. If you are writing with only a shallow grasp of the subject, an editor will pick it up straight away. Be authentic, knowledgeable and enthusiastic – it will shine through.
Of Course There Is Much More To Say About Magazine Writing
Yes, there is more to magazine writing than this but these are the three key points that I believe sold my work to editors and led to commissions. It is a fundamental principal, whatever you submit must be the cleanest copy you can possibly produce with no spelling errors or grammatical howlers. If you also follow the above key points, you will be further ahead in the game of magazine writing.
Are you an aspiring or published magazine writer? Leave me a comment and let me know what your experience has been.