If, like me, you are having trouble getting your fiction published it may be time to try something different. Receiving rejection after rejection can be demoralising. I suggested some ways to react to rejection in my first blog post, 7 Ways for Writers to Overcome Rejection, but one I didn’t mention was changing tack for a while.
Don’t give up on your fiction hopes – Ruth Rendell wrote 7 books before getting published – but take a break and try something different. In this post I outline why turning to non-fiction article writing could boost your confidence and how you should go about it.
Why write magazine articles?
Achieving publication boosts your confidence and self-esteem. After your first by-line appears you can say, ‘I’m a published writer.’ Believe me, it feels good.
Check out the vital statistics
Thousands of magazines are published in the UK. Go into any newsagent and survey the shelves. They go on forever. And on top of that there are many hundreds of e-zines. There is a huge market out there just waiting for your submissions.
Getting started – write what you know
Write about what you know is no longer valid advice for writing fiction but it is a good maxim for getting started in magazine writing. What are your hobbies? Are you a keen cyclist, runner, horse rider or pigeon fancier? You probably already read a magazine that focuses on your hobby. If not, scan the newsagents’ shelves and find one or, better still, find two or three.
Research the market
Take each of the magazines that cover your area of interest and deconstruct them. Stop. I don’t mean tear them apart! Read through them and take notes. How many sections are there? How many articles in each section? How long are the articles? Half a page, one page, two pages? Do they have photographs? Did the writer supply the photographs? What type of articles are they? Who wrote the articles?
When you have finished that exercise go to the Editorial page and find the list of editors and sub-editors. Check their names against the list of article writers. This will give you an idea of how many articles in each issue are staff-written and how many are written by freelancers.
Now work out how many opportunities each magazine offers to freelancers. If a monthly has five slots per issue for freelancers that is 60 opportunities in a year; if a bi-monthly has 12 slots that is 72 opportunities. Logic suggests choosing the bi-monthly but that may not be the best choice. Does it have a more exclusive feel? Are the features longer and do they appear to have ‘professional’ photographs? If so, it may not be the best place for a beginner to pitch to.
Where do I get ideas for articles?
First, check if your selected magazine has a website. If it does, search it for contribution guidelines. They are rare for British magazines but some do have them. If guidelines exist they may say which sections are open to freelancers, the word count required, whether photographs are required and even topics to cover.
If there are no guidelines refer back to your notes on the selected magazine. Of the articles that appear to be provided by freelancers are they first-person accounts, how-to articles or interview pieces? How long are they?
Now think about your interest. Let’s say you’re a runner. Consider the following:
- Have you run a race somewhere unusual? The Arctic, maybe!
- Do you have an unusual training regime?
- Could you interview the organiser of your local marathon/10Km race?
Let’s say you’ve run the Svalbard Marathon (it’s in the Norwegian Arctic) so pick that as the subject for your article.
How do I write it up?
Find a similar first-person account in a previous issue of the magazine and deconstruct it. Does it start with an anecdote or a quote? They often do. Find something unusual that happened during the race (maybe a polar bear wandered across the course) and use that for your opening.
How does the middle of the narrative continue? Is it a straightforward account of the race or doe it dip into the history of the event and mention famous winners or unusual happenings? Follow the same pattern in your piece.
Finally, finish it off by referring again to the incident you mentioned in the first paragraph.
Edit and proof-read until it is perfect and send it in, usually by e-mail, with a covering message. Now forget it and think of a new idea for the same or another magazine.
In my next post I’ll give two case studies from my own experience. One, for Adventure Travel magazine, was the first article I ever submitted, and is a straightforward first person account of a multi-day hike; the second, for Latitude magazine, was my first interview piece.
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