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Publications > Dateline Houston > September 2003 > Feature Article

Volume 43, Issue 1

September 2003

Magazine Writing for Fun and Profit

by Jeff Beeler, Silicon Valley Chapter

Working or not, most technical communicators yearn to make extra money, raise their visibility and bolster their resumes. One way to achieve all those objectives at once—and have fun to boot—is to write for magazines, technical or otherwise.

But how do you proceed, especially if you're new to the game? Some useful, step-by-step recommendations emerged during a recent STC-sponsored audio teleconference called "Writing for Magazines," presented on June 18 by published technical writer and Hoosier Chapter President John Hedtke.

Step One: Hatching Saleable Ideas

Before you can write a magazine article, you need an appealing idea that addresses at least one of four perennial themes:

  • How to make or save money
  • How to save time
  • How to be loved
  • How to have fun

Within those broad headings, of course, the possibilities for magazine article ideas are endless and reflect your own interests, skills and life experiences. Some of the most engaging features spring from the unexpected but happy intersection of two typically unrelated subjects. Example: travel and soccer, Hedtke said.

Step Two: Targeting Suitable Magazines

Once you select an idea, your next task is to find a magazine that might publish your submission. For suitable candidates, check reference sources such as the Writer's Digest and the Writer's Market. Both guides list hundreds of publications and their editors, describe their editorial guidelines and focus, and specify pay rates.

But neither compilation is exhaustive. For additional listings, check newsstands, web sites and libraries, both public and corporate. And remember, many periodicals now have electronic publishing arms that afford freelancing opportunities quite apart from printed forms of distribution.

Step Three: Selling to Editors

Having chosen a magazine, you then need to approach its editor with a proposal. Your chief tool for doing so is a one-page, personal query letter that effectively sells your idea in the opening paragraph. A query letter communicates the gist of your planned article and should reflect an understanding of a magazine's mission and readership, Hedtke said. Always mail your letter and enclose a stamped return envelope with a clip or two, if necessary.

When crafting your query, also heed the following additional tips:

  • Never direct editorial queries to subscription offices—an amateurish goof.
  • Never pitch the same article to different magazines simultaneously—the shotgun approach to querying alienates exclusivity-loving editors.

Step Four: Meeting Editorial Expectations

The long-awaited approval of your article arrives. Congratulations! Now comes the fun part—composition. As you write, scrupulously follow editorial directions. Avoid surprises; editors hate them. If you have questions, ask. And above all, meet deadlines. If you must change your work, do so, even if requested edits make you wince. "Editors are always right," Hedtke said, tongue in cheek.

Finally, send a bill immediately after your proposal's acceptance. Because magazines sometimes fold, delayed invoices can mean forfeited checks, Hedtke said.

This article has been reprinted from the STC Silicon Valley Chapter newsletter, Connection.

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