When it comes to writing for magazines and newspapers, the technique is quite different to that of writing fiction and non-fiction books, and even writing for the web. At the Boyup Brook Book Bonanza in May, I went along to a workshop on this particular subject. I picked up some useful tips which I thought I’d pass along to you.
The Opening Line
The opening line of the article must grab the reader’s attention straight away. This is no different to any other form of writing: a story must hook the reader in a very short space of time. The difference? In article writing, this hook must be the first sentence, not the second or the third.
Another crucial point here is the length of the opening sentence. The word count needs to be no more than twenty-two words for your grab line. This in itself is a challenge.
Sentence Style and Structure
Sentences need to be short in this style of writing. Similarly, paragraphs consist of only two or three sentences. There’s a lot of what they call white space in articles, a technique that’s used to break up the text, make it more appealing to read.
The Use of Quotes
An article is always more interesting to read if it includes quotes from someone with an expert opinion on the matter. But when doing this, the writer must make sure that he or she has relayed the quote accurately. It’s important to always check with the source to avoid the possibility of misquoting. This sounds like common sense, but it wouldn’t be hard to make assumptions or get a bit slack towards a deadline.
In the examples read out at the workshop, and in further research I’ve done, it seems that the rules of fiction writing go out the window in article writing. Adverbs and adjectives are scattered throughout the text, as are metaphors and similes. Whereas in fiction writing, the emphasis is on erradicating adverbs and not overusing metaphors which can distract the reader, this is not the case in composing articles.
How To Query Editors
Sending off a query to a magazine or newspaper editor is different again to querying book publishers. In the latter case, the writer must follow the publisher’s submission guidelines to the letter. This could mean submitting a query letter and a synopsis, or a cover letter, synopsis and the first three chapters, or even the full manuscript. If the guidelines aren’t followed, the publisher won’t even consider the manuscript.
When a writer is contemplating having an article published in a magazine or newspaper, the instinctive response would be to send off the article as a way of demonstrating the high quality of work. Wrong. The advice in this workshop was not to waste time and energy producing articles that might never be picked up.
So what’s the answer? Easy. Send a query letter containing the following information:
- knowledge of the magazine’s themes and content and an idea that would suit the readership;
- a sample of writing
- a writer bio, outlining credentials and past publications, if any; and
- the writer’s qualifications for being able to write the proposed article.
The sample of writing referred to in the above list ideally should be the first two lines of the article; the opening sentence (the grab line) and the first sentence of the second paragraph. This demonstrates the ability to write and write well.
Some writers might feel terrified of submitting a query without having written the article. What if the idea is accepted? Can I deliver the goods on time? But the general consensus amongst the group was that sometimes writers need that little push to fire them up.
One thing that comes up time and time again in the writing world is to expect rejection. It’s normal in this industry. The important thing is to keep on going; keep writing those query letters, researching markets, coming up with new ideas. The more a writer’s name is seen by editors, the better the chance of finally getting something accepted.
One interesting school of thought amongst writers who submit to magazines in particular, is to go outside the magazine’s themes and styles. For example, some writers have struck gold when submitting a fiction piece to a non-fiction magazine, but still following their main theme. Obviously there is some leeway here with magazine editors. If something takes their eye and it brings another angle to the magazine, they’ll snap it up.
So what’s the bottom line? Keep on trying, think laterally, and enjoy the writing experience.