Writing Articles for Newspapers and Magazines – Tips and Tricks

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.

Language

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.

Expect Rejection

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.

13 Responses to “Writing Articles for Newspapers and Magazines – Tips and Tricks”

  1. Avatar for larry larry says:

    could u show way to me for cotributin in guardian

  2. Avatar for janet janet says:

    Hi Larry,
    I don’t know the Guardian, but assume it’s a newspaper in the UK.
    Depending on what they publish and what you’d like to write about, you could query the relevant editor about an article you propose to write for them. You might get an idea from the paper itself about whether they accept articles from freellancers. But it certainly doesn’t hurt to send a query. In the query, give them a couple of paragraphs of your proposed article, to show them how you write.
    Good luck!

  3. Avatar for Bob Bob says:

    Hi Janet
    Just wanted to say thanks for sharing your tips. I’m contemplating my first attempt at an article, had no idea where to start, so your material is just what I needed.

  4. Avatar for Lee Lee says:

    Hi Janet,
    I’ve had some work published in the past, but not for many years. I’m thinking of doing some writing again but I have no idea what rates freelance writers are charging for their work.
    Can you give me some guidance?
    Thanks for your tips.
    Lee

  5. Avatar for janet janet says:

    Hi Lee,
    Wow, this is the question every newbie freelancer asks, and there are many answers. Some magazines have a set pay rate, so you won’t have this dilemma. But then again, they might ask you what your rate is. You need to decide whether to charge by the word, the hour or for the entire job, depending on what you’re writing. It’s a good idea to see what writers’ organisations around Australia and in your state recommend. There’s also the Australian Society of Authors who have pay rates on their website, but these are quite high. What I think it boils down to is feeling comfortable with what you’re charging. You don’t want to undercharge or overcharge. Sometimes, it’s better to charge at the lower end to build a relationship, and then increase your fees down the track.
    If you’re just starting up again, it might be best to aim at getting your articles in print, even if the pay rate is low or non-existent. Once you have credibility, you can charge more.
    Hope that helps a bit. I wish there was an easy answer.

  6. Avatar for Justin Justin says:

    Hey Janet, I want to write books some day and I heard that writing for magazines and newspapers was a good way to start. But I have a problem, when I start writing, I dont stop! My stories go on for too long, do you have any tips on writing shorter stories, and if writing for magazines is a good way to start in the book buisness?

    -Justin

  7. Avatar for janet janet says:

    Hi Justin,

    These are good questions, and I’ll try and answer them as briefly as I can.

    Firstly, if you’re thinking of writing a fiction book, it’s probably a better idea to enter short story writing comps. This will get you warmed up to writing fiction, perhaps get you some valuable feedback, and also get your name out there. If you’re thinking of writing a non-fiction book, there are comps in this genre, and writing articles is also useful in honing your skills and getting known.

    Now the question about shortening your work. You’re in the prime seat, because I think it’s far easier to edit your work down than to extend it. There are specific trimming techniques for fiction and non-fiction, and I’m not sure which you’re doing at the moment. I could write oodles on the subject! But here are some general tips for both:

    * In your articles, don’t interrupt the progression of your ideas by going off on long diversions. Keep your thoughts succinct so that your reader can follow them.

    * Don’t overload the reader with information. If your articles are too long, then perhaps you have too many ideas. Split it up into more than one article with specific topics.

    * Get rid of redundant words and phrases. They weaken your writing.

    * Vary your sentence lengths in a paragraph and don’t have paragraphs that go on forever. You might find you can rewrite a paragraph and reduce it by half. The aim is to make your point as quickly as possible.

    * Use the active voice rather than the passive. This will chop out a lot of words.

    * Be ruthless and get rid of scenes or paragraphs that just don’t contribute to the article/story, even if they are your best work!

    * Particularly for fiction, if you show the reader what’s happening, rather than telling them, you’ll also reduce the length. This is a particular art and takes time to perfect.

    Justin, I could go on forever, and I’m not sure if any of this is useful. If you want to use my assessment service, please get in touch. Sometimes it’s easier to actually do the editing and show why and how it improves the writing.

    All the best!

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  9. Avatar for Ranjha Ranjha says:

    Hey Janet Just wondering if we could use the news found in Online websites of various newspapers in a local monthly newspaper. Are any news copyright?

    Will be thankful if you can answer.

  10. Avatar for janet janet says:

    Hi Ranjha,
    The general rule of thumb is that anything published on the internet is copyright. So you can’t just take a story and print it somewhere else. You would make many journalists irate!

  11. Avatar for Bella Bella says:

    hey Janet
    Thank you for the tips, they are very helpful.
    I was wondering if I could write for American magazines while I don’t live in US (and I’m not American).
    I would love to work for magazines online, could you tell me if you know any magazine would accept my writings?

    Thank you
    Bella

  12. Avatar for janet janet says:

    Hi Bella,
    This is the hard part of writing for magazines. All you can do is pitch ideas to mags you’d like to write for in the US. They certainly do take work from Australians…it’s just a matter of hooking their interest. It’s all about researching the market and pitching ideas to editors.
    Good luck!

  13. Avatar for Rob Lindegger Rob Lindegger says:

    Hi Janet,
    Re Bella’s comment.
    I live in South Africa and have found difficulty in accessing the American market. Whereas the U.K. market is fairly easy.

    But I agree totally with your research the market and reading recent issues of the publications. My wife travels abroad regularly and brings back copies of magazines. Maybe Bella has people, or access to people, living in the States or U.K.

    Best wishes
    Rob

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