When I’m not working on my book, I’m a hobby magazine editor, and for many of you, it’s a good idea to cut your writing teeth on submitting articles to magazines like mine. The discipline of more journalistic writing can be very useful while you’re learning your craft and will get you used to producing work under pressure. So, here are a half a dozen tips from a busy editor to help you get your articles into print.
1. A deadline is a deadline. If you want a quick way to make an enemy of an editor, submit your work late. People like me have a very short list of contributors they know they can rely on to produce the goods on time, every time, and they’ll be the first people I’ll call when I need something in a hurry.*
2. If an editor specifies a word count, stick to it. I can’t tell you how infuriating it is to have agreed a 2,000 word piece with a contributor, only to have a 2,500 or 3,000 word essay arrive (or, in one spectacular case, 9,000 words!). An editor specifies a word count because he’s intimately familiar with how much space a certain number of words will occupy on the page when combined with images and captions. So don’t make the editor’s life difficult, and don’t be surprised if an over-written piece ends up back in your inbox.
3. Proof your work. If you can’t be bothered to check your own spelling and grammar, then I can’t be bothered to publish your piece. The odd typo is acceptable, but submitting work littered with errors is just bad manners. A good practice is to put the piece away in a drawer (really, print it out) for a week or two before sending it in, then re-read it — you’re much more likely to spot the howlers. A reliable friend who can proof-read is another great asset, especially if they’re pedantic!
4. Don’t pester the editor. People like me receive a LOT of email. If you’ve sent in work on spec, rather than having been specifically commissioned, understand that however good your piece is, it will take a while for the overworked editor to get round to it. If you’ve heard nothing after a month or two, a polite enquiry as to its progress is fine, but badgering is another quick way to fall off the popularity pole. Far better to submit multiple articles to several magazines than stew in your own juices by staking your sanity on the success of a single piece.
5. Become an expert. If I had a pound for every enquiry I’ve received along the lines of “What would you like me to write about?” then, well, I’d have a lot more money than I do now! First of all, you should have read at least a few issues of the magazine in question to get a feel for the kind of subject matter they publish, and the editorial ‘style’, be it young, fresh and zippy, more formal and academic, or enthusiastic and down to earth. Then, think about what *really* interests you within the magazine’s particular niche, and write about that. I’d much rather be sent 1,000 words brimming with genuine enthusiasm than a dry-as-dust 5,000 words that have evidently been chiselled in boredom. You can’t fool an audience: if you don’t enjoy writing it, don’t write it!
6. And finally, do the courtesy of addressing an editor by his or her name. These days, “Sir” or “Madam” not only come across as rather stuffy, they also imply that you couldn’t be bothered to research the name of the editor whose approval you seek. And I can tell you that anything I receive which begins “Dear Sir or Madam” goes straight to the trash can! Similarly, “Kind regards” or just “Regards” is far less awkward than “Yours sincerely” or “Yours faithfully” at the end of an email.
*Fortunately, book editors seem to be softer creatures than magazine editors. My own editor with Pen & Sword has been endlessly patient with me as I present the latest set of pathetic excuses as to why I still haven’t got the darn thing finished. On the other hand, as during this very afternoon, I can crank out 2,000 words plus photos if I need to. Go figure…
© Henry Hyde 2012