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Planning Retirement Online

Writer's Block: Where To Get Published

Let us imagine that you have a good idea for a written piece - a readers letter, review or article, say - and would like to get it into print. Letters and humorous articles are usually sent in full as it is hard to get across their essence in a summary, but for longer pieces you will usually need to sell the idea to an editor. Those responsible for commissioning work will want to know three things:

  1. What the item will be about
  2. Why it is right for their readers and publication
  3. Why you are the best person to write it.

This is known as the Query Letter, and I will go into more detail in a later column explaining exactly what to put into your letter (which nowadays is likely to be in the form of an email). For today I want to focus on how to build up a good list of potential editors you might approach, as well as how to make sure you submit the most appropriate work.

Out shopping, it is very easy to believe that the only market for novice writers is the wide range of consumer magazines you find at newsagents and supermarkets covering hobbies, interests and specialist groups. Certainly this is fertile ground if you have knowledge, enthusiasm and expertise in one area. But publications exist that are not sold in this way and they too need material to publish.

Here are 10 different categories of publication you could explore when looking for a suitable outlet for your writing:

  • Companies or organizations' own publications aimed at customers e.g. a supermarket or in-flight magazine
  • Newspapers, particularly for their supplements as they cover a wide range of subjects such as travel, money, fashion or cookery
  • In-house magazines and journals, particularly if you are a current or ex-member of staff
  • Trade magazines, catering for those in businesses such as running pubs or selling advertising
  • Professional association or society publications written for their members
  • Local magazines or newspapers interested in what is going on in the village, region or town
  • Science and technology publications used to communicate with other specialists about new research or developments
  • TV listings magazines (mainly interested in your letters)
  • Websites - both specialist and general sites all need regular copy and many are very similar to publications you find in print
  • Consumer magazines. For those interested in gardening, breeding fish, motorbikes, interior design or photography etc., there is probably at least one magazine covering the subject. You can also find publications aimed at groups such as the over 50s, men, women or parents...

Many quite different types of magazine or journal carry articles on the same topic e.g. travel, health or food. But the readers can be very different and so you need to know as much as you can about your potential audience before you can prepare the most appropriate work. The shorthand for this is "get to know the magazine".

The sort of homework you need to do before putting pen to paper is to find out

  • The age range you should write for.
  • The educational level of readers
  • Their financial situation.
  • What slant would interest them.
  • The style of writing they normally enjoy reading

You can of course guess, but it is far better to get the answers from examples of the magazine, paper or journal itself. For example:

  1. What or who is on the cover? A political figure, elderly actress, fashion model or boat, perhaps.
  2. What subjects do letters to the editor cover?
  3. What categories of article do they include?
  4. What are they advertising?
  5. What prizes do they offer in their competitions?
  6. What is the "message from the editor" all about?
  7. What books, films, places or events do they review or promote?
  8. How are topics treated?

Once you have this information, there is no excuse for sending off unsuitable and inappropriate material as the editor will simply reject it out of hand..

One of the biggest mistakes writing novices make is to write what they want to write and then look around for a publication that seems vaguely to cover that subject matter. Their material is often written in the form of a personal story disguised as a helpful article on a subject like losing weight, coping with divorce or going on holiday. Sadly such writers are deluding themselves if they think the editor will be fooled - it is very easy to spot such behaviour.

To be published, first of all establish what your filler, letter, review or article will be about and make sure it is something the readers of your target publication are likely to want to read. THEN, think about the style in which to write it that fits in with the magazine's normal house style, will appeal to readers and will give them something to take away from your writing. Finally, for anything other than an obviously "confessional" column, include a short personal anecdote or two, but only if these are relevant and add to the story,. It will then be clear that the subject of the article is your chosen topic and is not the unknown and probably not very interesting author..

If you have any writing queries, please send them to jackie@laterlife.com.

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