An Editor's Attention
by Alexander Craghead
Many newer writers lament the fact that it is difficult to get that first, vital "published credit" to add to their portfolios. However, once you know what an editor is looking for, the odds are suddenly stacked in your favor.
I have done these things, it's how I got started. If I, professional amateur, can do that, so can you. Here's what I've learned:
1. Look for small market magazines in your local area/region. Think circulations below 50k -- below 20k even. Preferably hit a mag in your line of work or expertise. Small publications don't pay much, but they are Hungry, always looking for talent.
2. Find out who the editor is, send them a nice note saying who you are and asking if they'd be interested in any story ideas. An email, or a very short letter, should suffice. Why an intro? Non-fiction editors deal in personalities. If they like you, they'll rely on you as a known source of material.
(Please note this would not be the same criteria I would advise for a national market. They don't have time for relationships or intro notes, even short ones, from people they don't already know.)
3. If they write back saying, sure, send some ideas, *don't call them*, unless they return your communication and state in the body that they can be reached at such and such number. Most times small market editors are also the sales staff, and may be busy working prospective clients.
4. Be willing to work for nothing at first. Better you have credits for unpaid articles than be only willing to work for moolah and have no credits at all. A resume will help when you move on to another publication, whether there was money in it or not.
Also, be up front about pay issues. See next item.
5.Think up your best story ideas, and send them. Try to keep word count down to 500 words initially -- it's all an editor would probably give you the first time out -- and make them small, juicy gems. Try to keep your ideas below a total of 3, with your best first. Keep it brief, but do indicate if you have illustrations (photos) suitable for use -- slides or digital only please.
Also try to show you are familiar with the publication -- which you had better genuinely be! -- and tell the editor how you think the "audience" will enjoy the story, why it fits, etc.... Also indicate that you are willing to modify your story ideas if the editor would like to see a variation on one of your proposals.
If you can point out similar articles elsewhere, don't hesitate to. And if you have graphic suggestions of how to display the story, mention those too, as magazine editors think in color, not in text.
Now is also the time to make a discrete inquiry -- perhaps in your PS -- as to what pay arrangements to expect. Good form suggests that if one of your ideas is accepted, you ought to write the story for them, even if they tell you no pay is offered.
6. If you get an assignment, you will want to communicate after the assignment is given, to make sure you are both on the same page. After that, only communicate with your editor if you need guidance, have a problem, or are sending the finished work.
7. Do your best work -- the Queen Mum is coming, so no errors and no funny business -- be one with the word processor! ;-) Check, check, and double check. Read it aloud to yourself or to others. Review and reduce. Print a copy and read it, you will find errors your spell check and your computer editing did not.
8. Once you are published, maintain this relationship you've built. You can now sub for the intro letter communiques regarding the direction you'd like to go with future stories, or you can skip ahead and send another query, this time for a longer or more in depth story. It'll get easier the more you work with an editor.
Keep pace with them. Let them dictate the flow of how much communication there should be. It's rather like dancing, or an affair really. (Sexist, I know.) You let them decide how strong a dose they want to take of you, and you always try to leave them wanting a little more.
9. Don't disappoint. Whatever you do, don't promise what you can't deliver, and don't let them rely on you, and then show up late, or not at all. If you think you are going to be late, warn them. And then work your tail off. Your deadline is a matter of honor. Keep it at all costs.
Hope that is helpful to someone, somewhere, trying to break in.
© Copyright 2002 Alexander Craghead
PS -- I did not always follow the above advice. When I didn't, I didn't get published. When I did, I was published well. It is only now, looking back over the last few years, that I have recognized the good and the bad. So it is advice I too need to take from now on!
is a Portland-based freelance writer and photographer. He
has had work published in several magazines and is
currently at work on a fiction novel. You can learn more
about Alexander here
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