Off and on, we here at Written Road get the privilege of published writers sharing their expertise. Sean McLachlan, book author and freelance journalist (and Madrid Writer’s Group buddy! 🙂 was kind enough to allow us to reproduce a piece of his, originally published on www.writing-world.com; the one you will read below is an updated version.
Sean divides his time between Missouri and Spain. He is a regular contributor to Missouri Life magazine. He is the author of Byzantium: An Illustrated History (Hippocrene Books, 2004), Moon Handbooks London (Avalon, 2007), It Happened in Missouri (Globe Pequot, 2007), and Missouri: An Illustrated History (Hippocrene, 2008). Visit him on the web at www.seanmclachlan.com; if you have any questions, feel free to email him at seansontheweb (at) yahoo (dot) com.
Ten Tips For Landing Great Features In Your Home Area
By Sean McLachlan
If you’re frustrated by rejections from the big national magazines, your best bet for publication may be closer than you think. Instead of sending off queries to New York glossies that never answer, try querying state magazines.
So what are state magazines? They’re publications focusing on the lifestyle, attractions, and history of a particular state. Some have a specific focus, such as food or outdoor activities. More general publications such as Ohio Magazine or Missouri Life offer features, travel tips, and photographs on a wide range of subjects. State magazines generally pay well and add attractive clips to your portfolio. They’re widely read, every state has one or more of them, and many are open to beginning writers with a good knowledge of the region. Here are some tips on getting in.
1. The big three. The three subjects state magazine editors look for most are: travel, town or personal profiles, and history. Editors especially want articles that show their state to be unique, unusual, or important. I pitched to Missouri Life about St. Louis being the site of the westernmost battle of the American Revolution. The editor of leapt at the idea. None of the staff, and few of the readers, had heard of this important but nearly forgotten battle.
2. Find an unusual angle. The obvious ideas have probably been done. The old advice of checking back issues before you submit is twice as true with state magazines, since their regional focus limits their subject matter. This is where your writer’s creativity comes in. Has your town been profiled? Check if they missed an interesting new attraction or historical anecdote. The Civil War been done to death? Find a decorated veteran of the Korean War, or delve back in time and write about the War of 1812.
3. Good color photos are a must. State magazines are usually glossy and rely on beautiful pictures to attract the eye on those crowded magazine stands. Ask yourself, “how can I make my readers see the story?” Pick a place that’s attractive, like that forested path leading to a hidden creek, or something funky, like the oil rigs a rancher painted to look like grasshoppers. History articles need to be well illustrated too. Historical societies have a wealth of photographs they’re happy to share with the public, and the editor will usually pick up any fees. If you aren’t a good photographer, don’t let that stop you. Editors generally have a list of local photographers they can call on.
4. Don’t forget the specialty magazines. If the main state magazine is tough to break into, there are generally more specialized magazines open to beginners. They focus on everything from food, specific sports, and art, to religious or ethnic communities. Some concentrate on specific locations, such as Arizona Foothills Magazine, which covers wealthy residential neighborhoods. Features for these magazines generally range from $25 to $300, although some pay much more, while major state magazines generally pay $300 to $1000 and up. If you have knowledge of a specific topic, local specialty magazines can give you that first break you need. Once you’ve assembled some clips, it’s time to pitch the big boys!
5. Have a nose for news. Read your state’s newspapers and magazines. Perhaps the winner of the local marathon is a cancer survivor. Profile her. Is the state capitol building getting a facelift? Do a photo essay and interview the restoration crew. Be quick; other freelancers may get the same ideas, but remember that just because a story has been covered doesn’t mean it can’t be done from a different angle.
6. Start small. Magazines generally have departments at the front with briefs. These cover recent developments or subjects that don’t need a full article. These briefs are short (generally 250 words or less) and quick to do. They’re a great way to break in since editors are more willing to risk a quarter page on an untested writer than a whole six-page feature.
7. Network, network, network. Get to know the folks at the department of tourism. Subscribe to the local university’s news wire. Meet those archaeologists excavating that prehistoric village. Make sure everyone knows you’re hunting story ideas and check in with them periodically, without making yourself a pain in the neck. Public relations people are good sources of information, but beware. Their job is more to advertise than inform, so always check your facts.
8. Market to the magazine’s needs. Pay attention to the type of articles published in the magazine and the kind of people who buy it. For example, Texas Highways is published by the Texas Department of Transportation, and they want all the subjects to be destinations reachable by automobile.
9. Play to your strengths. Are you an avid cyclist? Pitch an article on the ten best routes in your state. Do you collect model trains? Do a feature on the railway museum. Writing about what you love makes your enthusiasm and knowledge shine through in your prose.
10. Get around. Become an expert on your state. Is there an historic home in the next county? Take the tour. A trail in the state park you’ve never done? Hike it. Even if these trips don’t turn into articles, you’ll get to know your state better. Don’t worry if you’re a newcomer to the area; that can give your article a freshness longtime residents lack. Now get out there and start finding ideas!
Markets Mentioned in the Text
Arizona Foothills Magazine: Their subtitle, Style, Substance, Sophistication, should tell you a lot. Their readership tends to be well off, live in the affluent foothills around Phoenix or Tucson, or looking to relocate there. This monthly wants upbeat and up-to-date articles with a local angle and reader-service sidebars. Features are 900-2,000 words and cover fine dining, fashion, home decorating, architecture, shopping, golf, and the arts. They are looking to expand their coverage of the Tucson foothills. Pays 40 cents a word on publication. Contact: Elizabeth Smith, Media That Delivers, Inc., 8132 N. 87th Place, Scottsdale, AZ, 85258. Email: editorial (at) azfoothillsmag (dot) com, no phone queries. Website: http://www.azfoothillsmag.com
Ohio Magazine: The website for this monthly states they want “stories that celebrate Ohio— its people, its rich culture and heritage, and especially its travel spots. Our audience is educated, active, affluent and very loyal to Ohio.” They’re especially looking for profiles of interesting Ohioans, top travel destinations, arts, culture, and local trends in cuisine and home decorating. Pays $300-1,200 for 1,000 to 3,000 word features on publication. Send resume, SASE and at least three clips to: Richard Osborne, Editorial Director, Ohio Magazine, 1422 Euclid Ave., Suite 730, Cleveland, OH 44115. Email editorial (at) ohiomagazine (dot) com, no phone queries. Website: www.ohiomagazine.com
Texas Highways: Subtitled “The Travel Magazine of Texas”, this monthly is published by the Texas Department of Transportation. The majority of its readers are over 60 and enjoy stories about scenery, small towns, and history. Focus on places reachable by automobile. Pays 40-50 cents per word for articles of 1,200-1,600 words on acceptance. Submit a query outlining your idea in the style you will use. Include a SASE. Send queries to: Texas Highways Editor P.O. Box 141009 Austin, Texas 78714-1009. Phone: (512) 486-5858. Website: www.texashighways.com
Missouri Life: This bimonthly covers every aspect of travel and life in the state, with an emphasis on history. Most issues have at least one article on the Civil War. Wants features of 300-2,000 words, pays 20 cents a word on publication. Contact Danita Allen Wood, editor-in-chief, Missouri Life, Inc., 515 Morgan St., Boonville, MO, 65233. Phone: (660) 882-9898. Email: info (at) missourilife (dot) com. Website: www.missourilife.com.
Five Ways to Increase Your Chances of Acceptance
1. Know your subject. Be an expert BEFORE you make the pitch.
2. Know the magazine. Read several issues. Work this knowledge into your pitch.
3. Be flexible. Editors will often have their own take on a subject and want you to change focus, so be willing to bend. After all, they’re paying you.
4. Be prepared with photo ideas. Editors want to know how the article will be illustrated.
5. Be ready with spin-off ideas. If the editor doesn’t want your story on the local literary festival, suggest a profile of a local author who will be in attendance.
Sense a trend in this advice? The whole game is to make it harder for the editor to say “no.” Remember, they don’t want to say “no.” They say “no” way too often. Editors want to say “yes” because it means they can fill up part of an upcoming issue and their day becomes less stressful. Give them a reason to say “yes.”