Summer is a great time to expand your horizons. If you attend a writers conference (and you should), go to sessions outside your current range. If you’re primarily a poet, attend a workshop on scriptwriting. If you usually write short stories, take a class on devotionals.
If you can’t attend a conference—or even if you do—take time to develop new talents and fresh markets for your manuscripts.
Expose yourself to a variety of magazines. Look in your Writer’s Market and The Christian Writer’s Market Guide for categories in which you’ve never sold material. If you are a mature person, analyze teen magazines. If you are Caucasian, look up magazines aimed at ethnic readers. If you live in the Midwest, look up periodicals that target people in other regions.
Select several magazines, then check online or write to request each one’s writers guidelines and a copy of a back issue. As a courtesy, enclose a check for the cover price if a back-dated version is not available online.
Study the Magazine
What sort of advertising does it carry? If you see ads for baby food and toys, this could be a great place for articles about child care. How liberal or conservative are its editorials and articles? To please the editor you’ll have to match that slant.
Use a highlighter to help analyze:
● article length
● the amount of dialogue
● the type of leads, transitions, and endings
● if there are any taboo areas
Style and Format
Study the writing style. Some periodicals refer to women by last name only (Smith, Wilson). Others insist that a title appear before a woman’s name (Mrs. Smith, Dr. Wilson).
Some magazines like authors to use a light style with contractions, quotations, short paragraphs, and even humor. Others prefer formal prose with paragraphs that contain a traditional topic sentence, support sentences, and a transition sentence.
Study the articles’ format. Does the editor like such elements as:
● reference notes
● charts, maps, and diagrams
● cartoons or other supplemental materials
Look at the table of contents. Is the magazine divided into subcategories (cooking, crafts, child care, entertainment)? Does it use nonfiction and fiction? Does it regularly feature an interview? (If so, is it presented as a question and answer or as a feature?) Does it use travel articles, book reviews, or guest editorials? Look for any place you might break in.
Then compare it with other periodicals in the same category. What subjects are their hot topics that recur in all the magazines? What sort of experts do they seek for advice? (These will be the kinds of people you need to interview.)
Conquer and Expand
Fortified by your new knowledge, prepare a couple query letters and send them to the editors. When you land an assignment, give it your all. When that article is published, use it to introduce yourself to editors of similar magazines. Keep working this plan until you’ve cracked them all.
Then keep writing for them, but move on to another new category. Keep expanding your knowledge and talents.
Dr. Dennis E. Hensley is director of the professional writing department at Taylor University (Upland, Indiana) and the author of 53 books, including Jesus in the 9 to 5 (AMG Publishers).
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