Going the Freelance Route? Some Advice for Magazine Publishing.
By Randi Lynn Mrvos
You’ve researched and written an outstanding piece. You’ve submitted it to several markets. But the rejections start rolling in. Why is it so difficult to earn an acceptance? Is there a mystery to getting published?
As the nonfiction editor for Stories for Children Magazine, I must occasionally pass on a submission. It’s sad, because these writers could have avoided rejection—if only they had studied the market or had spent more time perfecting their submission. You can avoid their fate. Below are several suggestions that will help increase your chances of an acceptance.
Be sure that your work is a perfect fit for the magazine.
It’s like dating. You are striving to find a good match for your work. For example, an educational article would be more welcome in an instructional magazine as opposed to a science fiction magazine. Look at the table of contents of magazines you’d like to submit to. Your work should complement the other titles.
Occasionally, writers submit a memoir piece or a personal essay to Stories for Children Magazine. These writers have failed to recognize the kinds of articles that we publish.
Understand the magazine’s mission statement.
A mission statement is the fundamental purpose of the magazine. It’s usually found
on a magazine website under the section “About Us.” A mission statement explains whether the magazine’s goal is to educate, to provide news, to entertain, or to inspire. Before submitting to a magazine, fully understand the mission statement so that you’ll be more prepared to meet an editor’s needs.
Read back copies of the magazine
Study at least three to six magazine back issues. You will discover the kind of topics that are published, the word count, the audience age group, and the style and tone of the published pieces.
I must confess that I once came close to querying a children’s magazine without looking at sample copies. I reviewed the magazine website online and felt I understood the column for which I planned to pitch. However, since I was unsure about the word count (the website didn’t include this information) I picked up five copies at the library. When I reviewed the copies, I noticed that the column used short pieces on light-hearted topics. In contrast, I had written a 700-word article that focused on animal research. Had I not read the back issues, I would have been way off the mark.
Follow the writers’ guidelines.
Each publication has specific contributor guidelines. By following the guidelines, you’ll discover the intended word count for articles, how an editor wants your manuscript formatted, how to provide your contact information, and how to submit. You may even find a wish list of topics or an editorial calendar.
The guidelines for Stories for Children Magazine inform writers exactly how the subject line of an email submission should read. In addition, they specifically state that writers put contact information and manuscript details in the top right corner so that editors can easily glance at a submission to know the name of the author, the address for payment, the kind of article (fiction or nonfiction), and the age group.
A while back, a writer submitted a nice piece, but failed to format her manuscript as indicated. She wrote me that it was my job to format her article. Pity, she would have received an acceptance if only she had taken a few minutes to edit her piece as requested.
Use impeccable sources
Avoid using out-of-date books as sources. I still remember a submission in which the writer cited a book that had been published over 50 years ago. How current is that?
Use an abundance of primary sources like journal and newspaper articles. Consider conducting interviews, either through email or over the phone. Experts can clarify facts and supply outstanding quotes. They can even offer information that’s not yet published.
Think about meeting the subject of your article if possible. When I wrote about a candy-loving Kentucky Derby horse, I interviewed its owner, its world-famous trainer, and even talked with the track manager of Churchill Downs Racetrack. I also met the thoroughbred (and fed him peppermints.) Conducting these interviews and meeting my subject helped me to land a much-sought after assignment.
Have a hook and a conclusion with a tie-in
A lot of writers forget that writing nonfiction is like writing fiction. There should be a hook—a way to pull readers into the piece. A bit of conflict moves the piece along and keeps the audience interested. A tie-in to the beginning brings about a satisfying ending.
Check out the hook in this article written by Erin K. Schonauer and Jamie C. Schonauer for Stories for Children Magazine: “The Grand Old Lady of the Ozarks is calling. Come inside, unpack your bags, stay a night, but be aware you may be sharing a room with unexpected guests.” Makes you want to read on, huh?
Here’s the conclusion: “So it’s up to you. Whether you decide to check in or check out, be prepared to share a hotel with ghostly guests.” Nice tie-in to the beginning.
Edit your manuscript.
I’ve seen the following in submissions: the improper use of homonyms, the lack of capitalization of proper nouns, the lack of italics for movie titles, book titles, and the misuse of apostrophes showing possession.
For example, once I came across this sentence in a submission: “The loan rider traveled through the dessert.” I’ve seen the word “their” used when it should have been “there” and “it’s” used as a possessive.
Grammar counts! Refer to a dictionary or The Chicago Manual of Style. In addition, have a trusted friend review your work before you submit. Revise your piece if necessary.
Getting published is difficult for two reasons: an editor’s opinion is subjective and your submission competes with others. But, you can improve your chances of publication if you understand the purpose and style of the magazine. When you follow the guidelines, use reliable sources, and submit an error-free (and of course, a unique) manuscript, you may just make an editor’s day.
You should keep in mind that rejection does not mean failure. Rejections are a part of the writing life. Ask any published writer. It’s how you learn. It’s how you grow. Stay positive and believe in yourself. Know that publication is within your reach. You’ve pushed aside the mystery of getting published. Continue to practice your craft. Be patient and most of all, persevere.
Randi Lynn Mrvos is an award-winning picture book writer, the nonfiction editor for Stories for Children Magazine, a columnist for the writer’s newsletter Extra Innings, and an editor for the educational website www.viatouch.com. Her publishing credits include Scholastic Books, Gryphon House, Highlights for Children, Appleseeds, KNOW, and Nature Friend as well as writers’ and parenting websites and magazines.