Beverley Scherberger

The only Writer / Editor you'll ever need.

#2 Homework and Guidelines

Always do your homework and follow the magazine's guidelines.

Always do your homework and follow the magazine’s submission guidelines.

Homework and Guidelines

When planning to write and submit an article for publication, all homework and research should be done beforehand. This is absolutely necessary unless you’re writing something completely casual and ‘off-the-cuff’ with no deadline or additional information needed. Homework includes knowing what your subject is and your target audience. Are you writing for children? Are you writing a technical paper? A press release? A feature article or human interest piece? Is the article intended for a magazine? A newspaper? Online?

Research would encompass interviews, online digging for facts, dates, quotes, etc. Anything you don’t know for a fact off the top of your head would fall into the research category. And you do not want to guess ~ if you’re not sure about something, check it out.

Answers to these questions all have an impact on how and what you write and the voice you use. Make these decisions before you start to write. Do your homework, research, and any necessary interviews first so you have facts, dates, quotes, and all pertinent information at your fingertips. This makes writing the article much easier. You won’t have to stop and do research in the middle of the ‘flow’.

If writing a press release about an event occurring on a specific date, do your homework and know your deadline. Check with the newspaper(s) you plan to submit to and find out when they need the press release in-house to make it to print before the date of the event. There’s no point in wasting your time writing the release if you can’t get it to the paper in time.

You’ll also want to find out how they want the piece submitted and who it should be sent to. You don’t want to send if off thinking you’re done, only to find out too late that it went to the wrong person or department. Or that it wasn’t written according to the paper’s specs and they rejected it. This is simple stuff that a bit of homework will clarify.

If submitting an article to a magazine, you have even more homework to do beforehand. Buy the last two or three current copies of the magazine (don’t just look up an old copy you have lying around the house) or go online and find them. Then read them. You need to know what type(s) of articles they run and if you can write what they want. If not, find another magazine for your intended article.

If the magazine seems like a good fit, find their masthead or credits page. That’s the page somewhere in the front of the magazine with a column listing the magazine’s employees: editors, contributing writers, the art department, etc. And before you write, you want to find out if they accept freelance articles ~ if not, you’ll be wasting your time. By now, you should realize just how important the homework is.

If the magazine doesn’t print their guidelines in the magazine (and most don’t), look them up online or send an email and request them. Online magazines will usually have a tab to their guidelines.

If the magazine you’re interested in only accepts articles with a query letter, you’ll need to write and submit the query before spending a lot of time on the article itself. For the query, begin your article, write a great lede and title, and sell yourself as the best writer for this particular piece. Include those with your letter. If you don’t know how to write a query letter, this should be your first bit of research.

Remember, you only have seconds to make a positive impression. Your query letter should be every bit as good as the article. After all, if your query is mediocre, why would the editor expect your article to be any better? Spend time on the query to perfect it and then be certain you’re sending it to the right person.

And this should go without saying but I’m going to say it anyway: spell the editor’s name correctly. And if at all possible, find out if the editor is male or female. Names are sometimes ambiguous and you do not want to address it to Mr. Leander Jones if it should be Ms. or Mrs. This will not elicit a positive response. So, again, do your homework beforehand.

Now let’s jump ahead… Say the response to your query was positive and they want your article by such-and-such a date. Time to get to work..

Print out that particular magazine’s submission guidelines and follow them exactly. If they want their articles to be 1200 words long, write 1200 words (or as close as possible). Do not submit a 900-word or 1500-word article and then be surprised when they reject it. Because they will reject it if it doesn’t fit with their guidelines. And above all, be sure to submit the article you originally queried ~ don’t just decide to do something else instead because you think it’s a better subject. The editor has approved an article on a particular topic, so stick to it.

If you find that the magazine will accept unsolicited articles, you can proceed with writing your piece. However, if the magazine runs mainly travel articles, don’t submit a piece on a town’s history, no matter how colorful it might be. Reading several issues of the magazine is crucial ~ you must know what types of articles they print. If you have a shorter piece that you think would be suitable for a certain section in the magazine, you can reference that section when you submit the piece. That shows the editor you have read the magazine and you are paying attention to the layout.


Until the next post, remember…

“Read to escape reality . . . Write to embrace it.”   ―     Stephanie Connolly


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