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Tips On...Writing Articles

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MORE TIPS ON…WRITING ARTICLES.Edit

When writing articles, it’s wise to remember that the title and opening paragraph is, effectively, your ‘showcase’. An uninteresting title or obscure opening paragraph might well confine your article to the editor’s ‘rejection’ pile immediately, no matter how brilliant the rest of the content is. Make sure, then, that the title and opening paragraph are ‘snappy’, concise, interesting and, if possible, entertaining. True, this might be a tall order if writing an article on, say, sheep farming in Shropshire, but it’s nonetheless vital to try to capture the imagination of that most important of all readers, the editor. Instead of calling your article ‘Sheep Farming Is On The Decline In Shropshire’ for example, you could, perhaps, consider ‘Why Shropshire Farmers Are Sheepish’ Or ‘Newest Technology Utilised in Kent Hop Growing’ as ‘Kent Hops To It’. Anyway, you get the general idea, even if my examples do leave something to be desired.

It’s a good idea to keep the opening paragraph down to a couple of sentences, although following paragraphs, in the ‘body’ of the article, should be more varied in length to keep things interesting. Don’t be tempted to do a Dickens (brilliant as he was) and produce sentences so convoluted that it takes half an hour to decipher their meaning. Article readers, in the main, prefer concise, clear and easily understandable text.

Rest assured, too, that an editor will not be so kind as to point out that you’ve rambled on and on endlessly. All you’ll receive for your pains will be yet another depressing rejection slip, probably with no explanation whatsoever as to where you went wrong.

An article needs to be packed with factsEdit

An article needs to be packed with facts (not to be confused with opinion) and the more the merrier. You can always edit out the unnecessary ones later, but try to get as much information into the article as possible. Try to sprinkle them evenly throughout the text, rather than cramming them all into the first few paragraphs and leaving nothing for the end. Pace is the key. And, most importantly, make sure your facts are correct! Don’t rely on memory. If in doubt, check, check and check again, from several sources if necessary. There’ll always be a reader out there somewhere who’ll be only too happy to point out (usually to the Editor, unfortunately) that this or that fact is wrong and your credibility, plus your next commission, could be lost.

RevisionEdit

Revision, boring as it often is, is of the utmost importance. It’s amazing how many mistakes you can spot if you put your article to one side and go back to it a few days later. Edit out unnecessary words, rewrite ambiguous sentences and be extra vigilant about grammar and spelling. You might be forgiven one or two mistakes, but if the text is littered with errors, an editor will rarely be bothered to read further.

Study your chosen market carefully.Edit

Don’t send off a 2000 word article on foxhunting to ‘Home and Gardens’, who are looking for a 1500 word article on how to keep snails at bay, unless you’re making a point of collecting rejection slips. This might seem obvious, but it’s a common mistake. Another is to write an article with no specific market in mind and then peddle it around in the hope that someone will take it. Every publication has its own individual house style and requirements and, unless you really get lucky and they happen to coincide, the article will be unsuitable and thus rejected. Again, study a few copies of your chosen target first, noting the style, content and average word count.

However, if you’ve studied the publication carefully and tailored your article to fit its requirements (style, length, etc) and it’s still rejected, it doesn’t necessarily mean the article was bad. In this case, it’s probably simply down to bad timing. Perhaps the slot has been filled, or the magazine was temporarily closed to submissions. You can always choose another market, tailor your article to it and hope you have better luck next time.

Although you can find hundreds of markets in The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and The Writer’s Handbook, these will only give you a basic indication of what a publication requires. It’s still necessary to study copies of the magazine/newspaper/journal itself to determine exactly what their style is and what they’ve published recently. As buying hundreds of magazines to study can be a somewhat pricey business unless your local newsagent happens to be your brother-in-law, you could either beg, borrow or steal friends copies (as I do), or visit your local library reading room.

SubmissionsEdit

Don’t forget to check whether publications accept submissions from outside contributors, as many use only their own in-house writers. If you have a brilliant idea that you think would suit a particular publication, however, you can always send a query letter to the relevant editor outlining your idea and asking if they’d be interested.

Make sure, too, that your submission/query letter is addressed to the correct editor (check first - they’re notorious for moving around a lot) and, more importantly of course, that the publication in question is still in print! Small Presses, for example, come and go at the drop of a hat. Light’s List and The Small Press Guide list hundreds of small press magazines, many of which take articles (although it has to be said the pay, if any, is usually poor), but even they sometimes struggle to keep abreast of which magazines have folded and which are still publishing.

Don't forget the other markets!Edit

Finally, don’t forget that, apart from newspaper and mass-market magazines, there are also hundreds of other, perhaps slightly more obscure publications to write for, many of which pay exceedingly well. Consider, for example, trade magazines, house journals for commercial companies, inflight and ferry magazines, hotel magazines, tourist magazines, club and association magazines and car company magazines. Sounds all very boring, perhaps, but they often cover a wide range of topics ranging from travel, food, lifestyle, leisure and sport to customs, towns festivals, countryside and events.

The possibilities are almost endless and, with a bit of research, it’s not too difficult to find something that you can turn your pen to.


USEFUL BOOKS FOR MARKETS.Edit

The Writer’s and Artists’ Yearbook.


The Writer’s Handbook.


Light’s List (for small presses)

John Light,

The Light House,

37 The Meadows,

Berwick upon Tweed,

Northumberland TD15 1NY

UK.


Tel: UK 01289 306523

Email: photon.press@cwcom.net


The Small Press Guide.

Writers’ Bookshop,

Remus House,

Coltsfoot Drive,

Woodston,

Peterborough PE2 9JX

UK.


© Andrea Lowne 2002

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