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Take Your Specialty for a Spin
by Moira Allen
Starting Your Writing Career · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version
What's your interest? Is it dogs, budgies, or ferrets? Big game hunting, archery, or rappelling? Ceramics, needlepoint, or rock collecting? Perhaps your favorite activity is to dig in a garden, tile a kitchen, or rebuild a transmission.
No matter what your favorite activity or hobby is, chances are that a magazine covers it. Special interest publications make up the largest segment of the consumer magazine marketplace. These magazines are always hungry for new writers, including beginners who don't have a portfolio of clips. One reason is that many such publications don't pay the high rates that professionals expect; another is the need for fresh voices and perspectives.
"But I'm not an Expert"
You don't have to be an expert in your favorite hobby or sport to write for such magazines. Experts often don't have time to write articles about their hobbies, which is why many articles are written by enthusiasts. "Enthusiasm" is key: If you care about your subject, that enthusiasm will show in your writing, and will also engage the enthusiasm of others. For example:
- You know what interests you about a hobby or activity, which means you'll be able to determine topics that will interest readers like you.
- You know the types of questions someone like yourself would ask -- the questions
your article should answer.
- You know what it's like to start with the basics, and are thus well-qualified to help
- You know the "language" of your specialty, whether it's the lingo of flyfishing or
the jargon of the dog show circuit.
- You have a desire to learn more about the subject, and as you do, you can share
your knowledge with others.
- You have experience in the subject area,
These qualities appeal to an editor as much as a sheaf of clips. When you approach a special interest market, non-writing credentials are an important part of your pitch: "I've been quilting for ten years," or "I've owned Norwegian Elkhounds for most of my life." Even a pitch like "I've always been fascinated by..." can get an editor's attention.
Understanding the Markets
Writer's Market offers a host of special interest categories, from "animals" to
"travel." Each of these offers an equally large number of subtopics (under sports, for example, you'll find 22 subcategories, ranging from "archery" to "wrestling").
Its not enough just to find a magazine that covers your subject, however. Your research also needs to determine three additional things:
- The magazine's degree of specialization. A magazine titled Pet World, for example, is obviously aimed at a very different audience from one titled Turtle Monthly.
- The expertise of the audience. Does the magazine target beginners, experts, or both? If a magazine is designed for experienced gardeners, you won't break in with "My First Vegetable Patch."
- The mindset of the audience. Two magazines on the same subject may take very different approaches. For example, a dog magazine aimed at breeders won't want an article on adopting mixed-breed pound-puppies, while one for pet owners won't be interested in an article on breeding and whelping.
"But what could I write about (pets, flyfishing, paper airplanes)?" you ask. The answer lies in determining a magazine's basic article mix: The "must-have" categories that appear in every issue. To determine this, you'll need to review the contents of several back issues (if you can't find copies, try searching for an index of back-issues on-line). You'll soon find that most special interest publications publish a mix of articles that fit into the following topic areas:
- How-to Articles. These are the staple of such publications. Most special interest publications are by nature "how-to" magazines: How to repair a car, plant a garden, raise a puppy, catch a fish, knit a sweater. Within that basic context, how-to articles focus on specific issues: How to do something new or unusual, solve a common problem, develop a skill, or increase one's enjoyment.
- Health and Safety. Many special interest areas (especially sports and recreation) involve health and/or safety issues, such as how to avoid safety hazards, how to handle emergencies, or how to improve one's health by participating in an activity. Pet magazines always need articles on maintaining the health and safety of the pet (including nutrition and first aid pieces). You don't have to be a doctor or a vet to write these pieces; many markets prefer such articles from the perspective of a typical "participant."
- Equipment. What are the tools of your trade? Consider an article on how to choose the right equipment, how to determine what tools are needed for a specific project, how to take care of your equipment, how to build equipment (e.g., how to build a doghouse), or how to use equipment safely. (Equipment information can often be built into a how-to piece.)
- Seasonal. Some activities are seasonal by nature; others have seasonal concerns. If you love gardening, for example; think about the "off" seasons: "How to add fall color to your garden," or "how to winterize your fruit trees." Pet magazines look for articles on summer travel and winter safety; consider, for example, seasonal-related health issues (such as flea control). Remember that seasonal articles should be submitted 4 to 6 months in advance.
- Destination. With a little imagination, you can incorporate a "destination" slant into many types of articles. For a fishing publication, you might cover the "Top Ten Trout Streams of Northern Idaho." For a dog magazine, you might cover "The Ten Most Dog-Friendly Parks in the U.S." (a great "seasonal" piece for summer travel). For a quilt magazine, consider covering an event like "Pennsylvania's Annual Amish Quilt Spectacular." Just be sure that whatever is happening at your "destination" will appeal to all the magazine's readers.
- Historical Background. Though these are low on some publications' list, a well-written background piece can still be a good way to "break in." One way to make this type of article work is to combine it with "how-to" tips: For example, a look at the "history of English pewter" could include tips on collecting or care.
- Personal Profiles. Some magazines love these; others won't touch them. Personal profiles usually highlight someone whose work has achieved recognition, who has made a significant contribution to the field, or who is doing something unique or unusual in the field. For example, a woodcarving magazine might be interested in someone whose work has just been featured in the Smithsonian, or an immigrant who has "carved out" a new life with a rare "old country" skill. Some magazines prefer to combine "who" with "how," such as an embroidery publication that ran an article on a lacemaker who used traditional techniques, along with information on how the reader could apply those skills.
- Current Issues and Controversies. If your interest area is affected by controversy or legislation, a magazine may be interested in such coverage. A pet magazine, for example, may be interested in anti-breed legislation or other laws restricting pets. Be sure that the issue has more than regional appeal, however; does it establish a precedent that could affect enthusiasts nationwide?
- Personal Experiences. These are generally lowest on a magazine's "must- have" list. Most publications publish, at most, one per issue -- yet most are flooded with such articles (often by amateurs). While it's not impossible to sell such a piece, you must be sure that your experience is truly unique and avoids the "been there, done that" factor. ("My first puppy," for example, will be of no interest to readers who have had the identical experience not just once but many times.)
To further improve your chances of a sale, look for categories that overlap. For example, consider a "how-to" article that includes a discussion of the equipment needed for the project, or a seasonal article that covers health hazards. Editors are always happy to find an article that fills two "must-have" slots at once.
Take a look at your favorite activity, sport, hobby or love. Ask yourself what you could say about that topic that fits into one of the categories listed above. Be creative, and don't limit yourself to the things you already know. Instead, consider what questions you might ask, what you'd like to learn more about. If you have questions, chances are that a magazine's readers will have those questions as well -- and by answering them, you could turn your curiosity into a sale.
Find Out More...
Copyright © 2001 Moira Allen
- To Specialize or Generalize?, by Moira Allen
This article may be reprinted provided that the author's byline, bio, and copyright notice are retained in their entirety. For complete details on reprinting articles by Moira Allen, please click HERE.|
Moira Allen is the editor of Writing-World.com, and has written nearly 400 articles, serving as a columnist and regular contributor for such publications as The Writer, Entrepreneur, Writer's Digest, and Byline. An award-winning writer, Allen is the author of eight books, including Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals, and Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests. In addition to Writing-World.com, Allen hosts VictorianVoices.net, a growing archive of articles from Victorian periodicals, and The Pet Loss Support Page, a resource for grieving pet owners. She lives in Maryland with her husband and the obligatory writer's cat. She can be contacted at editors "at" writing-world.com.
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