Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
The Writing Life
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by Hasmita Chander
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While there are still snake charmers who shouldn't be there, tigers that should be but are close to extinction, and a few tame elephants walking about in little cities here and there, there is also, alongside, a huge population that reads and writes in English -- which means English publications -- and paying writing opportunities.
There are a number of magazines for women. They cover subjects like fitness, glamour, fashion, beauty, cuisine, hobbies, travel destinations in India and abroad, lifestyles of the rich and famous, and women's issues. Men's magazines have been introduced recently which also incline toward the well-to-do, glamorous and stylish trends of living and dressing. Other types of consumer and special interest magazines include news and business, computing, interior decoration, architecture, photography, wildlife, children's, youth and teenage, health, and sports. Almost all magazines are national monthlies.
Standard submission is a cover letter and manuscript. Just as in any cover letter, hook the editor's interest, explain what your article is about, and mention your credentials and expertise on the subject. Type out, or get a clear printout of the manuscript. Make sure it is double-spaced, with enough margins left on either side of the page, and uses a readable font like Arial, or Times New Roman. The header should have the author's name and page number, the footer 'More follows... ' Enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply for local submissions and include International Reply Coupons (IRCs) instead of stamps if you're submitting from abroad -- for the minimum weight of a few sheets of letter paper, one IRC is enough. Addressing the editor by name is good. Enclosing photographs or illustrations increases your chances of publication but try not to send out your only copy because you may not get it back -- even if you enclose enough postage and an envelope.
The way it works
Hardly any publications issue contracts to freelance writers. While some of them will say it orally or by e-mail, there is rarely a signed paper agreement. Most publications buy all rights but don't have an objection if the article is rewritten and sent to a non-competing publication. Few are interested in a reprint unless the article is of exquisite importance. The best way to understand the needs of a magazine is to read several issues, as almost no publication will send out guidelines if you request them -- unless they want to use your work on a regular basis, in which case they may send you some Do's and Don'ts.
Payment is made in Indian Rupees by check usually a month after publication. You can check the latest conversion rates at http://www.xe.net/currency/. Here are some approximate conversions:
1$ (US) = Rs. 46
Most publications send the contributor a copy of the magazine in which the article appears.
So what do you write for an Indian publication?
As with writing for most publications abroad, keep to universal topics and general subjects unless you have something specifically Indian to talk about. You would have an advantage if you took a little time to get familiar with India -- this could not only ensure that you don't say something wrong or inapplicable in your article, but you could also get ideas for new articles from what you read.
Read all about it -- OK, at least a little!
The Internet comes in handy for research but if you're starting from scratch, typing 'India' into a search engine would bring up too many links. Two main sources for reliable information are newspapers, and books by Indian authors -- preferably those living in India. For example, R. K. Narayan's books give an excellent picture of the small town life of the yesteryears. Most national newspapers are available online. The Times of India is at http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/, the Hindustan Times at http://www.hindustantimes.com and the Indian Express at http://www.indian-express.com.
It would also be convenient if you knew someone in the country, to help you with your research -- even if it's only to find out if cayenne pepper is available easily in the market, or when winter begins.
Safe topics to write about
Write about technology, fashion, gardening, animals, books, health, celebrity interviews, anything, but make sure these articles (or essays, poetry, stories) either have a connection with India somewhere, or are so universal that it doesn't matter who reads it, or from where.
Another angle is that people are interested in knowing what's happening in other parts of the world -- culture, politics, fashion trends, advances in science and technology. Bring your news to them. If you do a write-up on some unique development in your part of the country, it could appeal to an Indian editor too. Even if it were something small but curious -- for example, your neighbor dug up a snowman-shaped potato with nose and eyes in place from her vegetable garden; a publication on vegetable gardening or even a women's magazine in India (or any country) would be interested to use it along with a photograph.
While editors and readers are open to reading articles by foreigners, avoid making these mistakes and stay in their good books:
Exceptions to all of the above exist of course. You could mention an ingredient unavailable here because you explain about it -- what it is, why it's special and essential for the flavor; maybe the reader will ask her uncle in Chicago to bring it for her when he comes to India next! Using brand names could be necessary if you're saying something about a particular brand, or if you're writing a business article about a company brand. Lastly, some Indian magazines do use American spelling -- Computers@Home for example. As mentioned earlier, you need to look at copies of the publication before submitting your work.
Admittedly, it's not very easy writing for India (it's not easy writing for any country outside your own) and you may not get a grand figure on your check either, but it is an additional market for your writing, plus an extra clip. Several magazines are glossy and high-color, so your clip is going to look good as well.
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.
Hasmita Chander is a freelance writer from Bangalore, India. She has had close to 200 articles and a dozen children's stories published in India and five other countries. She has been a contributing writer for Computers@Home (India), The Grapevine (USA) and The Star (Malaysia). She runs a list for writers called Writing in India (http://uk.groups.yahoo.com/group/writingindia/).