Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
The Writing Life
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by Rosemary Bennett
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The types of article accepted from the freelance can be surprisingly varied. For example, in the US, Ancestry Magazine asks readers to send in a variety of things such as family photos of ancestors making history (with a 50-word story explaining the picture), a favourite family recipe, an article describing how you eventually tracked down an elusive ancestor, and photos and descriptions of family heirlooms. The payments vary from $50-$300.
In the UK, Your Family Tree Magazine publishes readers' case histories, and also runs a "Skeleton in the Cupboard" article in which a reader tells the story of an ancestor who had criminal tendencies or was perhaps a notorious womaniser. The latter type of article is 700 words in length.
Other family history magazines run similar sections and many in the US publish writers' guidelines. These can appear under a variety of names including "Author Notes," "Submit," "Contributors' Guidelines," etc., so visit the website of your favourite magazine and read their requirements carefully. Magazines in the UK are less likely to publish guidelines, so the procedure here is to send an enquiry to the editor. In this you should set out brief details of your proposed article and ask any relevant questions, such as whether the magazine pays for contributions.
Whether or not there are guidelines, a careful study of the magazine must now be made. What is the style of the magazines? Is it scholarly or an easy read -- aimed at the knowledgeable amateur or the beginner? Do the articles written by amateurs contain details of how they found the information about their ancestors, and if so how much detail is given? If such information is included, is it given in a box or in the body of the article? All these points must be born in mind when planning your own article.
As well as the magazines published in the writer's own country there may be the possibility of writing 'cross-border' articles. If you live in America, did your ancestor come from the UK? Might his adventures be of interest to UK readers as well as those in the US? If you live in the UK, did an ancestor move to America or Canada? His adventures might appeal to readers in his country of origin and his new homeland.
Besides all these opportunities, there are also openings for social history pieces. Many people are becoming interested in more than just tracing their ancestors and researching their lives. They want to know what life in general was like for their ancestors. If you have looked into an aspect of this perhaps you could write an interesting article setting the scene in which your ancestor lived. Another possibility is to give details of your ancestor's occupation if this was unusual, especially if it is now obsolete. Similar pieces might also be suitable for local history magazines, although in the UK at least these are not always paying markets.
As well as magazines dealing exclusively with family history, there are openings for articles on the subject to be sold to other types of magazine. For example, I am a retired civil servant and some years ago I sold an article outlining the problems and pitfalls of family history research to a civil service retirement magazine. It transpired that the editor had recently taken up the hobby and jumped at the chance of some hints and tips on the subject. The article was not difficult to write as it was based on problems encountered by my husband and myself when researching our own family history -- problems of which beginners might not be aware. The article earned me a very worthwhile fee.
Other types of publications such as those for women, hobby, retirement, and general interest magazines might also accept something based on your researches, especially if there was an interesting story involved. It does no harm to enquire. Or what about a trade magazine relating to the trade in which your ancestor worked? Editors of trade magazine sometimes like pieces that entertain their readers as a change from the work-related type of article. A bonus of writing this kind of piece is that you have already done the research while looking into your own family history. Family history research can be expensive, so why not let your writing subsidise it?
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.
Rosemary Bennett is a former civil servant who is now a part-time freelance writer. She lives with her husband in the country in the south of England. Her specialities are local and national history, the countryside, customs, traditions, etc, and her work has appeared in numerous magazines and also online. Family history is one of her hobbies and for nearly three years she wrote a column for the UK magazine Your Family Tree; she still writes the occasional feature for the magazine.