Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Getting It Together -- Part Five

Editor’s Note: This post is the fifth in a series of basic steps to writing the magazine article. If you are wondering about my headlines. I know it’s a bit different but I’m changing the headlines and extending the parts since they are connected.  Check out the previous articles: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four.

If you’ve never been published, then the road can be ladened with mines and throw you off at any juncture.  You’ve decided to write a magazine article which is focused on the reader (a key error many make) and you have one publication or several publications in mind to send your article. You’ve either determined to write the entire article and send it unsolicited or you’ve written a one page query letter and received an assignment.  With increased publishing experience, you can expect to write more on assignment and less on speculation (spec).  Even an assigned piece can some times not work out for a particular publication. Maybe the editor sees it and thought the query was a good idea—but the execution is wrong for their publication. I’ve not had this experience often but it does happen. In these cases, the magazine will often pay a “kill fee.” It’s a token payment for the writing work you poured into the article. Believe me, it’s better than nothing but pretty disappointing. 

Many years ago, I interviewed Dan Quayle on a magazine cover story. It was a challenge to reach the then-Vice President but the article was perfect—a November cover story during an election year. (This publication doesn’t exist any more—another common occurrence in the magazine world.) Unfortunately the Vice President was running late and crammed my 30 to 45 minute scheduled interview into about 15 minutes. My assigned format was a Q & A — which means the interview has to have something worthy of his actual words appearing as the main text of the article. I got nothing but cliches and pat answers in the crammed time frame. I wrote my article, turned it in—even turned in my transcribed interview. It resulted in a kill fee for vast amounts of time and energy.

Just remember, on the road to publication there are many possible junctures where it can fail.  Some are in your control and others are completely outside of your control. You control what you can and you work with the other details. It never gets published until you hold the finished magazine article or book in your hand.

You have your magazine idea and hopefully an assignment from your one page letter. What resources do you need to write this article? Will it involve research at the library or online? Yes, there are many resources still not online and the library is a valuable resource for any writer.

Will you need to interview someone for the article? How do you snag the interview with an expert? It’s easier than you would initially imagine. Has this “expert” written a book? Then your best course of action is to set up an interview through their publisher. Call the publisher and ask to speak to someone in publicity. It’s one of the few times I recommend people call the publisher. Tell the publicist about your assignment and ask for background materials (review copies of the books, other articles, etc.). Then ask the publicist to set up your interview and give the person the times when you are available. Wise authors who want to sell books take advantage of these interview possibilities.  You will quote this “expert” and mention their book in the article and get to tap their expertise and quotes for your article. It works as a package and everyone has something to gain from the experience—you, the expert and the publisher.

I’ve got much more information to say about the actual interview process but we’ll have to handle it tomorrow.

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