Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Tis the Season to be Topical, Fa La La La La, La La La La

It's all very well having a great idea and knowing exactly which magazine you want to write for, but to really increase your chances of publication, you need a topical hook.

But what exactly is a topical hook?

Well let's just step out of the writer's shoes for a moment, and step into those of the editor. Depending upon the frequency of the publication, he or she will be thinking about the cover date of the issue and what will be happening at the time. So many magazines out at the moment have christmas themes. Monthly publications will consider valentine themes for the February issue, Easter ideas for March or April, school holiday themes for July and August issues, halloween for October and Bonfire night for November.

These are the obvious themes, and in some ways, the ones to avoid because EVERYBODY is doing them. But the important point is that when an editor receives an article which they like, they will consider which is the best issue for it to appear in.

I've just had an article published in Evergreen magazine about a local legend - the Reverend Carr who used to walk 8 miles between churches, over the hills to gives his sermons. One January in the 19th century, he was tackling his 8 mile route during what turned out to be the worst snowstorm of the century. He spent a freezing night in the snow and everyone thought he had died. Miraculously, he survived to tell the tale.

It's a great story, and because it happened in January, the editor has used it in the Winter issue of Evergreen magazine, despite the fact that I sent it last Spring. (Because Evergreen magazine is a quarterly, I was only submitting 3 issues ahead anyway.)

Your chances of publication increase, if you can find this topical hook upon which to hang your article. I've written several articles about earthquakes in Britain. I had a piece published in The Lady and I used the 3rd anniversary of Britain's last big quake, as my topical hook. Anniversaries are great topical hooks. But I also wrote about earthquakes for the local county magazines, targetting the issues of the anniverseries of the last big quakes to hit them. The best one (from a title point of view) was Wales. The last big quake to hit Wales happened a few years ago on 14th February. The earth moved for some people on that Valentine's Day! So I targetted my article for the February issue.

This also means that it's important to know how far in advance magazines and papers work. Many monthly magazines work three to four months in advance. It's December now, but I'm working on April articles for many magazines. Weekly magazines often work 6 to 8 weeks in advance. However the bigger anniversaries or topical issues (Christmas) are often planned out 12 months before. In fact the Chistmas issues of magazines you're reading now may well have been written and put together last June!

So get into the habit of thinking ahead and giving your work that topical hook. Give the editor a reason to use your work in a particular issue. If you don't, but they like your work, the editor may well hang on to it for possible use when space becomes available. This will make you feel good, but in the real world, space rarely becomes available and your article may not be used. If you've written an article for the May issue of the magazine and the editor likes it, then he's got to make space for it in the May issue.

Next time you hit upon an idea, think clearly about topicality. Give the editor a reason for using your work in a specific issue, and your chances of publication may well increase.

Good luck.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Where Do I Find Markets

How can I keep up to date with what's happening in the market?

This is a valid question. After all, I'm always telling students that they should address their submissions to a named editor, but people change jobs in any industry and it is important to keep up to date.

A good first port of call is Freelance Market News which is available from Writers Bureau. ( This provides details of many publications, not just in the UK, but abroad as well.

Other magazines which you may find useful include:

The New Writer (

Writer's News and Writing Magazine (

Mslexia is aimed at women who write (

Writers' Forum (

Useful Writing Websites include:

Writelink (

Jacqui Bennet Writers Bureau (

Ask About Writing (

Guidelines for hundreds of magazines (

And finally, and excellent forum based website is My Writers Circle (

Good luck - but don't forget to do some writing whilst you are busy surfing the web!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Never Throw Anything Away!

One of my students (Helen Baggott), has just had a success with a piece of her work. Her letter to Writer's Forum magazine is the Star Letter (£50) in the January 2008 issue. Her story though is a great example of how nothing is wasted in this freelance writing game.

Remember my article on writing reviews etc? I was going to submit it to Writers' Forum, but they covered the topic in their next issue. So, I reworked it as a letter and I've won £50 as their star letter in their current issue!

At first, many writers would be dismayed to see that an idea they had just had, then turn up in the next issue of the magazine they were targeting. Ironically I think many writers should be pleased with themselves - it proves that you are thinking along the right lines for your target market! But that didn't stop Helen. Instead, she used the article that had been published as her reason for writing the letter - and then went on to use some of the information in her article to expand her letter further. It is the perfect letter - it refers back to a previous article, yet it also gives readers additional information - which is why she was rewarded with the Star Letter.

The best bit is that this doesn't stop Helen from targeting another suitable magazine and rewriting her original article to fit her new market.

So the lesson is - never throw anything away. You never know when you may be able to rework it to fit an opportunity. And Helen has just proved it.

Incidentally, there's an article about Letter writing in the same issue, as well as an interesting article about DIY Writing Retreats. I know it's interesting - because I wrote it!

Monday, December 3, 2007

What is an Idea?

I've got all these ideas, but I don't know which markets to try. Help!

Many beginning writers struggle with ideas, so be proud of the fact that you've got lots of them! However, as you've realised - having ideas isn't enough. Once you have an IDEA, you then need to find an ANGLE.

Let's take the following as an IDEA:

"Healthy Eating"

Now I'm sure you'll all agree, healthy eating is a sensible idea. But that's all it is at the moment. It is not an idea for an article - yet. What we need to find is the right angle. What that angle is though - depends upon the readership of the magazine.

So if you were looking at a magazine about Parenting (Practical Parenting for example) the angle I might take is how to get children to eat healthy foods. For a pregnancy magazine, a healthy eating article could be angled to tell it's pregnant mothers to be what the benefits of healthy eating are to their unborn child.

A walking magazine may be interested in healthy foods that give their walking readers extra energy to tackle long walks, whilst a magazine aimed at mature readers may want an article about how to eat healthily on a tight budget. Best of British magazine readers may find an article about how we ate healthily as a nation during the Second World War, despite having limited supplies.

So on the face of it, healthy eating is a good idea - but it isn't THE idea. It is in fact, your overall theme. By identifying the different ANGLES of that IDEA, we have actually created 5 different article ideas for 5 different markets.

Therefore, don't think ideas - think angles - and how to twist your ideas to be of interest to the readership of the magazine siting in front of you.

Good luck.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Which Magazines Do I Write For?

I am struggling to find markets or magazines to write for. Can you give me some pointers please?

This came in from a student tackling her second assignment, and at this stage of the course I always say two words:

Don't panic!

When you start the non-fiction assignments, many of you just see those magazines on the newsagents shelves as things to read. In the past, whenever you have flicked through the pages of a magazine, however glossy they may be, you've been looking through them AS A READER. Now, we're trying to train you to look through them AS A WRITER.

So if you don't know which magazines to write for, my first suggestion is to look at the magazines that you already buy as a reader. These magazines are great because as a regular reader, you're already carrying out that market analysis on a regular basis. Although you probably don't realise it, you do actually know what you enjoy reading in the magazine as a reader. You therefore know which ideas may work, and which won't. My very first magazine successes were with publications that I was a regular subscriber to.

If you don't subscribe or buy magazines on a regular basis, then write a list of all the other hobbies that you have. Do you enjoy gardening? What about walking? Got an interest in researching family history or travelling to exotic places? Make a list and then take it with you to the largest newsagents you can find in your area. Buy a couple of magazines on those subjects and then read them as you would read any magazine. When you've done that, now go through them again using your new analytical skills to look at where the writing opportunities may lie. The great thing about flicking through the magazines like this, is that a published article may well inspire an idea of your own.

The important point to remember is that when you're writing about something, if it's a subject that you enjoy, this enjoyment will show through in your writing. If you're not interested in a subject, then readers will be able to spot this quickly. So when looking for new markets, always begin by looking for subjects tackling actitivies that you personally enjoy doing.

Good luck.