Not every nonfiction writer dreams of publishing a book. Some like to write and publish essays or articles, for instance, and this can be a great way to make a living or a bit of extra money. I earned my degree in magazine journalism and still write several magazines articles a year; I find this aspect of being a professional writer quite rewarding.
During National Nonfiction Writing Month (NaNonFiWriMo), you can challenge yourself to write a variety of long or short articles for newspapers or magazines. (Or you can write query letters to land article assignments.) As we start week #2 of NaNonFiWriMo and the Write Nonfiction in November (WNFIN) Challenge, Linda Formichelli tells you how to become a successful journalist. Follow her tips to write articles editors will love—well, they’ll love them if you do the opposite of what she advises in this tongue-in-check guest post!
5 Surefire Ways to Make an Editor Hate Your Article
By Linda Formichelli
During National Nonfiction Writing Month, your goal is probably to churn out as many articles as you can.
I know you want to make sure none of these articles are ever published—because then you would have a bunch of money you don’t know what to do with—so you’re on the lookout for fatal faux pas you can commit that will doom your articles to obscurity.
If you want to make an editor hate your article, be sure to stick to these five common snafus.
1. Bury the Lead
Instead of jumping right to the point with a heavy-duty statistic, an emotionally compelling anecdote, or a strong quote, make an editor toss your article aside by doing a lot of throat clearing before getting into the meat of the story.
Many writers make this same mistake, which possibly stems from fear of laying it all out there. They feel the need to give a lot of background information so readers know what they’re getting into. The bad news is, readers won’t bother slogging through all the preamble to find out what you’re really writing about.
Some writers also over-research their stories, and try to cram in all that information at the top of the article so it’s not wasted.
Readers not reading and editors throwing their hands up in despair? Success!
2. Go Under/Over the Word Count
To allay the risk that an editor will like your article and actually offer you filthy money for it, consider the word count of the magazine department you’re targeting.
Typically, you would want to come in at or slightly above the average word count, but remember, you’re trying to avoid the terrible circumstance of having a published article. So write to whatever word count pleases you!
After all, sometimes you’re on a roll and the prose you’re crafting is so amazingly awesome that it would be a shame to delete any of it. The department you’re targeting may run articles that are only 500 words, but if you send the editor 2,000 words, she’ll be able to practice her editing skills by slicing out 1,500 of them.
And sometimes, the section you’re aiming for runs 800-word articles—but you just can’t seem to make it that far. You can scrape up only 400? Send them in and let the editor worry about the rest.
Ignore the word count, and your chances of getting an acceptance are blessedly low.
3. Don’t Interview Anyone Except Your Own Sweet Self
Here’s a foolproof way to make an editor ditch your article: Use yourself as the expert, and don’t interview anyone else.
Magazines rarely run articles written by experts without any other sources—unless the writer happens to be super famous. And when they DO run such articles, they rarely pay for them as the editors figure the expert is writing the article as an ad for himself.
Even if you ARE an expert in topic X, typically you would use that expertise to help you know where to research, who to interview, and what to ask them. In other words, your expertise informs the article but isn’t the main focus. Every fact you write in an article, an editor is going to expect you to back it up from a primary source such as research study or an interview with a top expert who is not you.
Don’t risk having an article accepted by interviewing other people! Just write from your personal knowledge of the topic.
4. Interview Only People You Know
Maybe you don’t want to totally aggravate an editor by not interviewing people, but you DO want to anger him just a bit. The solution: Interview only people you know.
For example, if you’re writing a health article for a national magazine, interview your doctor and your best friend’s doctor. When working on an article for a newsstand women’s magazine, ask your neighbors and local friends for quotes.
How will this ensure an editor won’t buy your article? Well, national magazine editors expect your interview sources to be ethnically and geographically diverse—but still within the magazine’s demographic—and they also want the experts you to interview to be at the top of their field, not merely ones you happen to know.
Instead of contacting organizations, think tanks, universities, online forums, and source-finding services like ProfNet (www.profnet.com) and Help a Reporter (www.helpareporter.com), be sure to take the lazy route by interviewing the people on your speed dial. The editor is sure to spare you a big fat check!
5. Be Boring
Many magazines feature a conversational, easy to read, and even edgy writing style, so your job is to be as boring, stiff, and formal as possible.
For example, NEVER use contractions—instead, always say “You are,” “It is,” and “They have.” Use five-dollar words like “utilize” and “equivocate” instead of their shorter, easier counterparts.
Rather than using strong words that invoke just the image you want to portray, rely on plenty of weak adjectives and adverbs, plus intensifiers like “very” and “really.” And be sure to include lots of passive verbs and long, unwieldy noun phrases instead of punchy verbs and nouns.
Writing in a stilted, businesslike manner is one of the main ways to keep an editor from wanting your article.
Your mission: To not have an article accepted. The outcome: Accomplished!
About the Author
Linda Formichelli has written for more than 150 magazines since 1997 and blogs at The Renegade Writer. Her new e-book, Write Your Way Out of the Rat Race…And Step Into a Career You Love, will help you quit your job to write.
Image credit: nikdoorg / 123RF Stock Photo
Marlene Cullen says
This is so fun . . . I was JUST thinking about this aspect of nonfiction writing. .. promote book through articles, guest blogs, etc. Thanks for this timely info.
Linda Formichelli says
Thanks, Marlene…I’m glad you liked the post!