7 Mistakes New Magazine
Writers Make and How to Avoid Them
New writers have a difficult hurdle to overcome: how do you appear
professional and experienced when approaching an editor with a story idea? All
too often, unseasoned writers fall into a set of traps. Here are seven common
ones and how to avoid them.
- Not reading the publication: All too often, new writers pitch a
publication without first familiarizing themselves with its subject matter and
tone. Using overly-formal language is one instant tip-off that a writer is
green. Although youíll want your voice to come through in your article, itís
important to study the voice of the publication and to mirror that. Pick up
the last two issues if possible and pay attention not only to the types of
stories, but also the way the articles are packaged (lots of real people
stories? How-to articles?).
Youíll impress the editor with your knowledge of the magazine and get a
better idea of whether or not your ideas are suitable.
- Not addressing queries correctly: A former college professor once
told me, "When in doubt, send it to the managing editor." Today, as an editor
and writer, I know that that advice is just plain lazy. Since youíll have the
recent issues of the magazine (see #1), check out the masthead. You can either
fire off a quick email to one of the editors (Iíd suggest an associate or
assistant editor since theyíre more likely to respond) and ask who you should
address your particular query to. Or the publicationís writersí guidelines
(which you can usually get by sending a self-addressed, stamped envelope) may
include the correct editorsí names.
Not packaging ideas: Great opportunities are lost when writers fail
to see how they can package already-familiar ideas into fresh, new stories. Most
magazines have been around for decades, rehashing the same old ideas year after
year. Editors get excited when writers think outside the box: create a table, a
flow-chart, select a group of real people to illustrate the concept, come up
with some new way of looking at the story.
Failing to play up their expertise: As an editor, Iíve received
pitches that stated: ďIíve never written before.Ē If youíve never been published
before, play up your other expertise. For example, if youíre pitching an article
about female surfers, mention youíve surfed for seven years. If you have an idea
about soothing a crying baby, mention youíre the mother of two and know a
network of many parents.
- Pitching undeveloped ideas: Editors arenít interested in receiving a
laundry list of undeveloped one-line ideas. As a salesperson (of your ideas),
you need to convince them that youíve done some initial legwork and that youíve
thought your ideas through.
- Pestering: One quick email to an editor requesting info before you
send your query is typically not grounds for any editor to get annoyed. But
constant badgering after youíve sent your query is just plain unprofessional.
Editors may not have great memories for queries theyíve read but they do tend to
remember when they come across a pest (I still remember the names of at least
three writers Iíll never use because they annoyed me). And donít even think
about picking up the phone. If you donít hear back in several months, itís
usually safe to say that you can move on and pitch your ideas elsewhere.
- Being big-headed: Confidence is one thing, but as a new writer, itís
important to check your ego at the door. Do what you can to get those early
assignments, whether that means writing for free or writing for publications
that are slightly ďbelowĒ the standards you set for yourself. My first 200-word
freelance assignment was unpaid but it lead to two $1500 assignments right
Remember: Your reputation as a writer starts at Day One. Always turn in
immaculate, on-time, well-written copy and editors will love you!
This article was written by Michelle Lee, author of Fashion Victim:
Our Love-Hate Relationship with Dressing, Shopping, and the Cost of Style
(Broadway Books, February 2003). She has held editorial positions at Glamour,
Parenting, Mademoiselle, and Us Weekly and has written for magazines such as
Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, Menís Health, Health, Fitness, Ladies Home Journal,
Paper, CITY, Nylon, YM, and others.