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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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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 after!

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.



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