A site that I visit often is MrMagazine.com because I think it is the prime information source about magazines. Mr. Magazine is Dr. Samir Husni, director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi, School of Journalism. He’s also Professor at the School of Journalism. I first heard of him in the early 1980s when I was in Journalism school at what is now the University of Memphis and I’ve been following his work ever since.
Right now on his site I found his list of “25 Notable New Magazines from The Last 25 years.” He says the magazines are “the new blood that runs through the veins and arteries of our industry.” Many times we hear that people are no longer reading magazines but his list of 25 that are still being published seems to cut that idea short.
I know that some magazines have gone out of business, but others spring up and take their places. People are reading magazines. I’m delighted about that because I really like writing for magazines and I hope to continue doing so in the future.
I’m familiar with most of the publications on his list of 25, but there are several that I’ve never read before, including Wizard which came out in 1992. Dr. Husni says that before comics were a pop culture craze, “Wizard has been dishing out all the information about anything and everything comic related.”
There are several other new ones for me, including Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concerns that debuted in 1998. “Magazines like McSweeney’s show that the magazine buyers in America are hungry for unique, quality products,” Husni says. “You won’t find a more innovative magazine on the newsstand or a more devoted readership.”
All You first came out in 2004 and Husni says it’s a great partnership between the country’s largest retailer and one of the country’s largest magazine companies. “All You shows that it doesn’t have to be difficult to find customers where they are.”
And then there is Relish, which started out in 2006 with a circulation goal of 6 million. Now it has a circulation of about 15 million.
Husni says he dedicated his list of 25 magazines to “individuals who have been saying we are publishing in vain and that magazines are a soon-to-be-extinct medium. They were wrong 25 years ago and they are still wrong and will continue to be wrong.”
If you want to read the entire list, go to the Mr.Magazine site here.
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Rather than spend time on the Internet over last weekend, I decided to reread passages from some books on my bookshelves. That’s where I came across a section called “Etiquette and Ethics” in Writing for Money, a book by Loriann Hoff Oberlin. I must say I agree with the basic rules she outlines in the book.
Oberlin knew that when you are granted an interview for a publication, it doesn’t mean you can market that interview somewhere else. As an example, she uses her working with Family Communications in Pittsburgh, the production company for TV’s Mr. Rogers series. When she learned that the popular show would be celebrating 25 years on public television, she began producing a series of articles about the show, based on an interview with Fred Rogers, plus faxed questions and telephone followups. Her stories appeared in Hemispheres, The Saturday Evening Post, parenting magazines and other publications — all the result of her good working relationship with the production company.
“They trusted that I would place stories only in reputable publications, and they also knew that I kept in touch with and ran my ideas past their public relations staff,” Oberlin said.
She cautions writers to be careful when people you interview ask to see your article before you turn it in. “Allowing sources to preview your story would be allowing a form of censorship,” she said. “The public expects reporters to work uncensored and free of such constraints. We journalists shouldn’t have to fear that our sources will change their recollections, words or ideas to a more acceptable point of view. Also, by giving this kind of advantage to one source, you would give that person unfair insight into the information your other sources give you.
“Don’t misrepresent your credentials,” Oberlin warns. “Never tell someone you are on assignment for a publication when you are not, and watch that others don’t either.” Months after an interview, she recalled reading in a source’s newsletter that she was “on assignment” for several publications, when in reality she had only answered an intern’s questions about what magazines she wrote for and where she would be pitching the proposed story. “I was not pleased with the way he had misrepresented me,” she said.
She would also not be pleased, I think, with an ad I saw recently that was looking for writers to produce fake testimonials for an ebook going into production. What is equally unpleasant, in my opinion, were the scores of writers lined up, eager to write those fake testimonials. When the ad was reproduced on a freelancer’s post, the comments were very much against writing fake testimonials. Evidently those applying for the job could not see that they were going way beyond acting in a truly ethical manner. In my opinion, this is in the same category as writing papers that high school and college kids can turn in as their own. Those writers all need some ethics classes to set them on the right path.
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A long time ago, I used to be a business writer. After college, I began working for a business newspaper and although I came to dislike working for the paper, it was a great introduction to writing about business and business people. I did lots of writing in that job.
In my free time after work, I was also a freelancer, still writing about business, business people and many other subjects. I never wrote about anyone I met in my newspaper job but there were scores of others who made great articles. Freelancing gave me as much work as I could handle.
Sometimes it was a matter of writing one freelance article a week. On the whole over three years, I got to write dozens of business-related pieces. They covered real estate, office equipment, home furnishings, roofing, shopping centers, videos, physician seminars, freight rates and much more. Some were articles, but the majority of the writing was for news releases, box copy, brochures, sales literature and other pieces of information to help business prosper. I got no bylines, but I did receive lots of checks — and that helped my family budget.
Did I come up with the ideas for these pieces myself? Not at all. The ideas all came from advertising and public relations people who contacted me and asked me to write them after working at my regular job. And when I left the newspaper and began full-time freelancing, they began to give me even more work. Obviously they knew from my newspaper work that I could write and handle the assignments.
All that experience can be, I think, a lesson for other freelancers who want some checks in a hurry. They may not know that advertising and public relations agencies frequently use outsiders to do their writing. That may be because many of those firms are small — often only one person — or because they don’t like (or don’t know how) to do the writing themselves. Although I got a fair share of assignments from the largest agency in town, the majority of my work came from small shops who could not afford to hire full-time writers. Whatever the reason, it was a great way for me to write and get regular checks for doing what I like best — writing. And the pay was good and quick.
To work with agencies, you need to have some clippings to show that you can write acceptable copy. If you don’t have clippings, you might focus on getting three or four articles published as soon as possible.
You could even contribute copy to small local newspapers or magazines (be sure that you get bylines) or offer to do some free writing for a non-profit in order to get the needed bylines. Then you can concentrate on dealing with advertising and public relations agencies.
If I were a new freelancer looking for more writing jobs, I’d make it a point to contact every agency in my area and ask if they use outsiders for writing assignments. Send them copies of your clippings. It’s a good way to get your foot in the door.
It’s also a great way to get started as a business writer. If you like this approach, please let me know if and when you get writing assignments as a result.
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So you’re 50 (or beyond) and you’re wondering how that will affect your ability to get your book or magazine article published. The answer? Depending on how you handle the situation, it should make no difference, according to lots of people.
Some time ago I read an article that covered the subject very well. The author was Scott Hoffman, one of the founding partners of Folio Literary Management. He said that writers should avoid all references to retirement, they should be an energetic presence willing to help promote their books, they should not date themselves, and they must convince editors that they have lot of other books inside them. Above all, he said, don’t reveal your age in a query letter to an agent or an editor.
Hoffman was talking about the problems some people have in getting their books published, but most of the situations also cover writers of magazine articles and pieces for the web.
For one thing, even though you are 50 or beyond, you are not retired. If you’re writing a book or magazine articles, you are doing it on a regular basis, not because you have extra time on hand. You might have a new career, but it is a full-time career. And, Hoffman said, “you want to convince your agent and editor that you’re not just a one-trick pony.”
Although you’re at work on more books or articles now, you’re eager to promote your work at the publishers and you have lots of ideas about how and where to do that. You don’t need to tell editors or agents about long-ago work history or about past military service (unless your work centers on those subjects), but do tell them about relevant credentials that don’t date you.
He says there are two times when you actually have to let your agent or editor know your age. When someone asks how old you really are, you must give him or her that information. Never lie. The other time to do that is when you think it might help. Be sure also to fill in the details when information about your experience or credentials will show why you’re the right person to write this specific book or magazine article.
Hoffman ended his article by detailing several specific over-50 writers who published books: Anna Sewell sold her classic novel, Black Beauty, at 57; Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen) published Out of Africa at 52; Laura Ingalls Wilder published the Little House on the Prairie series while in her 60s. And Bangladeshi writer Nirad Chaudhuri published his first book at 54, its sequel at age 90, and his final book, Three Horsemen of the New Apocalypse, when he was 100. Their experiences should be enough for anyone to follow.
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