Orbell Communications

Communicating Your Message

Submitting Material to Newspapers or Magazines

Posted by jorbell on November 9, 2008

One of the questions I have been asked since starting this site has been how to go about submitting material for newspapers. This is understandably an attractive goal to have as it can provide exposure for your work on a local and national level.

Newspapers can have circulations that run into the millions and to get the recognition of seeing your name in print is the holy grail of any writer. However, it is a notoriously difficult path for the new or freelance journalist from outside the industry to break into but there are techniques you can use to increase your chances of success.

I have already posted an article on this site on how to write an effective article which admittedly has some fluidity as to its usage. It does have relevance in newspaper and magazine work but also with press release and copy writing too so is quite a wide raging overview of the craft. It is still useful starting point if you are just beginning to learn your trade.

As a recap I will cover a few of the basics in writing technique before moving on how to best to undertake the physical approach of your chosen publication.

Article writing in a nutshell

The opening line of any article, or indeed any writing, must immediately grab the reader’s attention. While you have perhaps have a couple of sentences to make your impact in a story, an article must make an immediate impact.

Perhaps surprisingly, the length of your first sentence should be a maximum of 22 words. Any longer and there’s a chance your reader will not fully grasp the message you are attempting to convey. Don’t risk losing them at the first hurdle.

Generally speaking, sentences in newspaper or magazine writing need to be short and punchy. Paragraphs typically consist of just two or three sentences which makes it far more simple and appealing to read. Think about when you’ve seen large blocks of text in a publication – it can be a daunting experience so make sure you give your readers the chance to breathe.

Quotes and statistics

Using quotes in your piece always makes for a more interesting read especially if they are an expert in their field. It adds weight to the story but ensure that they are quoted accurately as in extreme circumstances this can lead to legal proceedings. This is not meant to discourage you from using them but merely to encourage you to take care that you check the source and that you have all the relevant facts.

Grammar usage

Something that I didn’t cover in-depth in my previous article was the language of your piece. This is not fiction writing so the emphasis is on the use of adverbs and adjectives along with metaphors and similies to get your message across. Rather than get into the mechanics now I would like to direct you to the University College London’s site page on grammar usage which gives a detailed explanation of how these techniques are best used.

How To Approach Editors

Now for the bit you are probably most interested in – how to approach the publication itself.

The instinctive reaction would be to contact a newspaper or magazine with your completed article or what you consider your best work as a way of demonstrating the quality of your writing. This will almost certainly not get you the result you want for a number of important reasons, not least because it may not necessarily fit the style of the publication you are looking to work with. It is always worth finding out if they have guidelines for unsolicited submissions.

In the first instance you should do some research to demonstrate you have a knowledge of the publication’s themes and content when you initially approach them by letter or email. You should also include your concept for the article ensuring you state why it would appeal to the target market of their readership.

In addition you need to include a sample of writing which could be as little as two paragraphs of your story. This is adequate for an editor to make a judgment on whether you can write as it will include your ‘grab’ line, killer opening and a little on how you develop the article in the early stages.

You should also include a writer biography which outlines your writing credentials and details of where you may have had work published previously. This doesn’t have to be just print articles for major magazines but can include websites and community publications etc. You will also have to demonstrate that you have the qualifications for writing the article in the first place. Why are you the right person to get the message across?

While sticking with what you see as established themes with a newspaper is important to allow yourself to become too rigid in your approach. Sometimes, by thinking laterally, you can come up with a new angle by writing in a style unfamiliar to the publication. It is a subtle twist in presentation that can make all the difference as it adds a new freshness to the content.

‘Where do I send all this to?’

The ideal contact would be the publications editor but this will likely not produce the result you are looking for especially if you approach a national daily. Maybe start with departmental sub-editors or closer to home with a regional paper.

Contact details can be found on the majority of publications’ websites. If not, call them by phone and acquire the details that way. This may also be an opportunity to network and forge new relationships with the editorial departments.

Expect Rejection

Even after following the above tips there are no guarantees so expect rejection – it comes with the territory. The most experienced journalists don’t strike gold every time so don’t give up. Remember, the more your name is seen by editors, the greater your chance of getting your article accepted.

Above all, learn from the experiences you pick up along the way. Make notes of what does and does not work and tailor your approaches accordingly. Good luck!

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