Friday, June 08, 2007

Article Writer's Hat

In spite of the fact that my first foray into writing was a never-completed novel called Mean Marvin the Mouse, inspired by another fictional mouse while I was in second grade, my first completed work was a screenplay I co-wrote with a close friend (Hey, Sam!) based on one of my favorite books of all time.

And in spite of the fact that fiction is my first love, the first several items I ever published were articles. As I wrote novels, submitted them, and had them summarily rejected, I also tinkered with articles on the side. This is thanks to the fact that I attended writing conferences and subscribed to Writers Digest and read the magazine cover to cover. I soaked up every word and wanted to know everything there was to know about writing. Not just fiction, not just novels. But WRITING.

I bought writing books and read them. Yes, they included plotting, characterization, and structure, but they also included research, hooks, pitching articles, queries, and freelancing. Every so often, I'd submit a query to a magazine. At one point, an editor I had queried a few times called me back and asked for more on a particular topic.

Long story short, I didn't get that job (apparently it was between me and another writer), but she remembered me and a couple of months later gave me a job. It was a brand new special project for her magazine, a spin-off newsletter. I had no clue what I was doing, but by golly, I was going to do my best. I must have impressed her, because she turned around and assigned me more articles. And more. And more.

Each time, the check increased with each piece, which was awfully nice!

At the same time, a paper started up locally. It's now defunct, but it was a great learning experience for me. The new religion editor had a great nose for finding stories, but didn't feel comfortable writing them up. She happened to know me personally and remembered that I was a wannabe writer. In short order, she started dumping stories on me. Pretty soon it was "Hey, next week is the Jewish holiday of Purim. Research it and write it up," or, "Interview this Catholic priest. He's constructing a new building in Orem, and he's been in the area for like, forever." I also did book reviews. Several times I ended up on the front page, like the article that commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Miracle of the Gulls.

I eventually dropped the paper, because while it gave me lots of experience and published clips, they only paid $25 an article (and the magazine was paying me significantly more than that).

The hey-day lasted about a year, peaking when I did a five-article job in one-fell swoop that more than paid for Christmas that year. Following that, the editor got a major promotion, and the gal who replaced her had her own freelancers she worked with, so I never heard from them again.

Shortly after that, I started focusing harder on my fiction, and my article-writing stint faded into the background as my novels (woohoo!) started coming to light.

It's really only been in the last year that I've dusted off the freelance article hat and put it back on again. I've sold close to ten articles in the last year to various magazines, including ByLine (a writing magazine), LDS Living, The Friend, Desert Saints, and Knitty. A handful of those articles are online, and you can access the bottom of this page of my website to read them. Some of the ones you can't see online I'll add to my website later (which I haven't done yet, alas).

As for how to query magazines, the format is generally up to the individual magazine. Some require a formal snail mail letter, while others allow you to send an e-mail query. But overall, the trick is finding what the magazine wants. Read the magazine and know its style, voice and readership. A sports magazine isn't going to want an article on cooking, obviously. And a cooking magazine that just ran an article on 10 top chili recipes isn't going to want another one on chili. Then follow the magazine's writer guidelines (often posted online) for queries.

I recently wrote about some of my tricks to getting article ideas on my Precision Editing Group blog here (I'm the Wednesday contributor). If you have specific questions about article writing, let me know, and I can blog about them there!


Luisa Perkins said...

Well, no wonder you're such a polished writer!

And, ooooh: a screenplay of The Blue Castle! I would love to see that made into a movie (but only if it were done right).

Annette Lyon said...

Aw, shucks--I'm blushing. Just trying to answer a reader question. :)

I think Sam and I did a darn good job for being as young and unpolished as we were. We went on to write a novel together, too. We made quite a team!

Josi said...

And Annette totally inspired me to start articles. She walked me through my first article ever written about 4 years ago, when she didn't know me at all. And I've sold seven this year--a few of them directly related to tips and help she gave me. So thanks, again, Annette, for being so dang inspiring!

Annette Lyon said...

Wow, Josi, thanks--and you're welcome. Glad I could help a bit. :)

Jenna said...

This gets me motivated again, Annette. I may have to pick your brain. I've sold two to the Ensign and one to a small homeschooling publication, but I'd like to get things going in a bigger way. Thanks for the encouragement!

Annette Lyon said...

Jenna, Pick away! I'm no expert, but I'll try to help.

Anonymous said...

You know I never realized that Blue Castle was your first finished piece--I guess you always seemed like my "writing friend."

I remember that summer so well and how much fun we had writing that and the chats we'd have in between.

We really do need to have it produced (right) someday. No one knows the story and I think it is one of LM's lovliest! How fun that your little girl is old enough to read Anne. I got my copy for my 10th birthday and it single-handedly started my love affair with books. The large print and pictures really help if you ever want to borrow it!


Annette Lyon said...

Blue Castle IS one of her loveliest! And I doubt it's a coincidence that my little girl just had her 10th birthday before she stumbled upon Anne. I may just have to take you up on that offer to borrow your copy--large print and pictures are just up her alley!

Annette Lyon said...

(Oh, and I'm sure I had finished short stories and the like before Blue Castle, but it was my first BIG work that to me really counted. That was a big time project that took a whopping effort before we managed to write "The End." I had never gotten to the point of finished a book or anything that long before!)


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