Notes from Freelance Magazine Writing session at #spj08

September 6, 2008

Here are my session notes from the #spj08 conference in Atlanta. These notes are unfinished, but they will give you a feel for what the session speakers are telling us right now – 11:47AM on Saturday.


Freelance Magazine Writing – session notes

Laura Helmuth – Senior Science Editor, Smithsonian Magazine

The most important thing is the end of the story.

Look for the richer story. It’s a different way of looking at events that are happening in the world.

Think about sources as characters in your article/story.

Profiles are great sellers.

Identify someone who’s charismatic and profile them.

If you live near a vacation destination, think about stories that would be of interest to people who have been there and who are going there.

Think of a magazine as an object.

People think of magazines as things.

Magazines are a projection of your personality. Coffee table display.

Get an idea of what the story you want to pitch looks like.

Aim for the actual paper magazine. It pays better. That’s what editors care about. Online pays less and is less a focus.

Contact the right editor. Aim for the senior editor. Get a feel for who dows what beat.

Make it clear if the piece you’re pitching is an urgent one.

Long-awaited. Portray the impact. How the story or event or person is giving answers to bigger questions.

Don’t be subtle about any of this.

When it doubt, hype your story. Be a cheerleader for it.

Spell out the story and what it’s all about.

Why YOU are the person to do the story as the final paragraph of the pitch.

Show mastery of the story and all of its nuances.

Make the story fun and entertaining along with the entertainment.

First-person impressions are valuable.

Kathy Ehrich Dowd – Freelancer for People and many other national publications.

Range of stories is a benefit.

Be very disciplined.

Treat it as a very serious career.

Networking is key. 85% of her work has come from editors she knows personally.

Do your homework – research the publication and research your topic very well.

Figure out what types of stories they like, what they have for voice, and try to reflect that.

MediaBistro has a How to Pitch section.

Think of yourself like a lawyer and have rebuttals for every question and concern.

Make it easy for the editor to say yes.

Pitch stories that you’re passionate about.

Find the most relevant hook you can to get the pitch accepted.

Just because you have a really amazing story, you still need to craft the best pitch you can to get an editor’s attention.

Do exactly what editors ask of you.

Hope Winsborough

Topics that come up in the news are great fodder for articles.

Revising Prose
The Economics of Attention
Books to get and read

People are more focused on engagement instead of eyeballs.

Narrative is the way to tell your stories

Really quick three bullets….she will…

Tell about her route
Tell a little about magazines specifically – it’s a formula for EACH mag
Tell about outside the box alternatives

Talk to editors, network and give serendipitous events a chance to happen. Make relationships and make the most of those contacts.

Your editors will let you know what’s going on. Editors will jump from magazine to magazine and they like to rely on people they’ve worked with. Make them happy and keep getting gigs.
Get stories from contemporary literature and events.

There are some basic kinds of magazines most people read.


Mags to help you do things.
Mags to help you learn about different lifestyles

In England, The Week is like Newsweek and Readers Digest combined. Go read it.

The Economist. Very few ads. Still powerful and well-read.

These are hybrid titles.

The environment is changing.


There you go. Enjoy.

Keep reading!