Adam Pitluk, editor of American Way, the inflight magazine of American Airlines, opened the NATJA conference I attended in April in California by saying, “Storytelling matters.” And really, that’s at the heart of what we do as writers, isn’t it? That, and find editors to get our stories into the hands of readers.
Pitluk’s keynote was titled, Print Does Matter, and addressed the ever-changing world of publishing, particularly in the magazine industry. His vision of the future includes a strong print presence, since he feels that “print appeals to readers on an emotional level.” He particularly noted the importance of the tactile impact of turning pages, and the static shape of well-designed print pages compared to the Internet, providing readers with a different experience than using technology.
However, the most important takeaway for me from Pitluk’s presentation was something I’d already learned—that appearing in print publications establishes credibility. Even with the popularity of blogs and websites, magazine bylines and photo publications can really launch a writing career. And that’s true across all genres.
Once the keynote was done, the conference agenda moved to an editor’s panel, with the first speaker, Jacquelyne Froeber, also from American Way, as well as its sister publication, Celebrated Living. She was followed by Don Nichols, editor of Private Clubs Magazine, Jo Piazza (Yahoo website), Mindy Poder, TravelAge West and travelagewest.com, and Dennis Britton, TravelWorldMagazine.com.
While the editors represented a mix of print and Web markets, it soon became obvious that the immediacy of the Internet has had an impact on editorial calendars.
Nichols quickly put this into words by outlining the three most important things he looks for in a query:
- What’s new?
- Why now?
- Why you?
No matter what we’re reading, we’re looking for relevancy today. That can be anything from the anniversary of an historical event, like a WWII battle, to a new twist on a perennial topic such as planning a children’s birthday party.
New and relevant count in fiction as well as nonfiction. Knowing your readership and what they’re thinking about is a great way to ensure your short stories and poetry make it to an editorial discussion, whether you’re writing for Boomer Lit or New Adult.
To make your query to an editor rise to the top, you’ll need to be succinct in those two or three sentences (shortest) to two or three paragraphs (longest) of your query. And of course, you’ll need to pull out the most relevant items on your CV (Curriculum Vitae) to go with them.
If you’re pitching an essay on the benefits of zero maintenance landscaping, you should have some science credentials or lots of hands-on experience. In fact, Nichols said he looked for writers who “demonstrate they’re well connected, so know the latest news.”
But that comes with a caution, too. All of the editors noted that writers shouldn’t pretend to be something they’re not—before taking the work of a new writer, they periodically head to the Web to investigate.
What’s up for grabs? Well, everything from your LinkedIn profile to your social media accounts to confirming previous publications you’ve listed. Each of these only takes an editor a few minutes, so you’re wise to make sure you know what digital footprints an editor will find before you pitch.
Editors also expect you to do your homework on the Web, checking out what their publications “do” before you pitch your query. Many print publications have digital versions to check for style, or at least a sample article or two from each issue.
Internet publications usually have a search engine that will let you search in-depth to see what has already been covered, so you don’t waste your time—or an editor’s—by submitting the idea again.
Poder indicated she appreciated pitches that detailed what you could add or fill in, citing their existing Web coverage. Piazza took that a step further, saying she liked to know that writers followed her on social media so already knew her.
A number of publications I’ve encountered even use social media to put out calls of interest when they’re looking for queries on something specific, so if you have a market you’re trying to break into it’s a good idea to identify their editors and/or social media accounts.
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