Writing and Selling Magazine Articles

Thursday evening I headed to my local library to hear a talk by Ray Bronk, a freelance writer in these parts (Central Texas). Serving as host was the San Gabriel Writer’s League.

Bronk’s speciality is wildlife writing and he’s published in national magazines including Field & Stream, Camping & RV, and American Hunting.

He outlined some basics that included caveats as well as encouraging secrets to success as a freelancer:

  • You have chosen a difficult writing genre
  • In you write the manuscript first you will fail
  • Quality must remain high
  • Anybody can qualify, sex, age, abilities
  • Manuscript vs. query letters
  • Read the magazine
  • Put yourself in the editor’s chair
  • You are needed
  • You can predict needs
  • Don’t give up your day job

While some of the advice can be found in most articles or advice books on magazine writing, I liked getting a firsthand account from someone with a lot of experience.

One particular piece of advice — to query first before writing — has been on my mind lately, because I’ve been noodling around with several ideas, and I want to rush to get started, before I have any idea what to really write. Queries, Bronk said, were as important to your success as a freelance as your skill as a writer.

Other advice that he offered:

  • Write things that interest you
  • Write for free to get experience and clips
  • Nurture and protect your relationships with editors
  • Think ahead
  • Study the magazine, looking for length and type of articles
  • Go to writing classes

Booking Through Thursday: A Time to Read?

1. Do you get to read as much as you WANT to read?

Not really, even though I actually have the time. But for almost two years now, I’ve often read less each day than I used to.

One thing that’s slowed my reading is no longer having a pile of subscriptions to newspapers, magazines and literary journals. I can’t afford the subscriptions, and I desperately miss my periodicals.

And unlike some of you, I like actual newspapers and magazines in my hand,  as I like books in my hand. I’m not a Luddite, but the decline of print media distresses me.

Besides being a print journalist at heart, I’m deeply troubled by the decline of the newspaper industry. I think it’s destructive and dangerous. (BookDaddy Jerome Weeks has a nice post on dwindling arts criticism in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.)

Also, the very idea of electronic book readers just makes me cringe.

Another thing that seems to have slowed my reading has been adjusting to marriage with an instant family installed, especially with TVs blaring in almost every room in the house, and kids whining they’re bored. I have to go to our bedroom, shut myself in, and read.

Of course, there’s a TV in our room and its lure is constantly compelling. I’m trying to cut back on the idle TV watching, and hope to do it as football season closes out. (Football is a true addiction.)

Since I’ve gotten married, and since I’ve moved about four times in about a year and a half, I’ve also visited the local library less. The library used to be a source of peace and quiet and access to periodicals.

2. If you had (magically) more time to read–what would you read? Something educational? Classic? Comfort Reading? Escapism? Magazines?

If I had time (read quiet and privacy) and money, I’d renew my newspaper and magazine subscriptions. I especially miss The New Yorker and Harper’s, and occasionally the New York Review of Books. I have these periodicals bookmarked online, but, again, I love being able to sit back and fold pages and read.

Encouraging Words at Narrative Magazine

Sometimes writers need Hallmark cards, opening up to refreshing pools of words that keep you writing. My wife dips me daily in these pools. Friends and colleagues sometimes pass a tin cup with a sip. Occasionally an editor sprinkles a few words to keep you writing. Recently, Arthur Plotnik did. (A big, toothy-grinned smiley should go here to thank him again for the interview, but this is a serious literary blog, so no such things as smileys here, right. 🙂 )

The first editor to encourage me, and say good things about my writing, specifically my fiction, was Tom Jenks. Though the brief note of encouragement Jenks left on a manuscript I submitted to him is probably lost to the various moves I’ve made in the past 10 years, the spirit of that note stays brainprinted in the white-hot center of my mind.

My spam box, however, sometimes short circuits that imprint when it captures e-mail updates of Jenks’s Narrative Magazine.

The latest update, though, was inboxed today, and I hope you’ll follow the link above and take a look at it. It’s sort of a reader’s Hallmark, opening up rivers of literary talent for readers. Rarely, if ever, does a discouraging word fall.

Specifically, I’m looking forward to reading Tom Grimes’s essay “The Leash” and gandering at the feature “Works in Progress” with sneak peeks at pieces from Robert Olen Butler, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Jane Smiley and Jim Harrison, among others.