Friday, 24 February 2017


An author writing articles for newspapers and magazines is a bit like an athlete making visits to the gym as part of his training for the London marathon. Apart from the financial return (and, in terms of pounds per hour, may be more rewarding than the ground-breaking novel you are currently sweating over, there are several reasons for seeking journalistic outlets for your endeavours.
(1) It keeps the creative juices flowing. Because you are a writer you will write anyway. You can't help it. But knowing that your work will be read is a great boost.
(2) There are probably things you want to say that will not develop into a book but will turn into entertaining/informative shorter pieces.
(3) Writing to a fixed word count is an excellent self-discipline. It makes you concentrate on what you really want to say.
(4) You never know where it might lead. Feedback from readers is often valuable in itself but your feature may attract a publisher or a TV producer or ... No publicity is bad publicity .

As we all know, it's difficult to place book projects but the market for journalistic pieces is wide open. Editors of daily, weekly or monthly periodicals have got to fill hundreds of column inches every issue and some of that space is available to freelance contributors. Editors need good copy. I know - I was a magazine editor for several years. Thanks to coverage of current affairs by other media most established national dailies and weeklies are struggling. There's no doubt that they are not as open to non-staff items as they once were. But their doors are not locked and bolted. On the other hand there have never before been so many special interest magazines on the shelves. Whatever your interest there will almost certainly be a weekly or monthly catering for it - and linking together hundreds or thousands of fellow enthusiasts. What a captive market! And when your next book comes out an editor who has got to know you should be good for a review.

As a writer you will, of course, have developed the habit of making and keeping notes of things that interest you. What do you do with those items that move you, or fascinate you, or puzzle you, or intrigue you, or annoy you? Well, you could faff around firing off tweets or facebook salvoes into the cavernous void of cyberspace. Alternatively, you could turn your energy to producing a trenchant, or witty, or tear-jerking piece that will reach a known audience (and for which you might get paid).

There are a few - I won't say 'rules', more common courtesies - that must be observed.
(1) Familiarise yourself with the periodical you plan to approach. Make sure the item you have in mind is exactly the sort of material it carries - Get a feel for the appropriate style.
(2) Check how the editor should be approached. Some like to be presented with an outline in the first instance. Some prefer to consider the finished item. You will find this information in The Artists' and Writers' Yearbook (I assume that you have this essential tool).
(3) Stick rigidly to the prescribed word count.
(4) Build up relationships with the editorial team. In this bizz, as in most others, it's not what you know but who you know that counts.
(5) Enthuse about the periodical, its subject matter, its readers. Don't give the impression that you're only writing to further your own career.
(6) If you are sent copy proofs, check them and respond promptly. Editors work to deadlines and it doesn't pay to keep them waiting.
(7) Sign up with ALCS (Authors Licensing and Collecting Society). This organisation exists to ensure that writers receive acknowledgement and payment when their work is quoted in other outlets (books and articles).

Professional authorship, as we all know, is a solitary life. Building contacts with others who share your passions takes you out of yourself. Journalism is one way of widening your circle of friends. I'm happy to count among members of my circle university professors, highly successful fellow authors and TV celebs. Several of them I met through the pages of newspapers and magazines.

Next time we'll K.I.S.S.
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