Write for magazines
In common with all consumers magazines, those that cover the boating scene depend on outside contributors for much of their content. And that could be you if you present your articles correctly.
Do remember that editors are busy people. Magazines work to strict deadlines with scarily little time between one issue and the next. Whatever you can do to make their task as easy as possible is certain to win you friends.
Therefore do make sure your that your material fits the general tone of the magazine. For example don’t submit a practical nuts-and-bolts article to a publication containing mainly cruising yarns. Nor, of course, vice-versa. You will waste both their time and yours.
So, before you make a submission do some research. You will probably find that few magazines print articles more than four pages long so don’t send them a wedge of text that will give the postman a hernia However good it is, the sheer toil involved in reducing it to a publishable length will almost certainly deter. Similarly, most magazines are not keen on running a long series on a single subject – at least not from part-time writers. Yet hardly a week goes by without someone collaring an editor to inform him or her that he’s sailing, say, to the Mediterranean and could write an account of every mile sailed. Not a hope, I’m sorry to say. Even if the readers don't get bored the editor will.
Do be aware that three to four pages is the realistic maximum which, at between 500-700 words per page (depending on how many photos or drawings are used) means no more than 1500-2800 words at the very most.
On this theme do take in the fact that short articles are much sought after and are a good way of getting started. Editors are often hunting for brief pieces – half a page or even less – to fill an awkward gap in their layouts. Don’t be deterred because you won’t be paid much. Getting your foot in the door will be reward enough.
On the matter of layouts or fancy formatting, don’t be tempted to do this yourself. Pretty much all modern word processors contain the facility to create simple layouts, embedding your illustrations where you think they ought to be, and you may think this would make your submission more appealing. It doesn’t. Before your article could be laid out in the house style, your well intentioned formatting would have to be dismantled to separate the text from the ‘pics’ – just more hassle for the overworked staff. The simpler the better is the key.
Writing is a skill that comes naturally to some but others find more difficult. Don’t get too anxious about spelling and grammar (sub-editors get fretful if they have nothing to correct!). Concentrate on developing an engaging form of expression. Practice helps a lot, as does studying the styles of seasoned journalists but at the end of the day you must find your own voice. Do be as natural as possible and don’t lapse into trade-union-speak (‘upon vigilant reflection I must differ with the utterance’) or extravagant literary-speak (‘the sun kissed the horizon with rosy red lips’) or pomposity (‘I remonstrated with the customs official and reminded him of my rights’). Also don’t libel anyone. You might thing that somebody is an out-and-out crook, but you can’t say so without risk – even if you think you have cast iron proof. And neither can you be rude about a particular product in general terms – though you can say, for instance, that your own experience with the gizmo in question wasn't satisfactory. If an editor gets even a sniff that you might be sailing a bit close to the wind, he will want to have nothing to do with your article.
Another important don’t is plagiarism, which means to steal another’s words – a form of theft which is recognised as such under the laws of most countries. However, there are circumstances when you can quote an author so long as you ‘cite’ him or her. A typical citation might go like this: ‘so-and-so in his book ‘Sailing Stinks Like Rotten Fish wrote “blah-de-blah-de-blah”’. Such a citation does a number of things. Firstly, it acknowledges the author for his wisdom (or otherwise – and, if he’s wrong, he takes the rap not you); secondly, it shows you to be honest; thirdly, it indicates that you’ve researched your subject; and finally, it provides the readers with another source of information they might want to pursue.
Don’t get hot and heavy with the jokes. Humour is a fragile commodity which is all too easy to overdo. I call them ‘groaners’ – the jokes that no doubt had the authors chortling at their own wit but would have others shaking their heads. Laborious puns are even worse. A lightness of touch laced with an equally light wit is more than enough.
Do try to submit your article in a tidy and accessible form. Preferably send a printed copy of the text, even if there’s a computer file included. Photos can be prints, transparencies or in an acceptable computer format (jpegs, tiffs etc). Computer images can be reduced in size but should be of good quality and have a resolution of at least 300 dpi (dots per inch). Include rough sketches for any necessary artwork. Label everything carefully and make sure your package is complete. If you want material returned, don't forget an SAE.
Incidentally, don’t make multiple submissions, by which I mean offering copies of your article to all the magazines at once. This might seem like a smart move – carpet bombing the market – but professional journalists practice editorial confidentiality. This means they don’t disclose any inside knowledge of one title’s content with another they might be dealing with. If, for instance, two magazines published the same article at even roughly the same time you may find that neither will ever use its author again. Of course, if you get a rejection from one magazine, you should send it off to another – and it isn’t necessary to mention that you have already been turned down. But it pays to develop a relationship with a single magazine in each genre. Submit to the Tiddlywinks Times, Fungii for Fun, or whatever else turns you on, but otherwise do choose the boating mag that best suits your background and style and at least give them first option before going elsewhere. My column in PRACTICAL BOAT OWNER – Britain's biggest selling boating mag – has been running for 16 years and I wouldn't dream of submitting to one of their UK competitors. The overseas market is another matter.
Don’t be dismayed if you don’t hear back immediately. Editors are inundated with submissions and it takes time to plough through them. Also, a subject which might be viewed lukewarmly one day might suddenly become red hot for an issue with a related theme. It’s frustrating I know, but try not to hound the editor – who might simply send the copy back to you rather than be prodded repeatedly. Tough, I know, but this is real life in the journalism game.
Finally, don’t ever give up! Established writers have achieved a sort of critical mass of work that gives their submissions momentum. Prove yourself both able and dependable and, believe me, editors will welcome you with open arms.
Good luck! Good writing!