Of course you want to get your article published – who wouldn’t? And why else would you be searching for tips on how to write a magazine article? These tips for writing better feature articles will improve your query letters, pitches, proposals, and publication possibilities.
These aren’t “secrets” on how to get published; such a thing does not exist. Rather, these tips are what worked for me when I started freelance writing…and they help me sell magazine articles today, too. These simple tips on how to write a magazine article will help you break into print (or shall I say online ink).
Here’s the first tip: “Never tell your readers what they should think about something. You may write about amazing things, but never tell them that something is going to be amazing,” says William Zinsser in On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction. “Just lay out the facts and let the reader say, ‘Wow! Imagine that!'”
Zinsser’s advice means you shouldn’t add commentary to your articles — especially if you’re writing for a magazine. You can tell readers what you think in blog posts, newsletters, and your Facebook updates. But when you’re writing a magazine article, think “just the facts, ma’am.”
That, fellow scribe, is the classic “show, don’t tell” recipe. It’s also the foundational tip on how to write a magazine article. Why? Because nobody does it! Most writers want to express their thoughts and show how much they know (or think they know). If you’re one of those rare writers who simply reports the facts in an interesting, engaging and clear manner then you’re already halfway to getting your magazine article published.
10 Tips for Writing a Magazine Article
It’s important to know what you’re writing and who you’re writing for! Read 11 Most Popular Types of Magazine Articles – Print & Online. I’ll wait here.
1. Learn the difference between “subject” and “story”
The fact that Anne Lamott or Stephen King both wrote books about writing is a subject. How Anne Lamott and Stephen King fought to get their books published is a story. What’s the difference between subject and story? Conflict. Suspense. Drama. Problems. Growth.
2. Don’t opine (give your opinion) – just write the article
This is a follow-up to the first tip on how to write a magazine article: don’t tell us what you think because — unless you are Anne Lamott or Stephen King and we’re a bunch of geeky writers — we don’t care. “Unless you are a recognized expert, your opinion is not relevant,” writes author Don McKinney in Magazine Writing That Sells. “To support your points, quote real experts.”
My Reader’s Digest editor also pounded this writing advice into me. Do you want to get a published in one of the most famous and popular magazines in the world Read How to Get Your Articles Published in Reader’s Digest.
3. Do more research than necessary – especially when you’re still learning how to write a magazine article
It’s better to have too much information for two reasons: 1) your research will inform your writing even when you don’t put it all in the article (and you should never put all your research in one magazine article); and 2) you can use your research in a different article. Your excess research won’t be wasted unless you throw it away! Don’t cram everything you learned in your article. Pick out the most delicious morsels and save the crumbs for later.
4. There is no one “right” lead
A lead is the first sentence of your article, or sometimes the introduction. How do you start writing a magazine article? The only single best or right way to write a lead is to pick one that grabs the reader’s attention and forces her to read your article.
That said, however, read “writing secret” number 8 for a great tip on how to start a magazine article.
5. Don’t take writing rejection personally
Here’s what I had to learn when I first started freelancing: when you’re learning how to write magazine articles, you’ll get rejected a hundred times more often than you’ll sell articles. This doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. It’s just business. Don’t take it personally. It’s not you, it’s them.
6. Don’t even think about writer’s block
But if you do struggle to write, you can save yourself by leaving unfinished writing for later. For instance, don’t stop writing when you come to a natural conclusion. Instead, stop writing when you know what’s coming next and you’re eager to continue. Some famous author even advised writers to stop writing in the middle of a
7. Remember three little words
“Even before writing the query, remember who you’re talking to,” writes McKinney in Magazine Writing That Sells. “At every stage of the process, from query to finished manuscript, remember three little words: Audience. Audience. Audience.” That’s a key tip on how to write a magazine article. Who are your readers? What are their pain points, fascinations, obsessions, yearnings?
8. Remember that good magazine articles start with the first sentence
If you’re struggling with the lead, think about how you’d tell your story to a friend. Describe it in your own words, out loud, in your own voice. What are the most impressive things about your story? The one fact or event that stands out may be a good lead. “If it’s the first thing you’d tell a friend, maybe it should be the first thing you’d tell a reader,” writes McKinney in Magazine Writing That Sells. That’s a hint on how to write a lead!
9. Use different sentence lengths for different types of writing
If you’re describing action, use short, punchy sentences. For description, use longer sentences. Don’t forget to vary the length of your sentences, because it gets boring to read the same thing all the time.
10. Help your interviewees sound good
My final tip or secret on how to write a magazine article involves interviewing experts or sources, which I haven’t yet discussed. Interviewing people is a great way to write anything for at least two reasons: 1) you can include dialogue, which breaks up chunks of text; and 2) you’ll add flavor and color to your article.
A word on how to write an interviee’s words: “No article has ever been published in which every word spoken is printed exactly as it was said,” writes McKinney. “You can cut. You can rewrite if necessary to make the speaker’s meaning more clear. You can rearrange the order in which the words were spoken – but you can never, never distort the meaning.”
Want to learn more about writing for magazines? Read 6 Freelance Writing Tips From Published Writers.
What do you think? Your thoughts — big and little — are welcome below.