Pros: Friendly tone; straightforward approach; pervasive professionalism; great information
Rating: 5 out of 5
First posted 2/3/2005
Review book courtesy of Alpha Books
“How do you find the time to write?” … At a publishing seminar in San Francisco, Jennifer choked on the cup of weak hotel coffee she was drinking as an agent on the panel fielded that very question from a member of the audience. “Sit your ass in the chair,” the agent replied. “If you want to be a writer, sit down and write.”
“The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Magazine Articles,” by Sheree Bykofsky, Jennifer Basye Sander, and Lynne Rominger, is a straightforward yet entertaining book about the world of freelance writing. In such a book you might expect to find the typical information on writers’ guidelines, stamped self-addressed envelopes, query letters, and making sure you spell editors’ names correctly–and you will find that here. However, you’ll also find quite a few other, less expected things.
Part 1: Welcome to Writerland
The authors do not assume familiarity with the industry. They walk you through the rewards of being a freelance writer, explain why magazines hire freelancers and what freelancers do for magazines, share some success stories from real freelancers, share information from editors on what they look for in a writer, and provide a “reality check” to help you decide if this is what you really want to do. They provide a nice balance of tone. They’re friendly and encouraging, yet they’re also very down-to-earth.
Part 2: Learning the Basics
This part teaches you how to study the market, pick a place in it, and break in. It helps with brainstorming techniques, queries, and interview techniques. Basically, it’s all about getting–and keeping–that first assignment, including what you should do as soon as that first article idea gets accepted.
This book is particularly good about pointing out all of the mistaken attitudes, inadvertent errors and inappropriate assumptions that can mess up your chances. And it does it without either coddling you or harshing on you.
Part 3: Who’s Gonna Buy Your Stuff?
This section details the differences between newspapers, glossies, and trade magazines: what they’re looking for, how to break into each market, the pros and cons of each, and so on.
Part 4: Online: The Newest Frontier
This book came out in 2000, but it does a good job of covering the basics of online publication–better than I’ve seen in many other places, actually. It doesn’t just cover online versions of print magazines or a brief discussion of electronic rights. Instead it goes in-depth into ‘zines, content providers, building your own web site in order to attract editors to you, and so on.
I do find it a little amusing in light of the blogging phenomenon that the authors had this to say:
One thing that a Web site should not be about is… you. Why would a visitor want to spend time at your Web site if it is written in such a way that the focus is always about you and your interest?
That said, however, I agree with their assertion that you should “always ask yourself, ‘What is the reader getting out of this?'”
Part 5: A Short Course on Writing Effective Articles
Unlike many books, this one doesn’t simply re-hash the basics of writing that we should have learned elsewhere. Instead it details different types or styles of article and the needs of each.
Part 6: The Business of Freelancing
This chapter provides the basics on business filing, taxes and contracts. It also discusses how you can choose and create a specialty for yourself, and how you can decide whether or not you should develop an article into a book proposal!
Finally, the book winds up with a glossary, a brief list of recommended books and web sites, and a few sample contracts and writers’ guidelines.
This is a fantastic book. It contains only a handful of typos of the wouldn’t-be-caught-by-a-spell-checker variety (most people probably wouldn’t even notice). The advice is helpful and encouraging yet practical and realistic. I’ve rarely seen an approach that so clearly manages to convey the things to watch out for when freelancing without becoming preachy, condescending or morose, and there’s plenty of advice in here that I haven’t seen repeated in a dozen other places.