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Who Writes Your Articles?

Posted on Wednesday, February 24, 2010 at 2:29 PM

Freelancers or In-House Staff?

By Denise Gable

Editors weigh in on how often (if ever) they use outside authors or unsolicited material. They also share their advice on finding and keeping that "valuable" writer. Please add your comments at the end of this article regarding your situation and advice to fellow editors.

Official Board Markets, The Paperboard Packaging Group
Frequency: Weekly
Description: For the better part of the past century, Official Board Markets has been the most respected publication serving the North American board industry. Started by the integrated paper companies, the "Yellow Sheet" has been the pricing standard for both linerboard and various types of paper stock.

Mark Arzoumanian, editor-in-chief, "The staff consists of me and my managing editor, so OBM receives and picks up many items (about the industry) over the transom and through emailed news items. Breaking it down I would say 80 percent over the transom, 10 percent commissioned, and 10 percent written in-house.

"I do receive some over the transom submissions without prompting. The vast majority of those I reject as they aren't of any interest to my readers. My commissioned articles are only from people I know well who write columns for me -- I don't need to solicit articles. All of my writers are regular contributors. In these tough economic times I don't need any new contributors. Editorial space is too limited.

"My only advice for my fellow editors about recruiting authors would be: to read what the author has already written; gauge his/her expertise; and sit down with him/her and discuss possible topics for future articles. Finally, ask yourself one very basic question: Can I work with this person on a month-on, month-out basis?"

Top Crop Manager, Annex Publishing & Printing, Inc.
Frequency: Western Edition, 8 issues/year; Eastern Division, 7 issues/year; Potatoes in Canada, annually
Description: "Canada's magazine of crop production and technology" is specifically designed to help top crop producers whose goal is long-term sustainability. Editorial content focuses on information which guides growers in such areas as weed, insect and disease management, tillage, seeding and planting, fertility, machinery and new technology.

Ralph Pearce, editor, "We have one field editor on staff, another under contract, and six freelance writers. Almost all of our articles are commissioned. Since our publications (Top Crop Manager, Potatoes in Canada, and Drainage Contractor) are specialty/trade publications, ours is a very specific audience. Therefore, we never publish an article on spec; it must always pass through my hands or that of our field editor in Western Canada. Stories are assigned and written, not accepted on spec.

"Each spring, I invite researchers, government extension personnel, various industry stakeholders (private sector companies) and ad agencies to contribute ideas or story suggestions for consideration (with no obligation). Most of the material is then assigned among our eight contract/freelance writers. I also gather story ideas from farm organization meetings, conferences and workshops, field days and outdoor demonstrations. My field editor in Western Canada does much the same. The remainder is written by researchers/extension personnel or provided by advertising agencies (in total, that represents less than 10 percent of our editorial material).

"Most of our writers are regular contributors. Almost nothing comes from new contributors. Our audience is looking for the latest in agronomy, advancements in seed and from the chemical industry, as well as the latest in farm equipment, trends and technology, markets and business management skills. New contributors rarely show the experience or even familiarity with the topics we cover, and I haven't the luxury of being a teacher. Our regular contributors are very reliable, extremely thorough and professional.

"My advice is to never worry about welcoming new styles and new voices to your lineup (provided they meet your quality/audience standards). You can add diversity without taking away anything from your mandate. I did that when I moved into the editor's chair -- no longer able to rely on myself for the bulk of the writing, I had to welcome a new field editor, as well as two new freelancers, all of whom were familiar with our goals and target audience, as well as our subject matter. Their arrival heralded a new era for our magazine, with three new voices/styles that we didn't have when I was doing almost all of the writing. It didn't dilute the message, it strengthened it."

Special Events Magazine, Penton Media
Frequency: Monthly
Description: Special Events Magazine is a resource for event professionals who design and produce special events (including social, corporate and public events) in hotels, resorts, banquet facilities and other venues.

Lisa Hurley, editor, "We use two freelancers on a regular basis -- both are former staff editors. All of our articles are commissioned. Submissions over the transom come regardless. Some people pitch stories, others just offer their services for future assignments. Recruitment of authors is never a problem for us. So many magazines have failed or cut staff that many good writers are on the hunt for work."

POWERGRID International and Electric Light & Power, PennWell Global Energy Group
Frequency: POWERGRID International, monthly; Electric Light & Power, bi-monthly
Description: POWERGRID International magazine provides information about the latest automation and control technologies used in electric power transmission and distribution. The magazine's mission is to serve as a tool for today's utilities, providing knowledge on technologies that improve reliability and power system operations. Since 1922, Electric Light & Power has been the authoritative source of electric industry business news for electric utility executives and management.

Kathleen Davis, senior editor, "We use outside authors but we do not employ them. Usually they are hired by vendors or utilities or work on the staff of those companies' communications department. Most industry magazines work this way. They write for free and, if we like it, we publish it. They get a certain academic standing and we get fodder for the magazine.

"Probably less than two percent of submissions are of the pure 'over the transom' variety. It's mostly a combination practice. I send out editorial calendars each year that say what we'll be covering a month and I'll get a few queries on that which will work along to abstracts which we will then essentially commission without paying for. Sometimes we get questions, notes, or releases that spark an idea that I'll follow up on as well. If there isn't a query coming in for a topic, I'll go to regular contacts from companies I use that I know are good writers in that area.

"Probably 10 percent of my writers contribute regularly. Most of the material, however, comes from new contributors although I often work with the same press/media/PR contacts. They just gather new authors.

"When you find an exceptional writer who can make deadlines, always keep their contact info handy. That's a true rarity in this business. I never have trouble digging up new authors. But, new authors that respect my deadlines are few and far between. I think a lot of editors are looking for writers who know the subject or are subject matter experts. I'm not. A good writer can learn the subject. My recruitment strategy is much more about organization than it is about writing skill."

Metropolis, Horace Havemeyer III
Frequency: Monthly
Description: Metropolis examines contemporary life through design -- architecture, interior design, product design, graphic design, crafts, planning, and preservation. Subjects range from the sprawling urban environment to intimate living spaces to small objects of everyday use.

Martin Pedersen, executive editor, "Our magazine employs outside authors, but due to the recent economic downturn, less than previously. We receive over the transom submissions without prompting. In ten years I have only bought one unsolicited manuscript. We use new writers but they usually come with previously published work and a strong story pitch.

"We have a stable of writers who've been writing for a magazine for a while. We generally work new or younger writers in either on the website or with shorter front of the book articles. Nearly all are regular contributors. We're an architecture and design magazine and we're always looking for new projects. The best way for writers to break into our magazine is to live in a somewhat exotic city (Tokyo, for instance) and send us interesting and beautiful new projects.

"Recruiting writers has become both easier and harder. If you pay respectable rates (even the low side of respectable), you will have no trouble finding good writers today. Because the combination of a bad economy for free lance writers, the closing of magazines, and the dirt cheap rates for internet writing, you can get really good writers for about a buck a word. This is not necessarily a good thing, since it devalues an endeavor we're all involved in. That's the easier part. The harder part is purely economic. There was a time when I could recruit 'name' writers to my fairly small magazine because I could devise fun projects for them to engage with. Writers will work for less money, even well known writers, if they're engaged with the subject matter. These kinds of games are harder to play now, with ad pages and edit pages down."

Denise Gable is managing editor of Editors Only.

Add your comment.


"These are very helpful insights for freelancers looking for new markets." --Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, WriterRuth.com. 02-28-2010.

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