Caution: women at play
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Attention grabbing aren’t they? One of the most rewarding, interesting and competitive fields of work for a writer in the UK is in the women’s magazines market. Working for magazines that pay rates in accordance with National Union of Journalists recommended cost (worked with circulation figures) is one of the few ways to earn a decent living by writing. Most magazines have a skeleton of permanent staff and much of their copy is provided by freelances, a network of self-employed journalists working from their own offices all over the world. It works like this: the journalist gets the idea somewhere in their office anywhere in the world, writes it up in an incomplete form, sends it to the appropriate editor of the magazine they think it’ll suit, then wait for the commission get the go-ahead from the magazine Editor. There are perks too, it’s not just the pay that is worthwhile, an established magazine journalist can expect perks like samples, books to review, invitations to events – even trips abroad, meals with Editors etc. It’s a nice way of life.
The only drawback is it is very competitive, really really competitive, so while you’re starting out most of your ideas will just get ignored. Editors are usually too busy to reply to emails, they get loads from wanna be writers, so the trick is to find an idea that will really knock their socks off. One way to tempts editors is to find a cracking case study they can’t resist and that suits them exactly. Most magazines are fussy about the genders, ages and sometimes appearance of their case studies, all must be right for them and probably need to be photographed too. Or find a cracking idea which is in tune with current topics, ie menopause and find a different slant on it. Any suggestions that they are just following the flow could be met by an assertion that ‘it’s a subject we should cover’ and hope your idea is unusual enough to draw their attention. Although it has to be said that some writers have approached magazines with a good idea only to find it taken up by someone else. It might be that someone else had the same idea, but yes there is nothing but honesty stopping anyone doing this. It’s a cut throat business. It’s not so easy with a case study
Don’t write any article first. Some editors will want to ask you to cover a specific aspect of the subject or interview a particular expert. Your best chance of acceptance is to make your pitch as tailored to their style as possible and almost the least important part of your work is the writing style as long as it’s clear. Each magazine has their own particular way of speaking to their readers and a team of sub-editors to adjust it so it suits them precisely. The sub-editor should then ring the writer to clarify details if they’ve changed it and read it back to them. Subs can alter a story drastically and don’t always read their reworked version back to you so you can highlight anything that might change the meaning enough to make it different or even wrong.
So your approach to the magazine would consist of a catchy heading, in keeping with the magazine’s style. A couple of sentences of introduction, again pitched to appeal to the magazine you have in mind, then a summary of the rest adding anything like ‘case study, Janet age 23 etc. you might also want to suggest some links to appropriate organisations or box outs that would suit the magazine.
So your pitch to a magazine, in this case Psychologies, for the first article listed above, Women at Play, might look like this.
‘There I am, with my toes curling over the edge of a platform 20 feet in the air. I am so precariously off-balance that were it not for an instructor’s grip on the back of the safety harness cinched around my waist, I would almost certainly plunge headfirst into the billowing air mattress far below.’
Continues: our emotional and physical need for fun, the psychology of play, play fashion, busy women, letting go, professional quotes.
I was lucky. When I lived in Devon I went to a party given by Deborah Dooley, a well-known, very experienced journalist mostly for women’s magazines. ‘I’d love to do what you do.’ I told her.
‘If you’re serious, I’ll help you,’ she said. And she did. She was an excellent teacher and guided me through my first commissions which were from Woman’s Realm, until I became independent, but now I mostly write fiction.
Deb is still writing and also running a retreat centre for writers now. I’m sure she’s doing an excellent job, her cooking is superb and the house is to die for. She also offers writing chat and would be a terrific person to discuss ideas with. I’m going back to stay at hers with my hubby now I’ve left Devon, I can’t think of a better hostess.
Her website is Retreats for you, link below, and also a couple of links to training courses if you want to take it further.