My Writing, Writing advice

Writing articles: analysing magazines

A while back I started a series of posts on how to get articles published to help demystify the process, with the first looking at coming up with ideas.

Following on from that, this next post in the series explores how, once you’ve got an idea for an article or at least an idea as to what magazine you’d like to write for, you go about researching and studying your target publication.

magazines

Getting a feel for a magazine and its readers

Read as many recent issues of the magazine as you’re able. Think of key themes and words you’d associate with the publication’s content, perhaps noting these down as you go.

As you do this, keep a key question in mind about who the magazine is aimed at. OK, so let’s say it’s a travel magazine. Yes, it will have travel features, but what kind of travel? Is it mostly UK based or abroad? For families looking for an easy and fun getaway or an adventurous backpacker? Are they aspirational features about luxurious private sea huts in the Maldives, or is it wild camping in the Highlands on a budget? Or somewhere in between? This will give you an idea as to whether your idea fits into the overall angle of the magazine. Notice too things like the adverts that give a clue as to who the reader is, in terms of how much they want to spend, their age, their interests.

Think now not just about who the reader is, but what they want. When they make a brew and curl up on the sofa with the magazine, what are they hoping to get from it?

This involves looking not just at the overall theme or topic of an article – say, ‘A weekend in Paris’ – but the style and content. Is it filled with practical tips on navigating your way around a busy city and the best times to visit popular attractions, or is it a long first person account that absorbs you in a narrative around someone’s trip and the people they met? Often articles may be a mix of both: I’ve written many features that draw on my own experience of a place or situation, but also provide advice or other information that may help the reader.

Where your article fits in the magazine

Magazines will have different sections, or different types of article. So a travel magazine may have one or two long, in depth features about destinations, but then also shorter travel pieces that may only be a page or two each, articles that offer advice on a topic (e.g. ‘How to save money on flights’), gear reviews, etc. And of course many magazines have content such as a page for readers’ letters, news pages, regular columnists, shopping recommendations, etc. Some magazines are structured around themes – a wellbeing magazine may be divided into features around ‘Living’, ‘Creativity’, etc. Looking at the contents page can show the different categories they use.

Think about where your potential article would best fit in the magazine. This is where reading a couple of recent copies of the magazine is particularly helpful, as it gives you a real sense of how it is usually structured.

writing

Close reading a magazine

By now, you’ll hopefully have a bit more of a sense of what sort of content the publication is looking for and who their reader is, and whether your article idea could potentially fit. Now it’s time to do a close read of the magazine.

Choose one article to start with. Read it through, asking yourself the following:

  • How long is the article?
  • Is it written in third or first person?
  • What is the tone of the article? Chatty? Jokey? Friendly? Authoritative?
  • What level is the article aimed at? Does it assume a level of expert or insider knowledge, or could anyone understand it?
  • Does it give advice, inspiration, an argument, analysis, or something else?
  • Does the article use humour or other interesting quirks?
  • Does it include quotes from other people? If so, who? Are they experts such as academics or specialist authors, or perhaps people who have personal experience of a subject? How many people does it quote, and how are the quotes used – are they a key part of the article, or is there one or two that add a bit of additional insight or authority?
  • How broad a focus does the article have?
  • How is it structured? Is it a list, e.g. ‘The best places to eat tiramisu in Bologna’, or a longer narrative, such as ‘How I came to terms with my existential angst through eating tiramisu in Bologna’?
  • Does it include box outs / side bars? These are common in a lot of magazines – they are presented separately to the main body of an article, providing additional, complimentary information. E.g. a long first person travel feature may be accompanied by a box out about ‘How to plan the trip yourself’ or ‘Where to stay’.
  • How is it illustrated? It’s worth looking at who the photos are credited to – did the article’s author provide them, or are they stock images? This will give you a clue as to whether you may be expected to provide photos and if so, what kind of photos they use (dramatic landscapes, images of people, etc.).
  • What is the reader ‘take away’: what do they leave the article with? Inspiration to plan a round the world holiday or start a new hobby, practical knowledge on how to bake the best courgette cake or plant potatoes, advice on dealing with a difficult issue, thoughts about an interesting debate, insight into an unusual perspective..?

There may well be other things you pick up too as you close read. Do this for a few articles to really get a good feel for the magazine.

Adapting your article idea for the magazine

Now, think about your article idea. Having done your publication analysis, can you imagine your article belonging in those pages? It’s quite likely that your idea may not quite match, but that it’s along the right lines – in this case, think about how you adapt your article idea to fit.

Let’s say you wanted to pitch an article about the South West Coast Path that was a ‘top ten sights to see’ kind of deal. You read your target magazine and realise they prefer travel articles that focus on a first person narrative detailing your experience of the walk, any challenges you came across, quirky little details or events that happened along the way. You can now adapt your idea to fit the magazine. (But, do keep hold of that original idea of ‘top ten sights’ – you may find another magazine to pitch it to as well.)

This may sound like quite a lot to do. But it will become quicker as you get more experienced. If I want to write for a magazine I’ve not approached before, I will certainly dedicate some time to reading and absorbing it, but the analysis now comes to me naturally as I read – I find I instinctively pick up on these things, without needing a checklist. I can usually tell quite quickly whether my idea will fit, and what angle and approach I need to take with it. Sometimes I read magazines without a set idea in mind, but knowing they fit with my areas of interest as a writer, and that ideas come to me as I read.

The next post in this series will cover one of the most important skills for a freelance magazine writer: how to pitch article ideas to editors.

I hope this helps and let me know if you have any questions! Take care.

My Writing

Arvon article in Planet Mindful

It’s been a busy few weeks for me. I’ve started a new job that involves lots of copywriting (yay!), which I’m really enjoying. I’ve also been working on editing my novel that’s been my work in progress for a while now, as well as pitching and writing articles, and working on short stories too.

planet mindful.jpgI’m very happy to share that I have a feature in the current issue of the gorgeous magazine Planet Mindful. The article is about my experience of attending a residential writing course at the magical Arvon centre The Hurst earlier this year. Planet Mindful is a wonderful wellbeing magazine that I’ve enjoyed reading for a while, so it’s great to be published by them.

My Writing, Writing advice

Writing articles: coming up with ideas

I’ve had a few friends ask me how I get articles published, so I thought I’d write a series of posts about the process. This first one is about where to get ideas for articles. It is mostly geared towards print magazines, as that’s where the majority of my work gets published, but a lot of this will apply to online publications and newspapers too.

Go into a supermarket, newsagent or WH Smith and you’ll find hundreds of magazines. And most of these magazines will rely on freelance writers to produce at least some of their content.

I have a few different approaches to generating article ideas. There are lots of ways to go about it, and this is based on my own experience – there’s no wrong or right way to create ideas!

Browsing magazines

One way is to browse magazines and think about whether you could write something for them. Often I’ll be reading a magazine and find this sparks my imagination, finding myself thinking about articles I could write that would fit.

The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook lists hundreds of magazines and newspapers – I like reading through and highlighting any that sound promising, and then go and research them in more detail by reading through.

Write what you know

I regularly brainstorm ideas in my notebook, thinking about what I’m interested in or have experience of that could be used in an article. For example, one of the main areas I’m interested in is disability: I’m disabled, and have worked in the sector, giving me a good grounding in various topics.

I think about what themes or topics I could cover based on this. So, I might list “being a disabled student”, “disability travel”, “disability and employment”, etc. I would then think about these in more detail. Let’s take “disability travel”, for example. I could think about places I’ve travelled to and could write about, or advice for disabled travellers, or hotels that cater well to disabled people, etc. I would then research potential markets and think about what matches up.

We all have things we can write about. Think about your job, your hobbies, your travels, any challenging experiences you’ve had… Are there interesting angles you could take on these? I find creating mind maps or doing some free writing on a topic helps me think through potential approaches.

Combing the two approaches

Often, I find that my article ideas come from a mix of these two approaches – I may know I’d like to write for a certain magazine, especially one I am already familiar with, so I’ll brainstorm ideas that could fit that publication.

Or, I may know I want to write an article on, say, the Lake District, so I’ll read relevant magazines and think about what angle I could write.

It’s important to remember that it’s hard to sell generic articles. So, with my Lake District idea, a simple “Guide to the Lake District” is likely too general to get taken up by an editor. One of the first articles I had published was for Cumbria magazine where I wrote about my experience of going to the Calvert Trust outdoor pursuits centre for disabled people in the Lake District. I was writing about something quite unique that it’s likely hadn’t been pitched to the editor before, giving it a much stronger chance of publication. While I did interview someone from the centre to add depth to the feature, I mostly drew from my own experience to write it.

Next steps

Keep a list of all of your article ideas, even when they’re really rough. I have a spreadsheet with two tabs: one of what I’ve pitched and where, and one with a (sometimes pretty vague) list of article ideas and potential markets. I also have jottings down in various notebooks where I’ve brainstormed ideas. I often find article ideas can take a while to form. I’ll make rough notes and then come back to these a few days later, finding taking a fresh look can help me see the idea from a new perspective.

Once you have an idea as to which publication you’d like to write for, it’s important to really understand that magazine. The next blog post in this series will look in more detail at how to analyse potential markets in order to develop your initial idea further and to get the best chance of being commissioned. Go grab a notebook and start creating some ideas!

My Writing, Travel

Adventure Travel magazine Helm Crag feature

I’m very happy to have a feature in the Sept/Oct issue of Adventure Travel magazine – which is also now available to read on their website. The article is based on a walk Gary and I did last August up the fell Helm Crag in the Lake District. We both adore the Lakes and I always find my trips there leave me full of ideas.Adventure travel mag - Copy

The feature includes a photo of mine from the walk. For a lot of articles, especially travel, being able to provide accompanying photos can be the difference between selling the feature or not. A few years ago I invested in a DSLR camera, partly because I enjoy photography anyway and liked the idea of capturing high quality shots of my trips, but also because I knew it would help with my writing.

Helm crag

I have sold features with photos taken with a phone camera, like my “A Weekend Getaway to Stoke-on-Trent” feature in Simply Vegan earlier this year I didn’t fancy photographing my food in restaurants with a bulky camera! But I’m glad I took my DSLR with me to the Lakes as the photo that accompanies my Helm Crag feature takes up nearly a double A4 spread, and a photo taken with my phone wouldn’t have had the same level of quality to it.

Reading through this current issue of Adventure Travel has me wanting to get out exploring our beautiful countryside more. I live near the Peak District and haven’t been there nearly enough. Maybe this should spur me and Gary on to go out there, with the camera, and do some more walks.

My Writing, Travel, Uncategorized

DadaFest Artist Development Programme and a day in Liverpool

Today I had a wonderful time exploring the city of Liverpool. I was there for a meeting with the disability arts organisation DaDaFest about being supported by their Artist Development Programme.

Blue Coat LiverpoolDadaFest are based at the Bluecoat creative hub in the city centre, in a characterful historic building. It was a really positive chat and I left feeling excited about what’s on offer, in particular setting up mentoring for me with an established writer to further develop my creative practice. I’ve now got some thinking to do around what support in particular I’d like from the programme to help with my writing career. This year I’m making a real push with my writing, and being part of DaDaFest’s Artist Development Programme looks set to be a big help.

My fiancé Gary and I then had a few hours to ourselves in Liverpool. I’ve only been once before, even though it’s not that far from Stoke, so it was good to have an excuse to explore. At Sam from DaDaFest’s recommendation, Gary and I headed to The British Music Experience on the Liverpool Waterfront.

The museum traces the history of British rock and pop from the mid-twentieth century through to the present day and has a whole lot of costumes, instruments and memorabilia, from the inevitable Beatles members’ guitars through to Geri Halliwell’s (in)famous union flag dress. Gary and I both love music and enjoyed exploring its history.

Caroline GuitarThe museum has selection of instruments for visitors to play, so Gary and I had a bit of time trying out various guitars. Gary showed off his shredding and serenaded me with songs from his band, Skybald (who have a gig coming up in Stoke, local music fans!), while I tried to remember the bit of Smashing Pumpkins and Green Day songs I learnt years ago (it’s a while since I picked up a guitar). We’d definitely recommend The British Music Experience if you’re ever in Liverpool.

There were several museums and art galleries that we didn’t get a chance to visit today, but we will definitely be returning to this vibrant city.

 

 

My Writing, Travel, Uncategorized, Workshop

A week at an Arvon course

Recently, I was lucky to spend a week away at Arvon’s The Hurst writers’ centre in the beautiful Shropshire hills.

As I sat in the bright book-filled lounge with eleven other writers who’d travelled from all over, including one from the US, I wondered whether I’d made the right decision coming here. A week dedicated to writing was a lovely idea, but would I find it too exhausting? Would I be able to make the most of my time, or would I run low on ideas? What would the people I’d be sharing this grand old house with be like?

The course was on writing young adult fiction, tutored by the wonderful authors Anthony McGowen and Sheena Wilkinson, and I knew it was going to be an intense week of workshops, tutorials and time dedicated to writing.

20190413_095338Of course, I needn’t have worried. Everyone – my fellow participants, the tutors, and the Arvon staff – were warm and welcoming.

Each morning we took part in workshops, led by Anthony and Sheena, from 9.30am-1pm. It sounded like a dauntingly long amount of time, but each session, covering topics as diverse as characterisation, dialogue and editing, was so engaging and enjoyable that they passed so quick. I filled my Moleskin notebook with notes and ideas generated from the writing exercises set by the tutors.

Our afternoons were less structured, with time to work on our writing, one-to-one tutorials with Anthony and Sheena, or walking in the grounds. The Hurst is set in beautiful woodland, and I took many opportunities to go exploring, both on my own and with fellow writers.

20190410_155428After a delicious dinner (cooked on a rota by participants), each evening held something different – readings from the tutors, a guest author, and a free evening on Thursday. All accompanied by copious amounts of wine and writerly conversation. The Friday evening was a celebration of our work, where we each read a five minute piece of our own writing. It was wonderful to hear everyone’s pieces, ranging from the humorous to emotional.

As I was waiting for my fiancé to pick me up on the Saturday morning (we did a trip to the historic town of Shrewsbury on the way back to Stoke), I couldn’t resist looking on the Arvon website to see what other upcoming courses they have. I know I will definitely be returning – whether to The Hurst or one of Arvon’s other centres in Yorkshire or Devon. I left Arvon with a renewed confidence in and love for my writing, and the promise to myself to dedicate more time to this passion.

My Writing

Article in Simply Vegan

Simply Vegan MagazineI’m happy to have an article in the current issue of Simply Vegan magazine about vegan friendly places to eat in Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire.

There’s nothing nicer than catching up with people you care about over food and a few drinks. I love going out for something to eat, whether returning to a favourite café for coffee and cake or trying out a new restaurant with my fiancé and our friends. I’m also passionate about good vegan food, so writing about vegan places to eat locally was an obvious choice.

The article gives my recommendations of several cafes and restaurants in the local area that are worth visiting for those interested in or following an animal free diet. It was hard coming up with a shortlist of places as there’s an abundance and ever growing list of great eateries that cater for vegans, so I tried to get a mix that showcases different types of food, from a Chinese restaurant that does amazing tofu dishes to a community café that serves cheap but delicious homemade vegan cakes. My aim was to write an article that features something for everyone and highlights some of the great vegan options out there in a part of the country I’ve been happy to call home for nearly nine years.

Travel, Uncategorized

Coffee, books and zines

Last Saturday I took the train down to London to spend the day with my good friend, Anahita. We met at uni but even though we now live far away from each other, we still make the effort to meet up as often as we can.

I love London. Every time I visit I find it such an invigorating place, with so much going on. After meeting at Euston (and stopping off at Boots to buy an emergency bottle of sunscreen), we headed to VX shop and café near Kings Cross for a chat over vegan junk food, before a quick wander by the canal and then heading to the British Library.

The British Library is an impressive modern building, which is free to enter. You need to apply for a pass to access the reading rooms, which we weren’t there for, but we had a look around one of the exhibition rooms. It featured old manuscripts – I was particularly interested in the display of Marx’s old letters and documents, including one of his tickets for the reading room at the British Museum.

We managed to nab the last available table in one of the library’s cafes so we could sit and have a good catch up over a soy latte. It’s useful for me know now where the British Library is and what it’s like in case I ever need to access the reading room for research.

somerset houseOur next stop was Somerset House, located right by the Thames. When we arrived late afternoon there were dozens of children in swimwear jumping around in the fountains in the cobbled courtyard while their parents sunbathed nearby. Who says you need the coast for summer fun?

We were there specifically to see the free entry Print! Tearing it up exhibition. Exploring the history of independent magazines, with a focus on their modern relevance in a digital age, the exhibition featured hundreds of indie mags from the past century, with accompanying information about some of the publications. It was interesting to see old copies of magazines – like Time Out and Private Eye – that have gone on to become mainstream, as well as lower-circulation ones. I have been interested in zines for a while (I wrote in a previous post about making a zine for my MA), particularly as a medium for marginalised voices, so I really enjoyed Somerset House’s exhibition, especially the political zines.

I know that London is a great place for independent restaurants, but with not long before my train home, we headed for Pizza Express. Which was good. Even if they did put non-vegan salad dressing on their vegan pizza.

I’d love to return to London again soon to explore more cultural sites. We only visited the one exhibition at the vast Somerset House – I’d like to have a look round the rest sometime. But, of course, sunny Stoke has its own cultural gems, some of which I still need to visit. Lots more day trips are on the cards!

 

My Writing, Uncategorized

Article on theme park access in Enable magazine

Disability is something I am passionate about. As a disabled person and having worked in the sector, I find that it’s an area I’m drawn to again and again as a writer.

Alton TowersI am also a bit of a theme park geek, the sort who can debate about their favourite rollercoaster manufacture (B&M all the way), why Alton Towers needs more flat rides, and who uses terms like flat rides and assumes everyone knows what she’s talking about.

My latest feature article combines my passion for disability with my love for theme parks. Published in Enable magazine, it explores the issue of accessibility at UK theme parks. While I feel there are many issues and ways access could be improved at attractions, the article focuses on advice on making the most of your day as a disabled visitor.

It covers areas including entry prices, queue lines, getting to, from and around the park, and physical ride access.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about theme park access – I had a feature in Disability Now a couple of years ago based on a trip I took with friends to Alton Towers. There were two disabled people in our group – me (visually impaired) and Anahita (wheelchair user). As Disability Now sadly no longer exists (it was such a great platform for disabled writers), I’m planning to upload the article to this blog soon.

My Writing, Uncategorized

Article in Dalesman Magazine

cman_0212My feature Return of the Vikings is in this month’s Dalesman magazine.

The article explores the restoration of the Jorvik Viking Centre in York, which has been closed since floods hit the city in December 2015. Set to reopen this month, the attraction has undergone extensive work not only to restore it but enhance the experience.

I visited Jorvik back in September 2015, just a couple of months before it closed, and enjoyed finding out more about how Vikings lived. York is a beautiful city – we spent a weekend there (we were there for a wedding but had time to explore the city too) and I’d love to go back some time.