Magazine Writing Tips for New Freelance Writers, Part 3: Write a Selling Article
This post is the third in a three-part series that offers magazine writing tips for freelancers new to writing for magazines. The first covered identifying an article topic and a magazine market and the second covered writing a query letter.
You have a contract from a magazine to write an article. Congratulations! Let’s get started.
Writing articles is a skill that will improve with practice. To get you started, let’s look at a basic article structure called the BEST formula, taken from How To Write And Sell Articles by Jane Duncan.
“B” For Bait
The bait is also called the hook or the lede. It’s an intriguing beginning for your article that tells readers why they should care and stop their busy lives to read the article. If readers don’t like the bait, they’re not going to read the rest of the article.
Pick up six different magazines. Look at the baits, the first couple of paragraphs, in each article in the magazines. All the baits will be different. In your article, you need to use a hook that is appropriate for your article and speaks to the readership of the magazine you’re writing for.
You may want to write the bait after writing the rest of the article, leaving a small note “Insert Intro” at the beginning of your first draft as a memo to create the bait when you’ve finished the second draft. If you wrote an accepted article proposal, you might be able to use the bait that you used in that query for your first article draft. In the second draft, you can change the lede if you come up with something better.
“E” For Explanation
Explain the article’s subject, or thesis. If you’re writing about software, you could briefly explain what the software does or why it’s important. If you’re writing a personality profile, explain why the profile is worth reading. Some articles won’t require an explanation because it’ll be in the article’s headline and bait.
“S” For Step(s)
The steps are your argument. They can be individual anecdotes or pieces of evidence. If you’re writing about software, the steps might include what it does, its benefits, and ways of using it. For a profile, the steps could be your subject’s career, his family life, the details of how she ran for office, information about how he won the golf championship, what others say about her, and so on. The number of steps will depend on the length of the article.
“T” For Termination
Bring the article to a close. For the software article, the ending could be how many people have bought the program, when the next version will be available, or where the reader can buy it. For a personality profile, the ending could be a final quote from the subject.
A circular ending, where you to refer to the bait or explanation, is usually an easy and satisfying way to end an article.
Write the First Draft
For some articles, much of your first draft will simply consist of questions you need to ask your sources or facts you need to look up. That’s fine. Work from news stories you found online, press releases, clippings, and memory. It’s only a first draft—it’s a working document that’s a long way from the completed article.
Write long in the first draft, so you can afford to cut your article during the second draft. Going over the word count in the first draft frees you up. You can toss in everything, without worrying much about structure. Just keep writing. You can cut later.
Revise Your First Draft
- Check that your story has kept to the structure and has provided the information you promised the editor in your article query. Get rid of any material that wanders off-topic.
- Research. You’ll notice that for your first draft, you simply wrote the article, without worrying about interviews or other research. If you leave your research until you’ve completed a first draft, you’re much better prepared for your interviews, because you know what kind of material you need for the article.
- Conduct your interviews.
- Look up all facts to make sure they’re accurate. Check the spelling of place names and double-check the spelling of the names of your interview subjects. People will forgive most things but not misspelling their names or getting their titles wrong.
Write Your Second Draft
In the second draft, include your research but don’t include it all. Be discriminating. Just because a fact was hard to find doesn’t mean you need to put it into the article.
Revise your second draft. Check your word choices, spelling, and grammar. Edit for length. When the article is as good as you can make it at this stage, send it to your editor by the deadline.
Note: Send your fact-checking document, with complete names, addresses, and phone numbers of your sources to the editor with your article. Your editor will appreciate your consideration. And, it covers your rear end.
Your editor’s requests for revision: If your editor asks for revisions, relax and make the suggested revisions in a timely manner. The editor wants to help you create the best possible article for the magazine’s readers.
- Write a first draft of an article.
- Research the article.
- Write the second draft.
- Revise and edit the second draft.
- Send the completed article to your editor by the deadline.