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Exploit Your Expertise
by Eileen Zimmerman Nicol
Most of us aspiring fiction writers have heard
the advice, "Write what you know." Perhaps fewer of us have applied it to
non-fiction article ideas. I believe that most of us probably have a wealth of
knowledge in an area that could turn into a byline in a specialty or trade
magazine. We just need to cast our net for ideas in a different place - over
that pond right in our own backyard.
In my own case, I have been reading computer
magazines for over a decade at work, thinking to myself, "Hey, I could do that!"
The computer platform I work on is fairly specialized but covers a worldwide
market: IBM midrange AS400's. The subscriptions to these professional magazines
are pricey over $100 per year. Hardware and software vendors pay big bucks to
place their advertisements in these monthlies. Because computer programming is
such a well-paid field, these magazines are in that precious "high market"
payment category and somewhere on a back page, they solicit articles by
professionals in nearly every issue and on their web sites.
So why did I wait so long to try and tap this
natural market for me? Maybe because I was so sure I could do it, I was afraid
to try and fail. Maybe because after working in the field all day, the last
thing I wanted to do was write about it. But after having numerous queries
turned down by more mainstream publications, I was ready for some success, and I
decided to contact the editor of Midrange Computing. A year later, I have
published three articles in their publications, and made over $1000 doing it.
The experience of working with a professional editor and having deadlines has
been an invaluable confidence booster. Not to mention getting a
I admit that my area of expertise is not
typical. But the truth is, there are a myriad of niche magazines that are
probably looking for a well-written, well-targeted article about a subject that
you know a lot about. One of my writer friends (a former lawyer turned gypsy)
recently turned her special knowledge about traveling with birds into a feature
article for Birds USA. What is it that your life experiences and
interests have made you an expert on?
Here are some ways to stimulate query ideas. Get
a current copy of the "Writer's Market" and spend a few hours perusing the more
esoteric magazine sections. Better yet, submit a query to that hobby or craft
magazine that you've been reading for years you are in a great position to
understand what kind of material they publish. Take your open mind and
confidence to the library or to that fantastic, funky magazine shop in your town
and spend a few hours looking at the niche or hobby magazines there.
Another area to tap is your professional
experience. Look around in the lounge area at your workplace, where those
friendly folks more commonly referred to as your employers may have placed trade
magazines that are markets for your specialized business knowledge.
Once you come up with some pitch ideas, follow
the standard professional advice. If the magazine is new to you, read some back
issues to be sure your idea is timely and original. Get the current editor's
name and guidelines. Write a knockout query letter, making sure to include your
unique qualifications and credentials relating to the topic you are
And remember you already have lots of knowledge.
Don't sell it short!
© Copyright 2000, Eileen Zimmerman Nicol
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