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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 paycheck!

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 suggesting.

And remember you already have lots of knowledge. Don't sell it short!

© Copyright 2000, Eileen Zimmerman Nicol

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