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What Editors Want
by Dan Case

In a recent movie, Mel Gibson was electrocuted in his bathtub. As a result, he discovered he was able to hear what women around him were thinking. He became the first man in history to really know "What Women Want." As an editor, I would like to electrocute some of the writers that approach me so that they could read MY mind and know what I want.

In my newsletter, Writing for DOLLARS!, I publish articles about…writing for dollars. This week, writers have sent me essays about the homophobic attitudes in American society, science fiction novels, and memoirs about a dead dog. In the past I have received proposals for "Horse grooming," "How people with assistance dogs are discriminated against," "The case of a person with MPD," (I have no idea what this is), and "How-to write poetry." (Come on… no one ever made any dollars writing poetry!)

I wish it were possible to send a few thousand volts back through the Internet and zap the brains of these writers so they, like Mel, could know WHAT THIS EDITOR WANTS. Such drastic means are not necessary though. Any writer can read my mind. Any writer can read ANY editors mind. You just have to learn how. Once you learn to get into the head of an editor, you will know what the editor wants and you WILL sell and get published.

Here are four easy ways to learn WHAT EDITORS WANT:

1. Find out the current editor's name.

This sounds easy enough, but periodicals change editors more often than my cat wants in or out of the house. Before you send in that article or query, phone or email to find out the name of the editor to send your query to. It looks much better to put in your letter, "Dear Ms Poopoo" rather than "Dear Editor." (Although the later is much better than putting in the WRONG name.) The name of the game is to look professional, to show that you have done your research. Knowing WHO you are selling the article to is a good place to start.

2. Get the current writer's guidelines.

A publication's guideline for writers is one of the best sources for knowing what the editor wants. Without going into a trance or utilizing your powers of telepathy, you can find out useful things such as how long an article should be or who is the magazine’s target audience. There IS a catch. You need to get the very latest version of the publication’s guidelines or you may be shooting yourself in the foot. Guidelines tend to change with the editor. Check Writer’s Market or some other reliable source to get instructions for obtaining the guidelines from your target publication. Most often, this is to send an SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope) with a note asking for writer’s guidelines. Writer’s guidelines can also be obtained by email in many cases. Many periodicals are now publishing their current guidelines on the Internet. Check on the following web sites for links to some of these guidelines on the Internet.

* http://www.writersmarket.com You’ll have to buy a year’s subscription to use this site, but it is well worth it.
* http://www.writersdigest.com This site has a database of over 1,500 guidelines, but there is no way to know if they are current. Use them to find the address to send for the most current guidelines.
* http://www.writingfordollars.com/guidelinesDB.cfm This is my site.

CAUTION: Make sure you are viewing the guidelines on the magazine’s site and not a copy of the guidelines on someone else’s site. For instance, if you are viewing the guidelines for Boston Review, the URL will be http://bostonreview.mit.edu/writerguidelines.html. (If you are using Netscape, the URL will appear in the “Location:” box. For Internet Explorer this box is labeled “Address.”)

3. Get a current editorial calendar.

Not all publications use an editorial calendar, but when they do, mind reading becomes easy. If the editorial calendar says that the theme for the April issue is “Patio Gardens,” a proposal for an article about “How to Make a Cherry Tomato Hanging Basket” might be just what the editor is looking for. Don’t send a query for the “Hanging Basket” in March! Magazines work months in advance. Query for Christmas and Hanukkah related articles in June. Editorial calendars are quite often sent along with guidelines. You can also find many editorial calendars on a publication’s web site, for example: http://www.gdmag.com/editcal.htm (Game Developer Magazine).

4. Study and analyze the publication.

Find four or five back issues of the publication. Go to the library. Go on-line. Go to the bookstore. Beg copies from a friend. Once you have the copies, analyze the cover, the ads, the fillers, and articles. Answer these questions about the articles. What kinds of hooks (beginnings) are used? Are the articles written in first person (I), second person (you), or third person (he, she)? What tense is the article written in? How are the swing paragraph/s, the climatic paragraph/s, and the conclusion written? Are there any sidebars? By answering these questions you gain much insight into the mind of the editor.

Once you learn these steps, knowing WHAT EDITORS WANT becomes second nature. Your acceptance ratio will go up and (best of all) your income will go up.

© Copyright 2001, Dan Case

Dan Case is the editor of Writing for DOLLARS! the free ezine for writers, featuring tips, tricks and ideas for selling what you write. You can receive a free ebook, 83 Ways To Make Money Writing when you subscribe. http://www.writingfordollars.com

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