Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Shrinking magazine market requires expanded skills

Write Stuff presenter Maureen Sangiorgio, veteran writer of consumer health articles, says the shrinking periodicals market requires that today’s magazine writers be at the top of their game. She’ll help us sharpen our skills at her conference session, “Writing Magazine Articles that Sell.” Here, in an interview with Melba Tolliver, she cautions that the Internet’s growing influence, combined with the tight economy, is forcing magazines to cut back on feature articles. Even so, she offers some tips on how to get published.

Melba Tolliver: Can you give our writers a snapshot of the state of the magazine industry?

Maureen Sangiorgio: Advertising is down, magazines are folding, and it’s much more difficult to get an article published in any genre, in any type of magazine. Even the women’s service magazines, which used to be the bedrock--Women’s Day, Ladies Home Journal-- have changed some. No one is immune from it.

People are reading a lot of articles on line, buying Kindles. One way to sell magazine articles today is to pitch more ideas than ever before and maybe even step out of your genre. Instead of just business, maybe write business and health. Instead of just health, write health and automotive.

MT: Describe the changes brought about by the new technology and the Internet.

MS: The proliferation of the Internet, and its popularity, has had a detrimental effect on the magazine industry. People have more outlets to get their information from. Everyone has a computer. My genre is consumer health and there are a lot of really good high quality sites out there like WebMD and the large university hospital websites. It’s good health information. Whether they’re interested in cooking, housekeeping, health articles, business articles, they can get it online, free, 24 /7. That has hit the magazine industry very, very hard. And it’s reeling from it. I have written for newspapers, I have written chapters in books. I’ve been doing this for over 20 years and have never seen it this slow before. When I first became a free-lance writer, when I left Rodale over 10 years ago, I was turning down work. Now I have fewer assignments throughout the year. I’ve lost clients. Child magazine folded. McCall’s folded. These are magazines that I worked for for quite awhile. Lifestyle magazines, a few of them on the West Coast I used to write for, they’re all gone.

MT: If someone is still interested in writing for magazines, despite the gloomy forecast, what is often their biggest mistake?

MS: I don’t think they send enough queries out. Try to come up with as many ideas as possible, and don’t limit yourself. For more than 20 years I’ve written mainly consumer health and medical articles. But for about the last 2 years, I’ve been writing for the automotive industry. I was the executive editor of the Porsche Club magazine. You know what? It keeps me busy and it keeps my name out there. I’ve also written a few articles for Pocono Business Journal. I’m pitching right now to Eastern PA Business Journal, just to broaden my horizons so that I keep getting published.

MT: So you would say keep getting published, if you can?

MS: Yes, Try to accept anything that comes your way. A local magazine, for example, that doesn’t pay their contributors, or pays very little, can give you the experience so you have those clips, those examples to show someone in a better market.

MT: I’ve heard that if you are writing a full-length book---say, a memoir—it could be helpful to get a chapter published first as a magazine article.

MS: Sure, sure, that’s a possibility. Maybe as you’re writing the book chapter, think of article ideas that you could pitch to magazines. You would have to tease away a little part of the chapter. Book chapters are long and detailed, where with magazine articles you don’t have space for all that.

MT: The old adage “write what you know.” Good advice? 

MS: I never agreed with that because if you want to be a writer—if that’s your business and how you make a living—you can’t just write about what you know. You have to write about what people are willing to buy. If it’s Architectural Digest, people may now want to read about building a green home. You may know nothing about it but you will once you do the research. Train yourself how to do high-quality, in-depth research to learn what’s marketable, and to please your editor. That’s how you get published.

MT: How is the Internet for doing high quality research?

MS: As a consumer health writer, the Internet is a terrific source of health information as long as you know where to look. Federal government sites and university hospital sites generally offer consumers quality information. As for other genres, the Internet could provide you with background information, but you have to interview knowledgeable, live sources.

Write Stuff registration is still open! Days until the conference: 24!


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I'm new to the conference this year, but I hope it's ok if I give my two cents ahead of time. The changes in the magazine industry sounds similar to those in the newspaper industry. Online advertising is overtaking print ads and that trickles down to the writers. I tried for years to get a position at local newspapers with no luck. Then I started writing online only and the projects have been steady. My genre is home and the environment (including green building and agriculture). The internet is far from the perfect source of all knowledge, but it is full of connections to the right people.