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Entries in FOBs (13)


Do FOB Pitches Get Fancy Treatment?

Question of the day: I am a freelance writer with a few published clips (including the Christian Science Monitor). I'm working on a few FOB ideas for the glossies and wanted to know how to pitch these. Do you send a 'regular' query letter?

Congrats on your progress! Sounds like you are well on your way.

Wow, it's amazing how many questions I get on FOBs. I have a few in my file that I haven't gotten around to answering yet because I first wanted to note that folks can search the archives of the blog, and I think you'll find a slew of info on FOBs. If you search and still have questions, by all means, fire away!

But to answer this specific question, yes, I pitch FOBs in the same way that I pitch any other query: I send it via email to my editor. The difference with FOBs is that it's much more acceptable to pitch multiple ideas at once. Editors don't find that entirely annoying because they usually have a bunch of FOBs to assign, and in some ways, this allows them to pick and choose which, if any, of your ideas might work for their section.

So yes, just send a regular query, but in this case, you can just say, "I had some ideas that I thought might work for X section and have included them below." Then you can just pitch them in some sort of numerical column.

Does anyone else pitch FOBs differently?


Want to Crack the Women's Mag Markets?

I'm back! And, I think, more exhausted than when we left. :) But we had a great time, and I'll post pictures next week. Meanwhile, just a quick post while I try to catch up on my hundreds of emails and deal with a lurking Monday deadline.

My pal, Denise Schipani, who has written for a slew of major mags, from Woman's Day to Women's Health, is teaching a class on breaking into the women's magazine market, and I wanted to let you guys know all about it. Here are the details:

START DATE: Monday, January 7, 2008

DURATION: 8 weeks

COURSE DESCRIPTION: You (probably) read these magazines regularly. Maybe your mom did, too. Would you like to write for one or more of the women’s magazines? In this course, you’ll learn how to navigate the sometimes alien (but fun!) world of women’s magazines, from the so-called “Sisters” (such as Woman’s Day, Redbook, and others) to health and parenting magazines aimed at the modern woman who’s grown out of Cosmo but isn’t quite ready for AARP. You will learn:

-The difference between FOBs, columns and features.
-How to interpret a masthead.
-How to write queries in a particular magazine’s writing style (the best way to grab attention!)
-How to come up with fresh approaches/packages and clever heads that scream “read me!”

This course is not aimed at the total newbie magazine writer; it’s aimed at the already-published writer who wants to expand into this market. That said, students will work on a query along with learning and practicing craft, and getting an insider’s glimpse of the woman’s mag editing process.

For more info and to sign up, head to The Renegade Writer...


The Story Behind My Story

For some reason, I got a bunch of emails last week asking how I got my start as a writer, so I thought I'd give you my backstory which, I think, is a good example of how luck, persistence and truly hard work all came together fortuitously and granted me a career.

I was always a writer, but I didn't always intend to be a writer, if that makes sense. In college, people suggested that I pursue it, but it just sounded so dang impossible. I mean, who makes money writing??? It sounded insane. So I dipped my toe in a variety of other careers (PR, acting (to this day, I have my SAG card!), internet ventures), and finally, writing came to me, not vice versa.

About seven years ago, just after the bubble burst on the whole internet boom, I was toiling at a start-up which I co-ran, focusing on our pr and marketing, basically, creating press kits, writing web copy, establishing partnerships with other sites, etc. When we sold the site (for peanuts), a lot of our partners asked me to continue doing their web copy and press releases, and voila, my freelancing career was born. I wasn't quite sure about working full-time for myself, however, so I applied for a writing position at a well-known PR company, but by the time they called and eventually offered me the job, I'd realized that I'd be bananas NOT to attempt the freelancing thing. And somehow, by the grace of God, I got the PR firm to agree to also hire me on a freelance basis - paying me for three days of work per week. (There is a point to this background, hang in there.)

As luck would have it, part of my job at this PR firm was ghostwriting for celebrity clients. While the PR work paid my bills, I still felt unfulfilled, so, because I was getting married, I pitched The Knot a story idea for their website. I don't think this was my first query ever, but it was one of them, certainly. As further luck would have it, they were looking for someone with ghostwriting experience to pen a book for them, and though I still can't believe this, they hired me. (I did have to submit sample chapters and all of that.)

The experience itself was less than ideal, however, it opened all sorts of doors for me because my very next pitch was to Bride's, who assigned me a story immediately, and just like that, I'd landed my first national assignment. Wow! Who knew it was so easy? Right? Right???

Er, wrong. I landed another feature at another big magazine, and when I returned home from my honeymoon, was unceremoniously told that it was being killed. No offers for a rewrite, no second chances. And then, came a dry spell.

I can't remember how long this dry spell lasted, but I'd venture that it was another six months until I landed any other type of assignment (beyond my usual PR stuff). But I hung in there, despite the hundreds of rejections that dinged my inbox. I pitched story ideas like no one has ever pitched story ideas: juggling dozens of them at a time. One editor rejects it? I sent it right out to someone else. I kept on top of research and studies and trends, and if anything remotely pinged for me, off it went to an editor.

Eventually, I started breaking in with FOBs and at various websites, like (now I made myself invaluable to my editors and became genuine friends with many of them. But I never stopped working at 150 miles per hour. I turned in work early; I kept pitching; I let editors know that I was available to do just about anything for them, big or small, menial or not. (Er, that sounds dirty, but you know what I mean.) And now, seven years later, I have a career. Yes, it takes that long - okay, maybe I hit this about two years ago - to firmly entrench yourself.

I wish that I could promise that there were easier paths. I wish that I could say that there are secret handshakes to open hidden doors. But there aren't. I got lucky - The Knot needed someone, and I was in the right place and the right time, but from there, I earned it. There are thousands of aspiring writers out there, if not more. Keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep knocking on doors. If you do so, sooner or later, you'll likely distinguish yourself and one (or more) of these doors will open to greet you.


Finding the Right Balance

Random thought of the day: my husband has the flu. The knock-you-on-your-ass type of flu. I feel sorry for him, I do, and I've been playing nurse maid in an effort to get him back to health. But let me ask you...why is it that men are such whiners when they're sick??? I mean, again, I realize that he's sick, but is all of the melodrama necessary?? Must he act like he is at death's literal door? If I had the flu, life would go on: I'd still have to make my son dinner and I'd still have to make sure that the dog got out for his two poops a day and I'd still have to nurse my daughter, etc, etc, etc. And frankly, I'd probably do it without much complaining. So, dear readers, let me ask you...why are men incapable of this? (She said, all the while truly taking a tad bit of pity on her husband whose complexion right now is the color of my walls.)

Question of the day: When you were writing magazine articles (at your busiest), how many articles did you have "in the works" at one time? I'm in a position now where I have 4 articles that I'm working on and possibly a 5th (still for the trade magazine, but they keep upping my pay, so I can't complain). I'm allowing about a week per article, which includes research, interviews, writing. Is this about right or am I allowing too much time per article?

I think this is an "it all depends" answer. When I was at my busiest, I was also often really stressed and too harried for my own good...there were times when I'd have three deadlines a week, feature deadlines, I should note, and I felt like you could tug a string, and I'd come completely undone.

So, what I think you need to do is figure out what pace works best for both you and your bottom line. For example, writing four FOBs a month probably isn't going to tax you but it also might not pay the bills. Writing four features might. These days (when I'm not working on fiction), I like to have about one feature deadline a week - that's a good pace for me because I always have something in the works, but I'm not so harried that I feel like I can't get my errands done or make it to the gym. It also assures a steady flow of decent-sized checks.

Another factor to consider: even if you're writing FOBs OR features, how much time does each article take you? Some editors might require 5 sources for an FOB, which means that your per-hour rate for this story might be next to nothing, while you could write a feature on a subject for which you're well-versed in a few hours. One thing that I did learn along the way is that I had to stop taking on subjects about which I knew nothing. The learning curve was just too high, and that cost me both time and money. So what I'd suggest is that you figure out what you think you should be earning per hour, then pitch and select assignments accordingly.

Does that help? How many stories do you guys like to be working on at one time?


Aiming for the Stars

I was encouraged by an editor who liked my writing style to pitch a department piece to break into the mag (I don't have many clips beyond the small pubs for which I'm on staff as an editor). Assuming all goes well and I dazzle her (which I plan to!), I will definitely follow up with additional story ideas. My question is should I prepare 3-5 more FOB pitches, or go for the big one and pitch a feature or two (she handles both)? In other words, is nailing one short assignment enough to prove myself worthy of feature consideration? And if I decide to pitch another section of the mag, will it help to name-drop that I recently worked with this editor even if the piece hasn't run yet?

Two good questions here. For the first, I'm inclined to say that it doesn't matter: you should pitch the ideas that you think are strongest, or hell, why not pitch them all? If you're dying to break into features asap and have a great story idea, go for it; once she knows your name, you'll at least get a more attentive answer. Will she assign it? I'd say that if it's a good fit for her, she probably would. That said, there's really no way to know, so I wouldn't consider this an either/or thing: pitch everything because proving yourself to an editor is an on-going process, and just because you'd rather write features doesn't mean that you shouldn't (or can't) be writing FOBs along the way. Does that make sense?

As far as writing for another section of the mag, this is how I handle things. I usually ask the editor I'm working with if she is the appropriate editor to pitch X to. If she's not, she almost always gives me the name of the editor who is, and I can then say to this editor, "So-and-so suggested that I contact you about TK story idea." It gives me an in without being presumptuous. Of course, if your experience with your current editor is positive, I don't think it will harm you to name-drop, but it's always nice to have said editor's permission to do so. (But again, I really don't think it's that big of a deal.) Besides, your current editor might just put in a good word for you with the new editor, which is always a good thing.

So, how do you guys handle moving from FOBs to features? Is one story enough to make the transition?


Cooking Up Cooking Light

I noticed on your website that you've written for Cooking Light. That is one of the publications I'd like to target, so do you have any suggestions or anything not to do?

Funny - I don't normally devote entire posts to specific magazines, but for some reason, I've received a lot of personal emails about Cooking Light, so I thought I'd just make this answer public and share what I know.

First of all, let me say that my advice stems solely from my experience - this isn't a market guide in which I've interviewed editors or anything like that. So don't use my post as golden verse. That said, I do write for CL fairly often - at least 3-4 times a year - and the magazine is one of my favorites to work for. Also, I should note that the editor with whom I work did chime in on the Editor's Dos and Don'ts (scroll down) post from back in August, so you night want to review that post to glean some more insights.

I think the best way to break into CL is in their First Light section. Nearly every FOB on these pages is written by a freelancer, which makes this mag particularly freelancer-friendly. It's also the place that I broke in, and the place where I see many bylines of friends who have told me that this is where they broke in too.

Take a look at the section, and you'll see that there's a wide variety of subjects you can propose. When I was pitching, I tended to stick to new health/diet/fitness studies or research that I'd read about. But there are blurbs on food and restaurant trends and general lifestyle info too. When pitching, I'd suggest sending in more than one idea - I used to send in 4 or 5 in one blast. As I've mentioned before, you simply up your odds of landing a story in doing so, and the editors can pick and choose what might work for them.

I think it's pretty unusual to land a feature straight out of the box at CL, unless, of course, you're a well-established writer with strong clips. In addition to health and food features, they also do a travel round-up each month, so if you're a travel writer, this might be a good place to explore. They also usually include a Q/A with a food expert - a chef, an organic grocer, etc - so again, if you have inside access to these folks, you might try pitching.

I'm hesitant to offer specific names of editors to pitch, but I've worked with several folks there, and they're all gracious, savvy, and most importantly, smart. In fact, the editor I work with most often is in my top 3 faves of all-time. If you're aiming to break into First Light, however, I do believe that the associate editor (whomever that is on the masthead, I'm not sure) is the right person to contact.

I hope that helps! I'm happy to answer further questions if you have them.

Until then, I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday - whichever one you celebrate! - and spend some wonderful and cozy time with your friends and family this weekend!


Mastering the Masthead

How do I make sense of a magazine's masthead? I understand what beauty and fashion editors are but I don't have a clue about what the other titles actually mean. I'd like to understand for those cases where I can't contact the magazine for the appropriate editor to query, as has happened recently with a major women's magazine. A dozen phone calls and several messages left for the editorial department netted me nothing.

Okay, well, I have a masthead of a women's mag open right now, and I'll go through the different positions and try to explain them to the best of my ability and knowledge. Keep in mind that I've never worked at a magazine, so this is my best understanding, not my hands-on info, and to be honest, some of these titles mean different things at different magazines. But this should give you an idea of which eds to pitch, at the very least.

Editor-in-chief: Think of this person as the president or CEO - she drives the vision, the tone and content of the magazine as a whole. In fact, when an EIC is ousted or chooses to leave, the overall shape of the magazine often shifts entirely. That's how much sway she has. Don't pitch her.

Deputy Editor (might also be called Executive Editor): The EIC's #2 and collaborator. Again, not someone you'd pitch. She primarily top-edits, meaning she'll take a look at all of the stories that are being written for a particular issue, might weigh in with some comments and general thoughts, but really is more responsible for pulling together the complete vision of the magazine and making sure it's all cohesive and in sync with the mag's overall message.

Managing Editor: This can widely vary from magazine to magazine, but I guess in general, the ME handles a variety of business aspects of running a magazine such as overseeing production, closing (wrapping up the mag each month), budgets, invoices, etc. Definitely not someone you'd pitch.

Fashion Director/Editor: Responsible for the fashion layouts/spreads in the magazine. Doesn't deal with copy, so not someone you'd pitch. If they *do* deal with copy, they usually have go-to writers that they'd tap - writers who really focus on fashion, style and trends.

Contributing Editor: Generally a freelance writer, like me, who is commissioned for a certain amount of stories per year at perhaps a slightly higher rate than the going freelance rate. The CEs might also be prohibited from writing for competitors in exchange for these guaranteed assignments.

Copy Editor: Responsible for ensuring that there are no typos, grammatically incorrect sentences or other glaring mistakes in the copy. Not someone you'd pitch.

Features Editor: The person who doles out the assignments for the stories in the well of the magazine - the juicy, longer features that most writers aspire to. Yes, this is someone you'd pitch if you had a 1200+ word story.

Senior Editor: More or less the same as the features editor, though perhaps *slightly* lower on the just depends on the magazine, and how they assign titles.

Associate Editor: Another person to pitch. Again, their areas of assigning can vary, but if the features or senior editors handle the longer stories, these guys probably handle certain sections of the magazine that have shorter bits or FOBs - like, maybe three pages of Sex and Relationships or the Food and Nutrition pages.

Assistant Editor: Likely the most junior person on the masthead, other than interns. Which doesn't mean that you shouldn't be gracious and lovely to them: assistants move up and eventually become senior editors. They usually don't handle assigning, however, though they might serve as a filter to the higher-ups: weeding through ideas and picking out the winners. Still though, since they have to send the idea so far up the ladder, you'd probably have better success pitching an associate or senior ed.

Did I miss anyone? (Probably?) Are my explanations decently accurate? If not, feel free to correct me!


Figuring Out FOBs

Yo, peeps. I'm taking the rest of the week off to chill with my family. Assuming that I don't pop before next Monday, I'll see you all back here then. And yes, I know that I still have some of your questions in the queue. I promise to get to them! I haven't forgotten. In the meantime, if you want to send me others, feel free to do so - Until then, enjoy your turkey, go easy on the stuffing and try not to watch too much football.

Question of the day: I would like to try to break into consumer pubs with FOB pieces, so I would like your advice on finding ideas that are new enough that a million other freelancers haven't already submitted them. Do you pour over press releases on PR newswire? Where do you go for info on recent studies (I've tried pubmed)? Do you usually get a source to quote for these queries? Are there other ways that you find sources? I want to avoid looking like an amateur when I query for FOBs and when I contact sources.

The best place I've found for the latest, breaking news is a site called Newswise. You might have to present a few credentials to subscribe (I can't remember), but you can sign up to get newsletters delivered daily. And, depending on which ones you subscribe to, the newsletters contain all of the newest research, news and pop-culture info. For example, one of the ones I receive is called, Medwire, and essentially, it contains snippets of just-released studies, along with links to more info.

I actually never use PR Newswire...I always thought that this was a place where PR firms pay to post press releases, though I might be wrong. And honestly, I know that publicists are just doing their jobs, but I rarely get story ideas from their releases. (Unfortuantely, plenty of them email me directly, and I almost inevitably hit "delete.") Which isn't to say that you can't find a nugget from a release, it's just that I often don't.

PubMed is a GREAT resource, though a lot of their studies are still fairly heavy in medical-speak, so if you're not good at deciphering that language, you might feel a bit lost., and Yahoo Health are all favorite stops for me too. They're not solely focused on medical/health stuff, so you can generate some good ideas from their headlines.

I rarely do a pre-interview for an FOB. As I've mentioned in the past on the blog, FOB pitches are usually short and concise, and to put that much time and effort into a short query just isn't worth it for me. What you can do, however, is cull stats from a study or paraphrase a study author in the query, noting that he/she would serve as an expert should the story get approved. If this were a feature pitch, then yes, I'd say go ahead and do some preliminary research, but again, for an FOB, I probably wouldn't. Not because you'd look bad for doing so, but because the time-effort-payoff just isn't worthwhile. (Again, to me.)

And don't worry: if you're citing reputable studies, coming up with creative angles, and crafting savvy sentences, you won't look like an amateur at all.

Where do you guys find your ideas for FOBs?


Quick and Dirty Q and As

Peeps - I know that some of you are waiting (patiently!) for answers. I'm so, so, so, so sorry! This week has been hell, and we're headed out for vacation this afternoon. (Ha, screw you, Ernesto! We're coming anyway.) I promise to answer all of them when I get back. So for today, I'm tacking a bunch of easier questions that I don't have to wax poetic on. Here ya go. Happy long weekend!

Oh, and I'm thrilled to report that I just received my final cover art. I heart it to death! I'm so, so pleased - the art dept at Harper rocks!

How early should I begin sending in seasonal ideas?
If we're talking major monthly mags (and I assume that we are), you'll want about six months. For example, it's now August. I'm working on stories for late-winter and early-spring. So this might be a good time to pitch something on, say, anything from Valentine's Day to Easter. Or anything in between. (Yes, we write our holiday articles in the middle of the summer!)

Okay, so let's say I have a great query and I am ready to send it in. I get the masthead information only to find a bunch of different editors. For example, I am looking at Parents. There is the articles editor, news editor, food editor, associate editor, assistant editors and so on. Who exactly do I send my query to? Take the query you posted on your blog- the one for Parents about gas. Which editor would that have gone to?
The best way to be certain is to actually call the magazine and ask. Parents, for example, is particularly tricky because a different editor oversees each different age group. 0-1, 1-2, 2-3, etc, are all editor by different folks. In general, however, the features editor usually handles the bigger articles that you see toward the middle/back of the magazine, the entertainment editor handles the celeb stuff, and associate or assistant editors might handle FOBs. One person who doesn't assign at all is the managing editor. In fact, the higher up you go on the masthead, the less likely that person is to assign.

I was wondering if you know anything about film rights? I know I retained mine in my name, but do I then have to use my lit agent as my film agency since the co. does handle film rights? Or do I get a separate Hollywood agent?
What happens most often is that your lit agent farms them out to a film agent with whom he or she is partnered. For example, your agent might have a relationship with CAA, and CAA will handle the rights. One look at Publishers Marketplace makes this clear: nearly all of the film rights say something like, "TDLF sold to Warner Brothers by Genius Agent at CAA on behalf of Genius Agent at Trident Media." Or whatever. I think it's pretty unusual for an author to go seek film representation on her own. If you think that your book has movie potential, I'd simply raise the issue with your agent: she'd know best.

I've written about a hundred pages of a novel, but I'm not sure how to go about finding a good agent. Do I start querying before it's all done? Is there any similarity between querying for a mag. article and querying for a novel?
Bad news: you have to finish your novel completely before submitting it to agents. Why? Because it's a hell of a lot easier to start a novel than to complete it. (Example A: moi. My first ms lingered on my hard drive for FOUR YEARS until I finally banged out the ending.) Not to mention that a book that starts out as brilliant might dissolve into total drivel by the time you've reached the second (or third) act. Agents know this, and they're not going to pin their hopes on a partially written novel: it's simply a waste of their energy (and time). Now, if we're talking non-fiction, then it's a whole different ballgame, but for fiction, you gotta go the distance.

As far as similarities between mag queries and novel queries, well, I think it's really important to show your voice in both. What makes my queries successful (again, I think!), is that editors and agents get/got a real sense of my writing style via the pitch letter, and if they were drawn to that style, they'd probably be drawn to the book (or mag article). So while the specifics of what you include in the letter are obviously going to be quite different, the overall tone probably wouldn't be. Does that make sense?

So...there you have it. Some quick and dirty questions and answers. Anyone have any questions?


Weird Publishing Abbreviations; Source-Citing

a) Is a FOB the same as a filler? b) When submitting something that pertains to health, do you have cite the source under the written piece?

a) Hmmm, I'm not exactly sure what you mean by "filler," but I'll just do my best to define FOB, and hopefully, that will clear up all of the confusion.

Magazines are divided into several sections - among them, the FOB (front-of-book) section and the feature well. Take out a national consumer magazine. Any one will do. After the letters to the editor and table of contents, you'll come across a group of pages, anywhere from, say 10-50, that are made up of short "articles." I put articles in parenthesis because they're not really articles - they're closer to blurbs, in that they run about 100-400 words each. They're little nuggets that contain spurts of information but not enough to make up a longer story. Often times, they cover recent research reports or focus on new trends. Really - take a look at a magazine, and you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.

Does that help? A few other funny acronyms that mag folks use:

Lede: well, this isn't an acronym, but it means "lead" or "intro" of a story

TK: "to come," as in "TK Tips on Water Safety"

FC: fact check

Graf: short for paragraph

Round-up: type of article that is a "round up" of quotes and only quotes

Hed: headline of the article, ie, "Magical Weight Loss Secrets."

CQ: checked quote, as in, "this quote has been verified as correct" - often used if a name or word has an odd spelling or if a quote sounds slightly weird

Dek: the few sentences that are below a header. For example, the header might read, "Magical Weight Loss Secrets," and the dek will then say, "You don't have to be David Copperfield to shed pounds. We've whipped up our own pixie dust to help you cut the fat." Or whatever.

Have I missed any?

b) I always cite the source if it's a quote/study/etc that's unique to this person/university/association. It's sound journalism, and provides an expert voice for the story. Now, my editors don't always keep the source in - I assume, most often due to word count - but when I file my story, it will always read, for example, "recent research from the Journal of the American Medical Association states, blah, blah, blah." The only time I wouldn't do this is when I'd interviewed several experts and they all said the same thing. Then, in my mind, it's more common knowledge, and I don't necessarily need to attribute it to a source. Again, for example, I'm working on a story right now on toddlers and sleep. Nearly all of my experts said the same thing about the importance of establishing a routine. So...there's a sentence in the story about the importance of establishing a routine, but it's a paraphrase conglomeration of their advice and not attributed to anyone in particular.