Monday, November 1, 2010

Tips for Writing a Magazine Feature

On October 23, AMPA sponsored the LitFest session "Creating a Winning Magazine Feature," with writer and editor Lawrence Scanlan offering his advice on how to create a winning magazine feature from pitch to publication.

Scanlan can speak with considerable authority on the topic, as a former magazine and newspaper editor for publications including The Whig-Standard and Harrowsmith, a former CBC Radio producer, and the author of six best-selling books, including Wild About Horses and Little Horse of Iron. He has also won three National Magazine Awards for his journalism.

The seminar began with a discussion of "the pitch" (ie: selling your story to the editor). Scanlan advised writers to be clear and concise, offering just enough information upfront to pique the editors interest and appeal to the editor as a reader. Knowing and appealing to the specific audience of the magazine is of absolute necessity. Another sound tip: pick up the phone! It's easier to reject or ignore an email than a phone call, so send a pitch via email and advise that you'll follow up with a phone call in a few days time. 

As for the creation of a feature article, Scanlan suggested that writers invest time in their research, even if this means putting in the effort to dig through archives to provide that added touch and detail. He also shared his interview techniques, including taking notes during an in-person (recorded) interview: the very act of note-taking, and breaking from the pressure of eye-contact, will aid in putting the interviewee at ease. 
 Reassure the interviewee that you, or your fact-checker, will run any quotes by them prior to publication.
Some final tips from Scanlan: never underestimate the value of a good peer review, and always read your article aloud to ensure a sense of rhythm.

--- Rebecca Lesser
AMPA Communications & Programs Coordinator