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Creating Illustrated Articles

We have more experience in this area than we do with submitting photographs alone. A few years back there was a national magazine on the history of the countryside and just the two of us, writing under a number of names managed to supply 32 pages of articles, all fully supported with photographs for every edition of the magazine. This was an interest rather than a major earner, but did give us the chance to get to understand this market well. We have also both produced many articles for a variety of other publications, and as you will see from the website can produce quite a good flow of researched articles. Although the photography side of this website and articles like this one is drawing upon our own experience and therefore perhaps easier.

Most people who write for magazines are not photographers, most don't submit photographs with their text, and where they do often the magazine will replace them with other images of a better quality from a library or from other submissions. Point and shoot cameras are good for memory shots but few of the quality publications will use the results.

Normally therefore the editors receive articles from writers and photographs from photographers and if both have done their homework and allowed for the magazines lead time and they arrive at the same time, then some of this will match up. However this is by far second best to an illustrated article where part of the information is shown by reference to the photographs. Some topics are more relevant than others, take for example the challenge of trying to tell people what is an edible and what is a poisonous mushroom without images, or the difference between different similar looking moths or ladybirds.

Some of the articles I have had published have been made up mostly of photographs and the photo series showing how barrels were made comes to mind. Some like a series of pages I did in one publication looked at old photographs and finding the same place now and trying to photograph it from the same position and camera angle. There was very little to the article part, it was mostly identifying where it was, the time frame of the original photograph and pointing out key items. It was quite a bit of work to do, but I did these in a series going out and doing a sweep in a day so building up quite a few. 

Fillers are small pieces, and as the name suggests they fill up small gaps, and photographs of odd looking items in craft and countryside museums together with a few lines explaining what they were used for, far often met the needs.

Much of the ground covered in the article Getting Photos in Magazines is relevant to this area, including understanding the interest of the magazines and their lead times. We however also need to look at who the articles are aimed at, and how they are written. For example do they like personalised items that is very much the writer speaking and giving personal advice, or do they favour the third person approach where you are more of a narrator reporting on things. Do they want the academic approach, dry, echoed material, or the subject revisited with an enquiring mind. What style of writing do they usually use, is it written in a style that everyone can understand or will you do better if you find in a dictionary a whole range of infrequently used words to drop in. My approach has been to try to avoid really unusual terms and where I want to use one to explain the term the first time in any article that I use it, after all the editor can put a line through that bit if they don't want it. 

The size of articles is also well worth looking at. Magazines that run a one or two page article, is not going to be excited about a feature article that will run over 6 pages, any more than the magazine that likes well illustrated feature articles is going to find a lightweight item, that is little more than a filler, very interesting. Its a case of sending the appropriate item to the right magazine.

How far does a magazine go from their core topic is also worth looking at, a photography magazine for example may have occasional items on outdoor clothing, satnavs and other items that may be relevant but not on its core topic, and likewise a family magazine would be likely to run the occasional article on taking better photographs although not be all that interested in an indepth article looking at white balance.

Some freelance writers specialise on a topic, like photography, or walking trails or something that interests them, while others research and write on a wide variety of topics without becoming too specialist. Similarly some writers concentrate on and produce a lot of articles that appear in specific magazines, becoming, over time, regular contributors, while some prefer to spread their work far wider. As a general rule the more specialist the writer the more they are likely to work with specific magazines, while the generalist will often look to do some research and then write a batch of articles on the topic for a range of magazines. Even with specialist subjects like photography its clear when looking through a number of magazines that the same writers have written material for several magazines, often they are so similar. Even letters to the editor are often from the same people, and this month we saw the identical letter being featured as the 'star letter to the editor this month' in two magazines. 

Being able to illustrate your own articles gives you a great edge over both photographers and writers,  plus meaning you get paid for both parts.  It depends how you package the article, if you design it so that the photographs and article could also be used separately. You could however look at each article separately and see if it would work best as an article with illustrations available, or as an illustrated article where the photographs are an integral part.

The only part of writing for magazines I am never keen on, is the chopping of sections out of the article to make it fit between the adverts. Having worked out what I want to say and structured the article, so the topic is developed and covered, just ripping a chunk out of the middle, can greatly reduce its impact. Some editors will  chop a lot of small parts out, others will look to remove large parts. When we were providing a large number of articles for one publication we developed a technique where we wrote articles and flagged up sections that were in effect optional, parts that could be deleted and on occasions also wrote extra bits that could be optionally added. This was quite a lot more work, but it did produce better finished articles of greater use to the readers.

Working with others

Writing can both be a lonely activity and less enjoyable if you are working on your own, so why not look at a cooperative approach. Either get together or join a writing group, which gives the chance to talk over projects with others or look for someone to work closely with, perhaps where they provide the articles and you the photographs or where you look together to provide a  variety of articles.

Many projects are joint ventures including most so called celebrity autobiographies. There is usually a ghost writer doing the main work and sharing in the rewards. It can often work well particularly where people have different abilities. Don't only consider a fellow writer or photographer but consider a collaborative approach with someone with editing ability. They could take an article that you have written, having researched the subject, and edit it into a range of versions suitable for different markets or publications.

The books and articles I have written have been mostly solitary tasks, but I did run one as the creator of a TV drama series where I put the main plot and characters together and we involved a lot of other writers in teams scripting individual episodes. I would not be against working in the future on collaborative projects and in particular I have discussed several times the idea of writing a fiction book where I put the plot and main parts together and then involve others in writing more colour and description into it. I have a photographic project I have also been playing with for some time where a story or stories are illustrated with film grade still photography using models and actors. This is however drifting from the topic in hand.

If you are going to work with someone, you need to be able to meet up with them, and this often means you ideally want someone who lives near to you and has time available when you do. Finding them could be as simple as putting a few cards around newsagents windows or writing a letter or running a small advert in the local paper.

Finding your writing project

You could start with a book, however I can tell you that writing it is far simpler than either finding a publisher and even when you do, and have the contract signed you may find the book never actually appears in print. Publishing it yourself is an option but is expensive and you have to market it as well. Books are attractive as you can take them at your own pace and at least in theory have more editorial control.

Writing articles for magazines is a better starting point as it helps you to write tight, cutting out all the words you can live without and gets you into the routine of researching, checking facts and creating regular material.

I would always suggest that people either write what they are interested in but also prepared to research further. It could be a popular topic, in which case there will be loads of publications but also far more competition or it could be a more unusual interest, in this case there will be both less competition but less opportunities to find publications interested.

Why not have a go with us

If you want to try out your skills as an article writer then consider writing one or more articles for this newsletter, or producing some location pages. As we don't charge anyone or have any income from this newsletter project there is no payment available, but it would allow you to both gain experience and get some of your photographs used. Perhaps you have an area of interest that we have not covered, or are interested in a range of locations that are way down our propriety list, in which case why not give yourself a project and help everyone else at the same time. I am sure later, whether a single article or location or a whole load we would love to encourage you to participate.

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