Tuesday, July 24, 2007

School of the Writer - Part II - "Credentials"


Before I launch into lessons on how to get your work published in one of the many magazines targeted to Civil War enthusiasts, I wanted to discuss the subject of "Credentials." What are "credentials" and why are they important when it comes to pitching ideas to - and writing articles for - magazines?

In answer to the second point (why are they important?): when considering the large number of article ideas that come their way - especially from unknown or new writers - editors have every reason to wonder about their potential contributors:

A) whether they have ever written or published before?
B) whether they are an expert on the subject they propose to write about?
C) whether - once committed to write an article - they will actually finish it?

In answer to the first point (what are they?), I would break them down into a few categories:

A) Academic/Professional Credentials - in this category I would put degrees in history and allied social sciences and/or military service
B) "Historical" Credentials - in this category I would put any specific expertise one has - as an avocational historian - in the subject at hand: you've spoken to groups about it, have a unique collection of letters or artifacts, genealogical connections, etc.
C) Writing Credentials - in this category I would put any previous (and relevant) writing you have done

Does an absence of credentials prevent you from having an article idea or actual article published in a magazine? Of course not. But, when it comes to the "Query Process" - which I'll cover in a future lesson - one of these credentials (or even better a combination) makes it more likely to have your manuscript accepted.

Credentials "A" and "B" are pretty straightforward; "B" comes in especially handy when we'll talk about some of the "department"-style articles (as opposed to longer feature articles) that some of the magazines offer.

Credential "C" - especially for new writers - may seem like the hardest nut to crack, but in fact it is not. The point here is to begin building writing samples (editors call them "clips") as soon as possible. Obviously, an already-published article in another magazine is great, but sometimes thinking "smaller" will actually help you build a body of clips quicker. Consider these as possibilities:

A) almost every Civil War Round Table has a newsletter...consider writing a short article for your own CWRT or even for another one in your region
B) local newspapers - newspapers are often happy to see contributions from local writers on items of historical interest
C) trade publications - are you an accountant? musician? astronomer? coin collector? Then consider writing historical articles for publications dedicated to your trade or hobby. Some of my first articles were not for Civil war magazines, but were of historical interest of my own trade (chemistry) - including articles on the history of chemistry sets and the history of the chemistry merit badge (now that's obscure!)

In short, to be able to say "I've written for the Bumfiddle Picayune" is better than nothing at all. Also, the timelines - from idea to print - are much shorter for these types of publications (weeks to a few months) than for the bigger Civil War magazines (months to a year or more).

So, until our next lesson...start building a collection of clips!

Best Regards,

Jim Schmidt


BlueMassCat said...

actually tried submitrting an item of historic value to an organization's newsletter. It never showed up. I have qlso made suggestions to the organization's museum and library, too.

jschmidt said...


As always thanks for the comment and esp. for taking the time to read the blog.

As for your try at the organization newsletter...Well, if at first you don't succeed...you know.

My very first experience at freelance writing for magazines was a bad one. **America's Civil War** magazine accepted a manuscript but it didn't show up in the magazine for almost 2 years...it was like pulling teeth to get the then-editor to let me know what was going on. Finally, he told me they had changed their mind.

Contrast that w/ my experience w/ **North & South** where the editors are very responsive and forthcoming.

Keep trying!

Best Regards,

Jim Schmidt