Many aspiring authors avoid the magazine industry because they know that they aren’t experts on a specific subject. Just because you don’t have a Ph.D in molecular biology, however, doesn’t mean that you can’t write about it and be accepted by a major magazine. Fortunately, magazine experts prefer writers to experts for several reasons, which can definitely work to your advantage.
An expert is someone who writes an article for a magazine in his or her field of expertise. For example, a veterinarian might write several articles for a pet magazine because he or she has extensive knowledge in that field. Many industries — medical and legal, for example — encourage experts to write articles for trade journals and magazines, which is why they do it; not because they’re writers.
Given the choice, however, between assigning an article to a writer and assigning the same article to an expert, a magazine editor will almost always choose the writer. Why? Here are a few reasons:
Experts Don’t Like to Be Edited; Writers Accept Edits as Part of the Deal
When a magazine editor makes a few changes to an expert’s article, he or she knows that there will be hell to pay. As a group — and I’m not saying this is a universal truth — experts feel that their words are “gold” and should not be pruned, tweaked or shifted around. Writers, on the other hand, know that most of their work will be edited to match the tone, style and needs of the magazine.
If, as a writer, you accept edits from magazine editors with the grace and positive attitude of most professional writers, then editors will want to work with you. They know that, while you are a good writer, you aren’t opposed to constructive criticism and you know that a magazine has a definitive culture that must be complemented with each article it contains.
Writers Fall Back on Personal Experience; Experts Write from an Academic Point of View
Magazine editors like to commission articles to which their readers can relate. You can give all of the facts and statistics in the world, but at the end of the day, readers need to know how a particular topic effects their lives. Writers are generally focused on bringing the reader into the article with real-life situations and advice, while experts tend to simply lay out the facts. A magazine editor wants to work with a writer who can speak directly to the readers.
When writing articles for magazines, make sure that you speak to the reader on a personal level. Although you might be well-versed on the subject, you must relate it to the readers’ daily lives. Since experts aren’t quite as likely to master this concept, you’ve got a leg-up against them in the magazine market.
Writers Communicate Well to a General Audience; Experts Often Speak Over Readers’ Heads
This is why magazine editors prefer writers to submit articles that contain quotes from experts rather than getting the article directly from the horse’s mouth. The writer serves as the “buffer” between the expert and the reader, combining an intense understanding of the material with the ability to put that information in layman’s terms. Articles written by experts often contain too much technical jargon and cannot be easily understood by the average reader.
When you’re writing an article about a complicated subject for a magazine, work toward helping the reader to understand. You can use technical jargon, but make sure you explain the meaning of words that the reader won’t know. You can use quotes from experts, but choose quotes that further the understanding of the material rather than the academic point of view.
Writers Can Use This to Your Advantage
While some topics admittedly require an expert’s attention, you shouldn’t be intimated about writing for magazines. Know that magazine editors are looking for writers who can reach their general audience and who can use expert testimony with style and grace.