Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Tutorial Tuesday - writing magazine projects and articles

A bit of a different Tutorial Tuesday this week - in fact, this is more of a "this is how I did it and what I learnt" guide rather than a step-by-step set of instructions.

One of the questions I get asked a lot, mainly via email but also sometimes in various internet forums, is how I got started in writing magazine projects and articles, so I thought it might be of use to someone out there if I told you how I did it. Please note, this is not meant as a "this is how I did it, do the same and it will work for you"! All I can do is tell you about how I got started, and what, in my experience, magazine editors are looking for.

My latest project in the July issue of Beads and Beyond - out this week!

I had already been teaching jewellery workshops for a couple of years when I first started thinking about magazine articles. In many ways it seemed like a natural progression. I always had so many ideas crammed into my head and various sketch books, and I was confident in writing up instructions for others to follow as that was something I had to do all the time in my "real job" as a teacher. Back then there weren't any UK magazines focusing purely on beads and jewellery (oh those were dark days!), but a couple of magazines, such as Crafts Beautiful, had a jewellery project every now and then. I started by taking some photos of a few projects I had recently designed for my workshops, putting together a letter introducing myself and explaining my background, and sending everything off to the editor of Crafts Beautiful. I never heard back. I was disappointed but not really that surprised. I had already figured out that editors at that time were really only interested in you if you had already had articles published - it was the classic situation of needing some experience first but not being able to get that experience without someone taking a risk on you!

About a year later I saw an ad in Traplet's Practical Crafts and Cardmaking (which stopped running a few years back now) saying that they were looking for new people, especially people who did other things than papercrafts. This was when UK magazines were just picking up on the fact that beading and jewellery making were becoming hugely popular, and when papercrafts still dominated all of the craft magazines. They liked my ideas and I ended up being a regular contributor, having at least one article, usually jewellery but sometimes polymer clay, a month. Once I'd had a few published I wrote to Crafts Beautiful (again!) and Quick & Crafty, including colour photocopies of some of my articles. I didn't hear from Crafts Beautiful (again!) but I did have an article published in Quick & Crafty.

Then Bead started up, and at the same time editors appeared to become far more open to receiving ideas from readers and people with little or no previous publishing experience. I wrote to Jean Power, the editor of Bead, when they started and have had several articles published in there. I also wrote a free article for Beads and Beyond in one of their first issues (the topic was offering advice on teaching jewellery workshops), but didn't do much else as the editor at that time said they didn't have a budget to pay for projects and as much as I like the publicity I couldn't afford to do it for free!

Michelle Powell took over as editor at Beads & Beyond at the beginnig of last year, and she asked her deputy editor, Rebecca Hughes, to contact me to ask if I'd like to take part in the Designer Challenge in their first, new look issue. Michelle had been the editor of Practical Crafts and remembered me from there. Becky then asked if I could also write a couple of projects for them, and since then there has only been one month I can remember that I haven't had some of my jewellery in the magazine, and that was because I didn't send anything in as I was ill. I do plan in the next year to send some more ideas off to a couple of the US magazines such as Step-by-Step Wire, but at the moment B&B are keeping me busy (projects, the Spotlight review pages and a couple of articles on the legal side of a jewellery business coming up later this year), as are my commissions, galleries and websites.

So, to cut a long story short, the most difficult thing is getting started, but once you do you start to build up a reputation with the editors you write for and can also send photocopies of published articles to other magazines to basically prove that you can do the work to the required standard.

If you want to get started I suggest that you come up with some ideas and make them up and take some really good quality photos. Take some step by step photos too to prove that you can do them. Do some research and find a few magazines suitable to your work, and don't rule out the US ones just because they're overseas - or in the case of those of you in the States, don't rule out our magazines over here! For example, my work would definitely not be suitable for a magazine specialising in stringing or bead weaving. Send a short letter introducing yourself, your work, your experience with the photos, but be careful not to send the same project ideas to more than one magazine at a time. You don't want to be in the position of two magazines saying yes to the same project, as much as that might seem great, as you would then have to say no to one of them and would get yourself a very bad reputation! Sending the letter by email is usually just as acceptable as sending it by post - in fact, some magazines prefer that method as it is less clutter in the office!

Make sure that you have a look at the websites of the magazines that you hope to write for as some have very clear submission policies. The submission information for Beads and Beyond is here. Step-by-Step Wire have put together a pdf file that can be downloaded from the front page of their website here. Some magazines even publish the themes they have in mind for each issue and the deadlines for submitting projects, and some run design competitions that offer a published article as one of the prizes. Whatever you do, make sure that you follow the advice that the magazine editors give. Don't send finished projects to magazines unless requested by the editorial team, and don't worry if you don't hear back for what seems like ages. Editors are very busy people!

Expect to get knocked back at least a few times, even when you've got experience. A friend had a project turned down by Bead but Step-by-Step Wire then said yes. I never heard back from Crafts Beautiful but had the projects I showed them accepted by other magazines (after I waited to be certain that Crafts Beautiful didn't want them!). Step-by-Step Wire liked the projects I submitted but said that they were too similar to a different piece they had planned for a future article.

Make sure that you keep following the advice of your editor, as they have the difficult job of making sure that each issue of the magazine is filled with the right balance of projects, with the right photos and the right word count - and all to a very tight deadline. And then to do it all again the next month! Some magazines, including Beads and Beyond, have a template that they ask you to use to write up your instructions, and these are very useful. Ask if they also have guidelines on how to take and present your step-by-step photos (if required) too. Don't be afraid to email for extra advice if you need it as, afterall, it is far easier for your editor if you ask for clarification and get things right the first time than send in something that needs a lot of editing.

Getting your designs out there in the big world has got so much easier with the growth in popularity of blogs, internet forums, flickr etc etc. The chance for some connected with a magazine, whether an editor or another designer, to see your work and how well it would fit with their magazine is now so much greater. I have suggested to a couple of people that they submit their work to magazines, and on one occasion I even emailed Becky to bring a designer to her attention. I definitely have no guarantees that editors I work with will listen to my suggestions or like what I send them links to, but it's always worth a try! I also know of at several designers who took part the Bead Soup Party earlier this year who were contacted by magazines, asking them to write up the instructions for their designs. Although there are no gaurantees, if you don't put your work out there, there's no way anyone can see it!

But above all, enjoy it! My first magazine project was published just over four years ago, but I will never lose the buzz of opening a magazine and seeing one of my creations in print. I have also been lucky enough to have seen people wear their versions of my designs in real life and of seeing letters published in the magazine praising articles that I've written - it always gives me such confidence. When I first started out I was convinced that I would soon run out of ideas and be exposed as a fraud. I have definitely stopped worrying about that as the more articles I write, the more designs I create, the more come spilling out of my head. Writing for magazines, Beads and Beyond in particular, has given me the freedom to experiment with new ideas that do not necessary fit with the ranges of jewellery I have developed for sale, but are still fun to make.

So there you have it, one longer than planned blog post! As I said, this is intended as advice based on my experience rather than a "how to get published" guide, and if those of you who read this who have also been published have any other hints and tips please do add them in the comments - afterall, if the magazines don't find fresh talent people can get bored, so getting new designers on board is to the benefit of all of us!


  1. I have to admit it is a great feeling take your work is getting featured in a mag or book etc, it makes it all worth while sometimes, my water lilly necklace that was in beads and beyond a few issues, michelle e-mailed me to let me know that it was ago was voted the publics favourite, i was well pleased, look forward to seeing more of your amazing features,x

  2. Great advice! It's hard not to be discouraged by rejections, but there are so many great designers trying for the same spot - it pays to just keep trying!

    I would like to pass on the Kreativ Blogger Award to you! http://inspirationalbeading.blogspot.com/2010/05/kreativ-blogger-award.html

  3. Great post! Thanks for sharing your story with us. It is so very exciting to see your work in print, I still get excited whenever a new mag I know I'm in arrives!


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