Before you send a query letter or begin writing, review your target publication’s guidelines
By Geri L. Dreiling, Esq.
A Peanuts cartoon begins with Snoopy walking to his doghouse, a letter in his paws. It reads:
Thank you for submitting your story to our magazine. To save time we are enclosing two rejections slips … one for this story and one for the next story you send us.
The final panel consists of a dejected Snoopy lying atop his doghouse.
Rejection is never easy. Receiving a rejection letter after you’ve poured countless hours of research and writing into an article is even harder.
- Review the writing guidelines.
- Contact the editor with your story idea.
- Follow the writing guidelines when you begin writing.
In this blog post I’ll walk you through the steps of how to find writing guidelines, highlight some of the important information contained in the guidelines and tell you what to do you if you can’t find an online guide.
Tracking down the writing guidelines
Many law-related publications set forth their writing guidelines online. Before pitching an idea to the editor, you should read them. You don’t want to suggest a 5,000-word law-review-style article when what the editor wants is a guest article of no more than 1,000 words with citations incorporated into the text.
Here are some writing guideline samples from various legal publications. Often the quickest way to come up with the page is to perform a targeted search.
For my first search I plugged in the following phrase into Google: “National Law Journal writer’s guidelines.”
This general page allows me to drill down even further to the type of piece I wish to submit. It might be a guest article for a special section, or it could be an opinion piece. The guidelines for each are different.
The author of a guest article for a special section is asked to hew to the following detailed guidelines:
- Biographical sketch of no more than 30 words
- 1,200 to 1,400 words
- Deadline five weeks before the cover date
- Written in the third person
- Some news value
- Central point made in the opening paragraph
- Paragraphs of just two or three sentences
Compare the National Law Journal’s requirements with those of the Association for Corporate Counsel. My search engine query “Association for Corporate Counsel writer’s guidelines” led to that publication’s authoring guidelines, which explain how to submit a proposal, provide a contact name and e-mail address, include frequently asked questions and set forth the following requirements:
- 3,000 to 4,000 words, including sidebars
- Two or three sidebars of 250 to 300 words each
- Sophisticated “how-to” articles
- Use of the second person
- No excessive footnoting (i.e., more than 10 footnotes) and no lengthy law-review-style explanations of case holdings in footnotes
What if you can’t find the writer’s guidelines?
Missouri Lawyers Weekly, where I served previously as legal editor, is one of my favorite publications. It contains valuable information Missouri practitioners need to stay current.
However, my search query, “Missouri Lawyers Weekly writer’s guidelines,” only yielded the guidelines lawyers should follow when submitting verdict and settlement reports.
Visiting the main website, www.molawyersmedia.com, and the “About Us” and “Contact Us” sections yielded no writer’s guidelines. However, I did find contact information for the editor and managing editor. The easiest way to proceed in such a case is to contact one of the editors, indicate your interest in submitting a guest article and find out whether the publication has any writer’s guidelines you can review.
The writing guidelines are more than just the roadmap you should follow when writing your article. They also serve as a tip sheet to help you formulate a successful pitch.
Check back in on Wednesday, when I’ll discuss how to use an editorial calendar to generate guest article ideas.
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