• Session: “Making Money from Small Publications”
•Speaker: Wayne van Zwoll
Wayne Van Zwoll is an OWAA member, book author, magazine writer and photographer specializing in hunting, conservation, rifles, cartridges, optics and shooting gear. He has made a large portion of his income contributing to outdoor-related publications – many of them relatively small markets – and shared with annual conference attendees at Grand Rapids how they, too, can cash in.
“When approaching a publication for the first time,” van Zwoll said, “consider four things: the homework, the contact, the pitch and the product.” He then elaborated on each point.
Before ever approaching a publication, van Zwoll strongly suggests studying in depth the particular magazine you’d like to write for. “Mind the content, style, slant, even the advertisers,” he said. “And learn to read between the lines; in other words, what is not in the magazine? Whatever it is, it’s probably not there for a very good reason.”
Van Zwoll next recommended getting the name of a specific person at the magazine to contact. That person may likely be the editor, but it may be someone else altogether, so again, do your homework. And whatever you do, make sure to spell the person’s name correctly when you make that first contact.
It may be surprising that in this electronic age van Zwoll prefers making his initial contact with a publication through a letter. “Few people take the time to write an actual letter anymore,” he said. “By doing so, you set yourself apart from all those other writers trying to break in to a publication.” If van Zwoll’s initial business letter of introduction is fruitful, his future correspondence with the editor – his story pitch – is then usually via e-mail.
When querying a publication with a story idea, van Zwoll said, it’s important to show imagination. “There’s a surfeit of information on the Internet and in print,” he said, “much of it redundant and useless. Convince the editor you can deliver new, practical information in a fresh, compelling way that will appeal not only to targeted groups, but also to casual readers.”
He advised being specific about an article topic, but not dogmatic. “Show you have a plan, but leave the editor room to broach an alternative or to re-engineer your proposal.”
Once you get the assignment, van Zwoll said, make sure to confirm the due date, format, word count, number of photos expected and pay schedule. Lastly, ask the editor, “Is there anything I should know that we haven’t covered?”
When writing the assigned story, van Zwoll said, write as well as you can every time, no matter the pay. “A mediocre product may pass muster,” he said, “but it won’t get you more assignments. Consider each submission an investment in future projects.”
Photos, too, should be the best you can make them, and van Zwoll told a story to illustrate the length he goes to obtain a good picture. “I was once on a hunting-story assignment when I killed a deer near dark, the light fading too fast for good photos,” he said. “So I took the deer to camp, but convinced the guide to help me return it to the woods early the next morning for photos. Together we did that, and the early morning light breaking over the mountain and onto the deer made for great photos.” A lot of work? Yes, but worth it.
Lastly, van Zwoll reminded seminar attendees to always be professional when interacting with editors. “It pays big dividends,” he concluded, “with large publications or small.” ◊
Reported by W.H. “Chip” Gross