Agent & Editor Insights: Curtis Condon of Ruralite magazine

Ruralite logoBy Lori Russell

Many publishing opportunities exist beyond those found on the shelves of the newsstand or bookstore. A savvy freelancer can also find success, and payment for his or her efforts, writing articles for trade and industry-focused publications.

One example is Ruralite magazine based in Forest Grove, Oregon. With a monthly circulation of 312,000 households, Ruralite serves rural electric cooperatives and public utility districts in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Alaska, Nevada and northeastern California. Each year, Editor-in-Chief Curtis Condon purchases 30 to 40 stories from freelance writers. Here he shares what he looks for from a freelancer and what to know about writing for the trades.

How do trade magazines like Ruralite differ from consumer magazines one might find on the newsstand?

CC: Actually, Ruralite is a hybrid, and much closer—in terms of content—to a consumer magazine. Trade publications are targeted to a specific audience, usually by business or industry type. Often, the content of these publications is moderately to heavily technical in nature. Ruralite is targeted toward the public power/electric utility industry, but most of the content is geared to a general readership. Individual rural electric cooperatives and public utility districts subscribe to Ruralite on behalf of their members/consumers, to use it as a tool to communicate with them. Ruralite is made up of two parts: the basic book pages, which appear in all 47 editions of the magazine, and the local pages, which are generated by each utility for its own edition. The basic book section of the magazine contains general-interest content and is open to freelancers.

What kinds of articles and/or subjects are you looking for from freelancers?

CC: A well-written, well-illustrated personality profile is the best way to break into Ruralite. People like to read stories about interesting people. Our stories are about ordinary people with extraordinary talents, accomplishments, hobbies, etc. Keep in mind, 99 percent of the time the people we feature reside in the service territory of one of our utility subscribers, which mostly includes the rural and small town areas of the northwest and Alaska. Also, we do annual gardening and travel issues.

What catches your attention when you receive a query or an article?

CC: A writer who does everything right: they pitch a good story idea, they demonstrate their ability to write it, they include information about photo support for the story, and, most important, they leave me with the impression that they have studied the magazine and know the types of stories we publish. Unfortunately, the majority of queries and unsolicited stories I receive don’t meet my needs, because the writer didn’t take the time or effort to find out what those needs are. A freelancer who plans to write a story for simultaneous submission should be sure to tailor the query letter and the story to each magazine, with a different lead and different sources if possible.

What qualities do you look for in a freelancer?

CC: I look for good writing and photography skills, professionalism, dependability and consistency. Also, I look for people who can dig up good story ideas. I will work with new/inexperienced writers if they can show a talent for consistently coming up with excellent ideas.

Once a writer has had an article published in Ruralite, are there long-term opportunities to continue to write for the magazine?

CC: Absolutely. I’m always looking for writers who can deliver quality stories and photos, and who can meet or beat deadlines. New writers usually start by preparing a short feature for Side Roads. Then they might move up to writing sidebar material for a main feature. After I get to know and trust a good writer, they may be assigned to write a main feature or two.

Are there any trends in the trade publishing industry that writers should be aware of?
CC: Trade publications are among the fastestgrowing segments of the magazine business. That is one reason why they are such a great potential market for writers. Another reason is because there’s certain to be one to fit almost any writer’s interests or expertise.

What advice do you have for freelancers wanting to break into the trade magazine market?

CC: First, pick a segment that you are familiar with or where you have expertise; second, study the individual magazines before querying the editors. Go to the library or online and read several recent issues of each title. Make notes about any trends and the slant of the stories. Finally, send a personalized query letter to the editor. A “Dear Editor” letter is a clue the writer hasn’t done his or her homework. If the writer hasn’t taken the effort to find out the name of the editor, what else hasn’t he or she made the effort to do?

Ruralite Writer’s Guidelines: http://www.ruralite.org/freelance.php
Lori RusselLori Russell is an award-winning writer who has had the pleasure to work with several great editors in her 17 years as a freelancer. She is a contributing editor to Columbia Gorge Magazine and has been a regular contributor to Ruralite for more than a decade. Her articles have appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout the country and her short fiction and poetry has been published in several journals and anthologies. Lori recently completed her first novel, Light on Windy River.

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