In the Spotlight: Agent & Editor Insights for Getting Published
By Cindy Hudson
Since starting at Family Fun magazine eight years ago, Adrienne Stolarz has had what she calls the “classic, romantic story” of rising from intern to freelancer to full-time staff member. But a lot of hard work certainly helped her progress to the position of senior associate editor that she holds now. Here Stolarz talks about Family Fun and how freelance writers can make themselves valuable to editors who are looking for content to publish.
What department do you work on at Family Fun?
It’s a very popular department called Everyday Fun. It’s kind of a mini-magazine in and of itself, and so the experience of putting it together is kind of like the experience of putting together an entire magazine. I love working on it.
Do you work with new writers?
Yes. And we work with all kinds of freelancers who are not necessarily in the mainstream freelance world. We’re very idea-driven, so a lot of our contributors are niche contributors, people who have their own craft blogs or who may be food writers, or who have some other specialty.
What catches your attention in a query letter?
The art of the pitch is really in the first paragraph. Think of what interests you as a reader, because every writer is a reader. It doesn’t have to be a shocking idea, but it should be something that hooks you in and makes you want to read. It could also be an unusual angle on a very familiar story. I’ll usually know whether it will work for us after reading the first two lines.
Do you make assignments to freelance writers with whom you have no prior experience?
I do. We like to look for reliable pens who know our voice, and who can take an in-house generated concept and grow it into an actual piece that we want to print. We especially look to our contributing writers for longer pieces.
Do you prefer to receive mailed letters or e-mail queries?
I personally prefer e-mail queries, but I request that writers give me four to six weeks to respond. We are inundated with queries. A lot of them are very pertinent, but we only do ten issues a year.
What happens if you read an idea you like, but you can’t use it at the moment?
If it’s an idea that we know is going to fit we’ll often buy it immediately. If it’s an idea we think may fit for a feature or for a department in the future, we’ll sometimes tell the freelancer, “Listen, we love this idea and we’re going to hold it for consideration. We only ask that if you pitch it elsewhere and it’s accepted that you let us know so we can pull it from our consideration pile.”
If you get a query that you believe is more appropriate for someone else in house, do you pass it along?
Always. It happens a lot because our content is not homogenous. We do crafts in departments, we do crafts in features…so there can be a lot of overlap.
Is there one main thing you think is important for freelance writers to know?
My biggest piece of advice is to make sure you know the magazine. And I don’t mean be a subscriber for 10 years before you pitch. Look at the last six months’ worth of issues if you can. Get an idea of what we cover, specifically what we’ve already covered, because we do get a lot of duplicate queries. Also know who our audience is. Always refer to the writer’s guidelines, because they usually give pretty detailed descriptions of what each department looks for.
We’re short staffed, which means we have to use every moment. We can’t really waste time with someone who doesn’t know our content or who is not pitching us the right kind of content. It’s really like “know your audience,” where your audience is your editor. You can also find a lot of useful information in the media guide.
What is the media guide?
The media guide is a great resource for freelancers. Basically, it’s a profile of our demographic that we give to advertisers. But it also is a really good resource for freelancers, because it lets them know who the magazine’s readership is. It can help a freelancer decide how to hone the idea and the pitch to the audience we’re targeting. You can call the main reception line of most magazines and ask how to get a media kit, or you may be able to find it online. It’s a great resource on top of the writer’s guidelines.
Cindy Hudson writes for national trade magazines, regional magazines, online publications and daily newspapers. Her Web site, www.motherdaughterbookclub.com, and its companion blog, www.motherdaughterbookclub.wordpress.com, publishes reading lists, book reviews, author interviews and other book club resources. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Portland, Oregon, where she writes weekly for The Oregonian. Visit her online at www.cindyhudson.com.