Where to Send
"How To" Hobby Articles
This is a followup on our articles about writing "how-to" hobby articles. By now you may have some ideas for topics you can write about that will benefit other readers and the hobby in general. Now, the question is, where will you send the article once you have a good start on it? Some possible recipients include:
What is a Publisher? The "short version" is that a publisher is a person or company that makes a writer's content available to the general public. In the era of print publication, a publisher was a company that would pay an author for the right to put something he or she wrote into print, then would circulate and sell the printed copies. In those days, each "legitimate" publisher had an editorial staff, as well as artists and fact-checkers on retainer. They would try to keep the really bad stuff from getting into print at all. And when something was accepted for publication, the publisher's staff worked hard to keep the printed result from being embarrassing, either to the publisher or to the author.
Today, of course, there are many thousands of competing web sites posting any materials they can get their hands on with no editorial intervention or attention to quality. That said, when this article discusses "hobby web sites," it is referring to sites that are legitimately trying to build specific hobbies by providing specific content and other resources to support hobbyists. Many of these are publishers in the best sense of the word, although the vast majority of authors are compensated only by their own desire to help fellow hobbyists.
I'm sure my friends in the print publishing industry are wincing as they read this. But, for the purposes of this article, the word "publisher" refers to anyone (even amateurs) who circulates materials you send him or her, whether it be in a "slick" magazine, a club newsletter, a hobby web site, a book, or a newspaper, even if no money changes hands.
Different Strokes for Different FolksYou don't have to decide who you plan to send your article to (first) until after you've finished the project, put together a list of materials, a list of steps, and a series of photographs (and drawings if appropriate) - Those requirements are universal.
But before you get too involved in actually writing out your article, you should at least think about who you will be sending it to, because there are different requirements and expectations for different publishers and different media (such as magazine versus web).
Is There an Editor?
If the "publisher" has an editorial staff and graphics arts staff, you should probably contact them first and ask:
As an example, most "slick" magazines have professional artists on staff who will redraw your drawings to fit the "look and feel" of the magazine, so any drawing that gets the idea across will be "good enough." They will also have editors, who will manipulate content to make the article flow better, besides catching typos. That doesn't mean you should send lousy stuff, but it means you are more free to concentrate on your ideas and not grammatical details.
On the other hand, most club newsletter and web site editors will try to catch your typos, but they won't necessarily fix dumb mistakes unless they're obvious. Also, they won't usually have a professional artist on hand, so any drawings you submit will probably be scanned in and used as is. So, the irony is that your stuff really should be in better shape to send to a "volunteer" outlet than it needs to be to go to a "slick" magazine. Get a few friends to read your article before you send it off, hopefully at least one who knows the hobby, and one who doesn't. Because once it gets posted or published with a big mistake in it, at least one copy of the "goofed version" will be around for years to come back and haunt you. (Again, ask me how I know.)
Hobby-wide and Commercial Web Sites fall somewhere in between. Many don't even have anyone who will check for typos, much less make certain the article "makes enough sense" for readers to successfully pull off the project. That means that you need to have understandable, accurate drawings and descriptions of each step. Again, get friends to read your article before you submit it.
Newspapers also fall somewhere in between. If you're thinking about submitting to a daily newspaper (especially one affiliated with a national chain such as Cox or Hearst), you should be ready to write your article to fit whatever format they need (such as a "lifestyle" magazine article or a "human interest" story). And you should have lots of photos for their editors to choose from. If you're submitting to a weekly small-town newspaper, though, the requirements are usually more like the requirements for a club newsletter or web site - you can pretty much write what you want and send the photos you want them to use, but you'll be the person "responsible" if you haven't proofread your materials before they get printed with some ghastly mistake. Well, actually, you can turn in a perfectly good article and they may make the mistakes for you, but that's the risk you take.
Note about the Breakthrough Communications sites: Our family of hobby web sites, some of which are listed on the right side of the top of this page, is unusual in that they are operated by a professional editor - me. We get article submissions in every kind of format, and the truth is, if we think that the article has useful information, we will go the "extra" mile to knock it into shape. On most other web sites, what you send them is what they'll post, so take that into consideration before you fire off something that isn't quite "there" yet.
Contacting PublishersIf you've narrowed down the kind of medium (or even the publisher) to which you plan to submit your article first, here are some tips about submitting it. In most cases, you don't submit an article, per se, on your first contact. And you never send unsolicited photos through e-mail (except to me; I like seeing your stuff, even if I can't use your article). Instead, you submit a "proposal," about an article you plan to write (even if you've already done most of the work). Include a list of resource such as drawings, charts, and photos you plan to include. If your project solves a common problem, explain that as well.
As I mentioned in an earlier article, your first stop should be publishers you're familiar with, be they magazine publishers, webmasters, or something else.
Magazine PublicationGetting articles published in "slick" magazines is good because A: they pay you and B: being a published author gives you "cred."
It's also difficult, because many professional authors are already in line ahead of you, with established lines of communication to the editorial office. So it's hard to "break through" unless you have something extraordinary or revolutionary to present.
If you are interested in magazine publications, contact the magazine first for (or dig through their web site and try to find) their submission requirements. Generally they will want a 1/2-to-1-page summary of what you plan to say. Occasionally they may ask for more, but usually, you're better off NOT sending them a "care package" or complete article when you first contact them. If they like your idea they will ask for more information. On the other hand, they might ask you to write the article with a different approach than you had planned - so sending them a finished article may be a waste of time, and may even "rule you out" of doing an article that they may have otherwise considered you for.
By the way, the submission-to-publishing cycle of most slick magazines is about six months, so the editors are always working ahead, usually way ahead. They also have a handful of regular contributors that they trust to give them quality articles before deadline. So if you contact an editor with an article idea and he says he already has someone working on a similar article, he very well may. If the article comes out within four months, you can be sure it was already "in progress."
Newsletters and Web PagesIn contrast to magazines, most newsletters and hobby or club web sites don't pay you, and you don't gain "cred" except among readers who appreciate what you write. (If you're writing for a newsletter or web site that DOES pay you, follow the hints about submissions in the magazine section above).
If you are planning to submit to a newsletter or web page, give the editor or webmaster an early heads-up about your plans. Like the slick magazine editor, he or she may already have someone working on a similar article or may be able to suggest a way to make your article more useful to this particular set of readers.
NewspapersIf you want to submit your article to a newspaper, contact the editor and tell him or her what you're planning. In most cases, they won't decide until they see it in writing, though, so you should be pretty close to that point before you send your proposal.
If you're sending the article to a daily, they'll cut and paste, possibly a lot, before the article goes in. (As Walt Kelly used to say: "All the news that's print to fit"). And they may proofread your article or rewrite parts to meet their editorial requirements. So don't be too upset if they want to see all of the text and at least some of your photographs before they can even tell you if they might be interested, then they wind up using only 20% of what you send.
Here's an interesting thing about newspapers - they may really want your article, then something more newsworthy can push it out of the way the day it was supposed to appear. Then many editors will never go back to pick up an article that was publication-worthy just a few days ago, even if its content isn't time-sensitive. Don't take it personally - they do that to their own staff all of the time.
In some cases, you'll realize that even though they didn't publish it locally, the article did get into their system, and all of their other affiliates have access to it. So you may think nothing happened, until it gets published in Lansing, or Cedar Rapids or somewhere. Usually they'll pay you some low "standard" or agreed-upon fee if that happens. If you haven't been paid for the article and you don't think it was published anywhere, contact the editor again to see if you can get a firm answer. If the editor won't return your calls, wait a few weeks, do a Google search of some unique phrases (with quotes) to make certain the article isn't out there somewhere. Then wait a few weeks and search again. If you don't find your article out there somewhere after six or eight weeks, dust it off, give it a new title and opening paragraph and submit it somewhere else.
If you're sending your article to a weekly, small town newspaper, write it up and send it to them, and include at least a couple pictures when you send it off. Chances are the first you know it will be published is when you buy next week's paper, and there it is, complete with your mistakes and theirs side by side. That's okay, most of your friends will never notice the mistakes, and you'll probably get some more folks interested in the hobby.
Your RightsI am not a lawyer, and you should read the fine print and consult a lawyer if you have any specific questions. These are just general guidelines based on my experiences. And, as we frequently say in the hobby forums I frequent, "your mileage may vary."
One general principle is that your rights to reuse materials that have been published usually depend on largely on whether you have been paid for them or not (although the publisher's fine print may override that in some circumstances).
Commercial Publishers (Not Counting Newspapers)Most slick magazines that pay you for articles believe that they own the content and the associated photos and drawings. In other words, you can't turn around and provide a similar article on the same subject to someone else without violating the magazine's copyright. (If that bothers you, be sure and read the fine print before you give them your materials.) The same principles apply to some web sites that pay you for articles.
The Commercial Publisher's Reuse of Your Material - Depending on their policies and fine print, they may also have the right to reuse your article in reprints and compilations. Usually you'll get a small fee if they put your article into a book along with other articles, but that's not mandatory unless it's spelled out in the fine print. In the same way, commercial web sites that have paid for your article usually have the right to include article on CDs or similar media without giving you any additional payment.
Your Reuse of Your Material - Commercial enterprises will usually allow you to make reprints to include in your portfolio, to hand out at clinics, etc. But they won't allow you to have the articles published anywhere else unless they've already agreed to that in writing ahead of time.
Consider the Value of Editorial Work - If it seems harsh that most magazines feel like they own "your" content, consider that they have usually paid editors and graphic arts personnel to make you look good. Your article would not have been as good as it was - it might not even have been useful - if some professional hadn't "sweat over it" a little, too. When beginning writers try to assert their "rights" over material that is legally considered "work for hire," they are seldom taking the work of the rest of the "team" into account. If you honestly believe your work is too valuable to share credit or ownership with anyone, please don't submit it to a magazine (or to anyone with an editorial staff, for that matter).
When it comes to volunteer media, such as club newsletters or web sites, you usually retain full ownership of the materials you provide (make certain they feel that way up front, though). Techically, you could even ask a web site to take a page down if you decide you don't want your materials posted a certain place, although some webmasters are pretty poor about following up on that kind of thing.
Retaining your rights to your own materials means that if later on you decide to start your own web site, start your own newsletter, or write your own book, you can cut and past any text, drawings, and photographs right into your new publication. As a courtesy, you should let the original publisher know about this reuse, and you should at least consider providing a disclaimer such as "such and such content previously published by [publisher name]." And if you have received substantial editorial support (such as our Breakthrough CommunicationsTM contributors do), you should consult your editor before you unilaterally decide to "repurpose" materials that the editor also has a stake in.
NewspapersIf your article is published in a newspaper, the only thing they usually think they own is the text itself (and the photos they paid you to use), not the ideas and principles behind them. So you usually can publish an article in a newspaper, then turn around and publish a very similar article (with diffent text and pictures) somewhere else. If newspapers didn't let you do that, how would all of those columnists who churn out article after article on the same subject survive?
What About Plagiarism?If you publish anything really useful on the web, no matter how many copyright statements you embed in it and surround it with, it is just a matter of time before you see your ideas, if not your article outlines, and even sometimes your text and graphics published somewhere else, sometimes under another person's name.
If you're anything like me, you'll be seriously tempted to "get back" at the other person. I have confronted plagiarizers when it was getting obvious or ridiculous, and especially when they were hurting the hobby by driving other people out of the "information sharing" arena. But there is usually a cost, even when you're "within your rights" to do so. Remember, people who steal from you with a "clear conscience" will not necessarily respond the way you think they should when they are confronted or exposed.
The most important thing is to remember why you wrote the article in the first place. Were you hoping to get rich and famous, or were you hoping to build the hobby? If the latter, just keep writing. Eventually the people you are trying to help will realize who is really making the contribution. And remember, Race's Second Law: "The inferior imitates the superior." (Race's First Law is "There is no such thing as a twenty-minute home repair," but that's a different conversation).
What if My Article is Turned Down the First Place I Propose It To?You may have an article ready to go, and even have an editor asking you for "copy," then have the publisher contact you at the last minute and call the whole thing off (wait until that happens to you on a book deal - it's really fun). If you think that having the article published will benefit the hobby, find another venue. And don't feel bad; until you've been an editor for a while, you have no idea what kind of pressure some of these folks are under, even the volunteers.
Again, you can almost always get an article with any worthwhile content published on a hobby web page. Most hobby site webmeisters claim they would be glad to build up their library of articles. In fact, based on what I've seen, most hobby articles with any value at all find a home somewhere, and usually quickly.
What if My Article is Accepted?Anyone who accepts your article should tell you what format they want it in. If they don't tell you, ask.
Sending Text - Usually you can send the text of the article in Microsoft Word or even in a "flat" Text file (like Notepad makes). You may be able to send the text of a short article right in the body of your e-mails.
Sending Photos - If you're in that 1% who are submitting to National Geographic or Life (who wants the best photos possible), take your photos with the highest resolution setting possible, then burn them to disk and fed-ex the disk to the editor. For most other magazines and all web pages, send the standard .jpg file that your camera takes, without cropping or resizing. That may be harder than you would expect, since Microsoft Mail/Express thinks it's smarter than you and will shrink your photo files down to a fraction of their original size if you let it.
Why Even Web Editors Need High-Resolution Photos - Yes, when I'm editing for the web, I usually wind up shrinking the photos way down before they go on the page. But high resolution photos give me a lot of options for doing things like blowing up details into separate illustrations, or cropping out the water heater and still having a large enough photo to show up on the page. In addition, most inexpensive graphics programs (as well as Microsoft Mail/Express photo handling routines), rob the photos of detail and introduce little "artifacts" like dots and "halos" around objects that make the photos look fuzzy and amateurish no matter what I do with them after I get them. In short, the editor will get the best results if you send the file just as it came from the camera, with no additional processing at all.
A Note About Resolution and Photo sizes> - The photo files that a digital camera takes are usually somewhere between 600K (for a 2-megapixel camera) and 4,800K (for a 12-megapixel camera). Yes, sending me a bunch of those at once will slow down my e-mail for a bit. But I can save those onto my hard drive, then come back and pick and choose which photos, and which parts of which photos, I need. (Again, don't send a single photo until the editor or webmeister requests it, unless you're sending to me - I like to see hobbyist's photos even if there isn't an article in the works.)
Sadly, some contributors have clicked the button on MS mail that says "always resize photos for e-mail," so whenever they send me a photo, I get a 40K version at my end. Yes it looks good on the screen within a mail reader, but it doesn't give me enough "margin" to tweak or crop in any meaningful way.
Usually the best way to e-mail photos or other graphics for an article is to send them as attachments. - Most mail programs don't try to resize attachments. And many "receiving" mail programs handle attachments better than they handle files that are "embedded" into the body of the message. That said, you shouldn't try to fit more than, say, 10 meg worth of photos photos per e-mail message, because some e-mail systems will hang or are programmed to reject messages over 10 meg.
To be sure that you have sent the photos you wanted, and that your system hasn't resized them, try adding yourself to the recipient list when you send them. When you get your own message in your inbox, open it to make certain that all of the photos you sent attached correctly. Then delete this message. Then go to the "sent items" folder and delete the "sent" message. Then go to the "deleted items" folder and delete both messages. Otherwise you'll fill your message file with photos you already have on your hard drive anyway.
Review Copy - Sometimes publishers will give you a chance to review your article as it will look on paper or on the web before it is officially published. Always take advantage of this and make certain to proofread carefully.
What if My Article is Published?If it goes onto a web page, read it carefully to make certain that you or the webmeister haven't overlooked (or committed) any serious goofs. Then if the article was edited by a professional editor, take a look at any changes he or she made to your text. Don't get angry at the changes; nobody edits stuff to make the writer feel bad - we actually try to make the writer look good. See if you can figure out why the editor made the changes he or she did, and try to use what you learn to make the next article that much better before you send it off.
Some of my contributors whose stuff needed a lot of TLC when they started sending it to me are now sending me stuff that's almost ready to publish. I know other publishers who wouldn't have been remotely interested in the first articles those folks sent, who would be very glad to receive those same contributer's submissions today. I should charge for this service. Oh, that's right, I do - in my day job.
ConclusionPlease feel free to experiment with publishers and media I haven't suggested as well. As an example, it's probably a matter of time before something like Facebook becomes a major repository of such information.
Remember above all to enjoy your hobbies, and especially to enjoy any time you have to spend with your family in the coming days.
To see the other articles in this series, explore the following links:
Other ResourcesIf you know of similar articles that would be useful to your fellow readers and potential authors, please send me the link and I'll check it out. In the meantime, one Kalmbach publication, Classic Toy Trains has a couple of good articles that apply to many different kinds of hobbies and publishers.
Appendix 1: Some Places to Send StuffIf you publish a magazine or run a hobby web site or newsletter, and you want to be added to this list, please contact us, give us your URL, the kind(s) of articles you are interested in, and your street address if you'd rather have "snail mail" submissions. If you pay or provide other considerations for content, please let us know that as well, and we'll include it in our write-up.
In the meantime, I'll list the sites I already know are interested in receiving reader contributions from anyone willing to share their knowledge. Of course, this list contains the sites I manage, labeled as (a Breakthrough CommunicationsTM websites in the table below). Sadly, we have to pay you the same thing we pay ourselves, but if you have a project you'd like to share, we can help you look good and get your ideas out into "the marketplace." For more information about working with a Breakthrough CommunicationsTM web site, see our article "Writing For (and With) Breakthrough CommunicationsTM Websites">
Submitting Train and Model Railroading-Related Articles
Note: Breakthrough CommunicationsTM, Family Garden TrainsTM, Garden Train StoreTM, Big Christmas TrainsTM, BIG Indoor TrainsTM, BIG Train StoreTM, and Trains-N-TownsTM are trademarks of Breakthrough Communications (www.btcomm.com). All information, data, text, and illustrations on this web site are Copyright (c) 1995, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 by Paul D. Race. Reuse or republication without prior written permission is specifically