Writing for the Trades
By Scott Warner
The mantra frequently repeated to the
hopeful writer is "write what you know." But what do you know? That's the
burning question, but the answer is simple: more than you think. If you are
a professional, writing for trade magazines may be a good place to start.
Trade magazines are those published for a
particular profession. They offer industry advertising, classified listings,
and informative articles. They may be published monthly or bimonthly, on the
web or paper or both. They provide a perfect venue for professionals to
share expertise, although they are unlikely to be read outside a given
profession. Trade magazine editors may encourage professionals to contribute
My experience is a case in point. I'm a
hospital laboratory manager in Maine. In 1998, I helped to implement a
computer system in a laboratory, and I found what I thought was a unique
solution to a problem. Advance for Medical Laboratory Professionals
is a bimonthly trade magazine with a circulation of 50,000. Would they be
interested in an article about my solution? I wondered.
I looked at the magazine's masthead, called
the telephone number for Merion Publications, and asked to speak to Betty
Mooney, the editor of the magazine. I didn't think that I was being bold at
the time. Rather, I reasoned that she would be interested in a unique
perspective to solving a common problem. As a professional, I knew
what I wanted to talk about, so my end of the conversation would not be
tentative. But I didn't have any idea what I would encounter when and if I
talked to an editor. I had an impression that editors are harried, gruff
people with little time for chit-chat, probably because I'd watched too many
episodes of Lou Grant.
I reached Betty and explained why and what
I wanted to write about. To my delight, Betty was cordial and receptive to
the idea. We talked for a half hour or so, and she clearly outlined how the
article should be written. She was interested and helpful, and left the
writing of the article to me with a deadline date. She even gave me the
contact information of another writer working on a similar article.
I've since written for several trade
magazines and found other editors to be just as eager to find good content.
I offer the following tips that may apply to other professions.
Write in a conversational style. Do
not write to impress.
Do your homework before writing the
article. Give the reader unique information or a unique perspective.
Content is more important than writing skill.
Include data if applicable, but don't
reinvent the wheel if a better study has been done elsewhere.
Keep in mind, also, that as a member of a
profession you're likely to know your audience. In fact, you're likely to be
a typical member of your audience. There is no need to talk down to or try
to impress people who you know. Write the article as though you are writing
Writing for trade magazines is a start, and
so is writing what you know. Once begun, it's easy to write about what you
know. But it's just that -- a beginning. Are there other trade publications
in related professions? Are there other magazines with a wider audience that
might accept similar ideas? Or, should you write next about what you
don't know? Those are the next questions after this first step.