Traditional Publishing

The practical approach

By Allison Whitehead – Saturday June 24, 2006

The market for practical, or how to, articles is a very promising one. Everyone wants to improve some aspect of their life, and the alert freelance can earn many a useful fee supplying the know-how in an easily readable form.

Generally speaking, practical articles can be one of two types. The first type is the how-to article, which describes how to make something, e.g. how to build a rockery, or how to do something better, e.g. ten tips on improving your cooking.

The second type is the self-help article, which either advises on how to attain something, e.g. how to get that job, or how to improve some aspect of a person's life, e.g. how to beat stress.

With both types of article, it's best to start with what you already know. This applies both to markets and to the subject you choose to write about. For example, if you happen to know a lot about cats, you could write a how-to article giving advice on buying a kitten.

But what about markets you are not familiar with? Enterprising freelances will try and get several articles out of each subject they write about, slanting each one at a particular market. Advice on buying a kitten could very well be welcomed by a juvenile market.

Illustrations are often essential to the sale of a how-to article, and it's best to find out what is expected of you in this way. Some magazines have staff artists and photographers who take care of the illustrations. Others expect the writer to submit a complete package. Either way, a discussion with the editor will clarify the situation before you start work.

If you are expected to provide illustrations yourself, don't panic. Anyone can take publishable photos with an ordinary camera, and even line drawings should be relatively easy to produce. If you doubt your artistic ability, you could either persuade an artistic friend to help you out, or contact a professional studio. Commercial artists can be very helpful, but be sure to ask about the fees first.

So much for the how-to article. What about the self-help approach?

To start with, illustrations are not as vital for this type of article. It is quite possible to write and sell an unillustrated self-help piece, although you will increase your fee if you can provide appropriate photos.

This type of article may well have a broader appeal than the how-to type. For example, a how-to piece on how to build a rockery is more or less restricted to the gardening press, whereas a self-help piece on how to beat stress could be angled at several different markets. You could write a piece slanted towards busy housewives and mothers; another directed at teenagers preparing for exams; and yet another for people who are about to take their driving test.

A good approach to take when writing a self-help piece is to begin by defining the problem. This is where personal experience plays a strong part. Let us assume we are writing a piece which gives advice on beating those driving test nerves. We could relate our own experiences of pre-test nerves and how they affected us, before suggesting some solutions for getting rid of them.

Don't forget to talk to people you know, in order to get different experiences from a selection of people. Find out if they did anything to calm their nerves. Perhaps you could point out that some methods are not as healthy as others – smoking, for example!

As I mentioned earlier, if you can provide an illustration to accompany a self-help article, so much the better. For the driving test example, you could go down to your local test centre and take some photos of the learner cars parked outside, making sure the test centre sign is in full view. Complete with a suitable caption, such a photo will no doubt be welcomed by an editor.

The most important thing to remember when writing practical articles is to pay careful attention to market study. This alone will tell you what style, length and approach the editor prefers. Do they like numbered points? Side-bars? Lengthy captions? Do they assume the reader knows the basics, or is nothing left to the imagination?

As with any type of article, if your market study is sound, you should be able to make quite a few sales in this sector.

About the Author

Allison Whitehead has written countless articles on many subjects, including self help, motivational, writing related and business topics. She is also the author of "Hey! I Really CAN Sell My Articles!", the definitive four step blueprint to creating, writing and selling your articles for cash. for further details.