The Magazine publishes five articles every two weeks (on a Thursday). This means that we will have to turn down more than we accept, including excellent ideas, because we simply don’t have enough room to publish everything we want.
We have a rigorous editing process that might be surprising to someone who has never before had work subjected to an editor, as well as writers who will be — we hope — delighted by the fact that we spend sometimes hours across multiple revisions to get a piece just right. However, we also work as hard as possible to retain the author’s voice.
We encourage everyone with a story to tell about themselves or others, reported or personal, to submit pitches for our review using this form. We publish both professional writers with thousands of print and online stories written over decades and those never before paid for writing, but who have been writing their whole lives.
This page is a distillation of the feedback we’ve been giving potential writers in an attempt to help you shape a pitch before you send it in.
To receive updates about which article topics we’re interested in receiving pitches and other writing-related matters, subscribe to our writing announcement list.
—Executive Editor, Glenn Fleishman
The Scope of The Magazine
The Magazine started as a publication with features aimed at “geeks like us.” We always intended to pick stories to tell that were unique — that every other technology publication and every blog doesn’t write about all the time. After several issues, we realized that these are stories that are interesting to people with a love for technology even if the story has little “tech” in it at all.
Every story we publish has at least a thread or trail of breadcrumbs leading back to technology or the digital world in it, or it has a strong appeal to our audience’s point of view. When we have a writer explain brewing tea or making espresso, the point is not fetishization of a beverage art; rather, it’s trying to peel away the mystery while providing useful information. Mark Siegal’s “Fits You to a T” at first glance seems to have no connection whatsoever. But we published it as it describes a point of view that we see as a trait of the geek and nerd with which we and many of our readers identify with.
Of course, we do publish articles that have a much more obvious connection to tech, like Chris Higgins’s “Playing to Lose,” which explains competitive Tetris through the friendship between two top-ranked players, or Mark Harris’s “Genetic Shoelaces Told My Demise.”
We also try to provide a balance in each issue of first-person or personal essays, researched and reported stories, and how-to or otherwise informative articles. The primary principle we apply to pitches we receive is: Does this let a reader discover something new, sometimes something delightful, that he or she had never explored in depth before.
Our readers are sophisticated enough to have tried anything obvious on the Internet and widely read enough to be up to date on anything in the mainstream. We want to dig through ideas written for a general audience to uncover ones that assume a smart readership with years or decades spent on the Internet.
What Stories Do We Tell
Nearly everything we feature should have a narrative arc to it, like a good piece of short fiction. Even though we only publish non-fiction prose, we want an emotional and personal center to a story around which facts accrue, rather than a set of facts that happens to have people in it.
In a personal essay, one’s own life or that of people one knows, forms that arc and the core. Such stories shouldn’t be told at any remove from events. Either you are a prime mover or you are directly involved.
Look at “How to Make a Baby” by Gina Trapani, in which she describes how she and her partner pursue medical assistance in having a child. We learn an awful lot about Gina and about the process one goes through on the path to assisted consummation. The story has a chronology to it and we pass through events as Gina does.
Federico Vittici tells movingly of his bout with cancer in “What I Do for a Living.” His essay doesn’t explain the intricacies of his disease, but rather his fear that running an editorial Web site and ignoring his body led to a progression of cancer he could have avoided. We feel for Federico and empathize with his decisions and his regret.
A reported story, one that involves access to a combination of primary written sources and email, phone, and face-to-face interviews, will likely have less of an emotional center, depending on the story, but can still pack a wallop. My article (“The Sound of Silence”) about the Library of Congress’s audiovisual repository in exurbian Virginia explained, through the narrative of a visit I took to the facility, how our country’s audio patrimony is locked away until 2067, when much older material enters the public domain.
Jamelle Bouie’s “And Read All Over” is a polite indictment of a series of seemingly innocent decisions that result in a dramatically small amount of representation of people of color in technology reporting. There’s no one smoking gun, but Jamelle through his reporting reveals the article’s promise at the outset: Why is this happening and how can it be changed?
Reported stories also benefit from participation and identification. Jamelle is black and reports on technology and politics; he has a stake in understanding the implicit behavior that results in de facto discrimination. I have had a long interest in archiving and conservation, and wrote my piece after a visit to the LOC conservancy, not based on phone calls or a stroll around a Web site.
We also publish descriptive and how-to stories, but not as many as personal and reported ones. That’s partly because so many publications, whether tech, trade, or hobbyist, and whether in print or online, already cover so many topics that might be of interest to our audience. It’s hard to find a topic that we think offers insight and discovery.
For instance, Lex Friedman’s “Hocus Focus” takes a single card trick that is the basis of many and explains it simply. But along the way, he notes his own lifelong love of and practice of magic. Lex is in there, even though it reads like a how-to piece. Josh Centers explained a popular iOS game in “Letterdepressed” partly from the perspective of someone who has mastered the strategy.
Such descriptive and how-to articles benefit from personal longitudinal testing, as well. Someone who has spent years trying to figure out the perfect shave (Lex, again) or a lifetime working with typography on screens (an upcoming issue) has a lot to say. Someone who picks a topic to pitch in this area but isn’t an expert likely has little.
What we are particularly not looking for, however, are the following:
Stories about tech companies and reviews of tech products. We don’t think there’s anything unique if we run the 10,000th attempted explanation of Apple’s success. Macworld, Mashable, TheNextWeb, and a thousand other sites often wind up covering the same topic from different angles. We can’t add anything to that. (Although we were happy with Editorial Director Marco Arment’s “Anti-Apple Anger,” as it explained a facet of the ecosystem: why so many non-Apple users get apoplectic about the fruit company.)
Picaresque stories. Such stories have no beginning, middle, or end, but are rather a loosely chained together set of anecdotes that offer no tension or resolution, common features in any narrative, whether fiction or fact. For example: “I thought I would learn how to weld. I took classes. I learned to hammer metal. I learned to put it together. Welding was a good thing to learn.” I have more to say about narrative and picaresque below.
Facts. We have had a number of pitches that want to tell history using publicly available information. To be blunt, we aren’t Wikipedia. Such a story, even well told from facts alone, doesn’t advance human knowledge nor appeal to an audience that knows how to research topics of interest. A story rife with history told with a personal or reported angle is a different matter.
Basic stories. We don’t need to explain to our audience why to use (or not use) playlists, how to install software, or what mobile broadband is useful for. Those are the province of mass-market publications or tech ones aimed at a range of users. I have written hundreds of thousands of words for that demographic segment, and such articles are well received. Our audience doesn’t need that level of handholding.
General stories. We have received some marvelous pitches that we hope are written and published somewhere, but where we cannot see a fit however slight between the topic and approach and our readership. If you can’t make the case of why our readers would be interested, it’s not for us.
Please read our publication before pitching; this will help you understand, especially through more recent issues, what we want from each kind of story. It’s $1.99 per month with access to archives, so we’re not asking much from a potential contributor that they know what we’ve published before.
You’ve read here what kind of story we like and we have purposely not offered up subject matter. That’s where your own experience or reporting comes in. We’re listening. If it meets the above criteria, pitch away. You can try to blow our minds by suggesting something outside of our general guidelines that’s truly compelling.
While we have not required this in the past, we more or less expect that anyone pitching has read recent issues of The Magazine, not just the first two issues that we made available free of charge on the Web. (That was a one-time occurrence; more about rights and publication below.) If you aren’t reading us, it’s hard to pitch to us.
What we want in a pitch is more than a glimmer of the story to be told; the story to be told should be richly thought out before the pitch. We want to understand the narrative arc as well as see that you can tell it. We specifically do not ask for “spec” work, the dreaded request to produce something that we might not run (short for “speculative”). We only work on a bespoke basis: You pitch, we accept, you get a contract, you write it, we publish it, and we pay you.
As noted earlier, we publish articles by writers with a long history of being paid for their work and those who have previously only “sung in the shower,” writing on blogs and elsewhere. For either established or new writers, we need to see articles or essays that are close to what you propose to write for us, unless you have a deep well of experience that lets us trust you in an area new for you to explore.
We try to respond to pitches within two to three weeks depending on the current backlog. We don’t have tons of spare bandwidth, but we do track all pitches and respond to all pitches. You will always get a reply to pitches.
Fee and Terms
More prosaically, most features we publish will be at least 1500 words long; many articles hover in the 1500–2000-word range. We pay a flat rate of $800 on publication for accepted work. Our contract gives us non-exclusive rights forever, but we only pay for and contract for the exclusive right to publish an article from submission until 30 days following its publication. After that, authors may resell or republish work. Many have so far. (This isn’t intended as a substitute for reading the contract, which is the sole legal representation of our relationship with an author.)
The Magazine operates as a subscription publication via an iOS 6 app and our Web site at $1.99 per month (which results in two issues most months and three issues two months a year). Visitors may read one article for free per month. We release some content on the Web for free, but don’t intend to unlock articles and issues later. Trial (seven days) subscribers in the app and paid subscribers either in the app or on the Web can read current and all past articles as long as they remain subscribed.
We also pay for illustration and photography, although our rates vary. For authors who have already taken pictures or wish to, we negotiate separately additional fees on top of the article fee. The same 30 days’ exclusivity applies. We pay a kill fee of 25% for articles that in our reasonable discretion we cannot run after submission, but we have rarely had to pay kill fees.