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Writing for The Magazine

We are no longer accepting new submissions. The Magazine’s last issue will be December 18, 2014.

Features for regular issues

We publish an issue every other Wednesday night (fortnightly) with a Thursday cover date via an Apple Newsstand app and on our Web site. Issues are delivered to app subscribers, available through the Web, and downloadable as EPUB and MOBI files. We commission original work. We accept pitches as well as assign articles.

We lean toward reported stories, but typically feature one or two first-person or personal essays and some researched stories that aren’t about contemporary events, such as how-to or otherwise informative articles. The primary principle we apply to pitches we receive is this: Does this let a reader discover something new — sometimes something delightful or revelatory — that he or she had never explored in depth before?

Every story in The Magazine should have:

  • A bit of geekery, but not necessarily modern technology. A story about Plimoth Plantation, a historical re-creation institution in Massachusetts, was about politics, historical revisionism, and 17th century “technology,” and it fit our brief very neatly.

  • A strong sense of narrative. We are telling a story, whether it’s reported or an essay, and there should be a beginning, middle, and end to it, and even a surprise.

  • A catchy lead (or “lede”). We preview articles on the Web site for non-subscribers, and we want to have a few paragraphs that set the tone and draw people in. Looking at the Web site is a great way to see what our style is. We don’t want to fool readers, but we do want them to feel compelled to scroll for more — or, on the Web site, to click Subscribe to read the rest.

  • Something unique, something fresh. 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. A story about iTunes or Spotify playlists won’t be new to them. Has a topic been covered to death on 1,000 technology or science or general-interest sites? It might still be of interest to us if there’s a part that is compelling and hasn’t been told. Stories that are completely fresh are easier to sell to us; those that are well told need to include in the pitch how this isn’t the same as ones we can find via a Google search.

  • Facts verified. We check the details and sometimes call sources for all of our stories. For one lengthy feature, we hired a factchecker who spent 14 hours walking through every detail and quote. Occasionally, we find that a reporter has relied on memory or on details in another media account that are unreliable. We ask that writers check everything and provide either links in the body of the story or additional material. We will sometimes ask for interview notes or audio to confirm a nuance, especially in sensitive stories.

In a personal essay, the core of the story should be one’s own life or that of the subject or subjects. Such stories shouldn’t be told at any remove from events. Either you are a prime mover or you are directly involved.

For personal essays, the feeling of a connection can resonate with our audience of geeky and curious folks, without a specific reference to anything nerdy at all. Mark Siegal’s “Fits You to a T” describes a point of view with which we and many of our readers identify.

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 Carren Jao’s “Red Rover,” a profile of former Mars rover driver Scott Maxwell.

We have a rigorous editing process that might be surprising to someone who has never before had work subjected to an editor, and writers will be — we hope — delighted by the fact that we sometimes spend hours across multiple revisions to get a piece just right. However, we also work as hard as possible to retain the author’s voice.

What kind of tales we tell

Even though we publish only non-fiction prose (with a couple very rare exceptions), we want a story to have an emotional and personal center around which facts accrue, rather than being a set of facts that happens to have people in it. Articles and essays should have the flow of fiction, but the details shouldn’t be changed to make that happen. It’s a tough balance, as reality doesn’t always cooperate to make for a tidy story, but that in itself can be interesting.

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. Colleen Hubbard had a dream that took her to a desert in the middle of Poland. She brought back a fascinating tale with a number of interesting people and their stories in it, as well as news of the compelling existence of this geologic oddity. Rosie Spinks explained that there’s a pervasive lack of inclusiveness for women in online hacker-activism circles, but that there appears to be a glimmer of improvement.

Jamelle Bouie’s “And Read All Over” is a polite indictment of a series of seemingly innocent decisions that result in dramatic under-representation of people of color in technology reporting. There’s no single 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?

We do publish reported and researched descriptive features, too. My article (“The Sound of Silence”) about the Library of Congress’s audiovisual repository in exurban Virginia explained, through the narrative of a visit I took to the facility, that our country’s audio patrimony is locked away until 2067, when much older material enters the public domain. David Erik Nelson wrote about pinhole lenses for digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras through the story of his brother-in-law and a friend who created one.

On the personal front, 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 Viticci 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. Art Allen combined his personal interest in facial-hair competitions with reporting to bring back a personal and uplifting account of a world in which men grow huge whiskers and women don fake beards.

What we are particularly not looking for, however, are the following:

  • Stories about tech companies and reviews of tech products.

  • 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: one thing leads to another with no development. Straight-new stories are often picaresque, by explaining a sequence of events chronologically. 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.”

  • Facts. We have had a number of pitches that want to tell history using widely known and publicly available information. To be blunt, we aren’t Wikipedia. Such a story, even well told from facts alone, doesn’t advance human knowledge or appeal to an audience that knows how to research topics of interest. A story rife with history and told with a personal or reported angle is a different matter.

  • Basic stories. We don’t need to explain to our audience 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 for which we cannot see a fit, however slight, between the topic and approach and our readership. If you can’t make the case for why our readers would be interested, it’s not for us.

Pitching

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 a month with access to archives (and a seven-day free trial during which you can cancel), so it’s not asking much of a potential contributor that they know what we’ve published before. Please check that we haven’t run a similar story before pitching, too.

Submit pitches using this form. To receive updates about which article topics we’re interested in receiving pitches for, and about other writing-related matters, subscribe to our writing announcement list.

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.

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.

  • For essays and humor, we will need to see a strong draft. We’ve found that accepting a pitch for an essay, even from a seasoned writer, doesn’t provide a close-enough correlation with something we are sure to want to run after an editing process. It doesn’t have to be polished, but it does need to be a draft.

  • For reported stories, we ask for a strong outline, including a description of the throughline of the story, who you will be interviewing, and how you will research the piece. But we don’t ask anyone to report “on spec.”

We try to respond to pitches within one to three weeks, depending on the current backlog. We don’t have tons of spare bandwidth, but we do track and respond to all pitches.

Fee and Terms

Rates for our regular issues: More prosaically, we’re looking for short, medium, and long-form reported work and essays, though we tend to be more interested in reported pieces than essays. Short articles are in the 750-word range; medium around 1,250; and long-form 1,500–2,500. We pay rates from $250 to $800 that vary by the nature of the piece and its length, with the low end for short essays and the top end for deeply reported work. We can sometimes pay modest expenses for reporting.

Our contract for all content gives us perpetual non-exclusive rights, but we only pay for and contract for the exclusive right to publish an article from submission until 60 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.)

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 60 days’ exclusivity applies.

It is our intent, though not yet encoded in a contract, to pay contributors additional amounts when articles are repurposed or reprinted and The Magazine receives specific compensation. When we budgeted for our recent crowdfunded book, for instance, every contributor received an additional fee for his or her work in advance of publication. Because of the vagaries of publishing and contracts, we make this general statement of intent and back it with actions.

—Editor & Publisher Glenn Fleishman