Pump Up Your Magazine Sales

By Kelly James-Enger

Want to break into one of the most lucrative and fastest-growing freelance fields? Write about health and fitness topics and you'll find no shortage of timely ideas--or of potential markets. Establishing a background in this area can make you valuable to editors and allow you to command higher rates for your work.

Best of all, you needn't be a physician or personal trainer to make your mark in this competitive field. Just keep these tips in mind:

Tap into trends. Much of health reporting is based on new studies and research. Health journalists must stay on top of breaking news and be able to pitch ideas that tie into the latest headlines. I always try to have a news peg in my health-related queries to convince the editor of the story's timeliness.

For example, when the Body Mass Index (BMI) was first introduced as the new standard of healthy weights in June 1998, dozens of articles were published explaining what it was and how to calculate one's own BMI. Has a new drug recently become available? Is a new fad diet sweeping the country? Find something timely about the story you're pitching and highlight it in your query.

Be specific. To catch an editor's attention, you're better off pitching a narrower story idea than something more general. Instead of suggesting a piece about asthma, for example, query an article on how to asthma-proof your home. "Since fitness is such a broad topic, I like to see something that's really specific, whether it's a new trend, a class that's popped up, a new type of workout that's popular or an article based on a new study," says Megan McMorris, a Portland, Ore., freelancer and former editor at Fit and Fitness. "Anything that's really broad, like 'how to lose weight' queries, I toss."

Match the market. Make sure that the story you're pitching is a good fit for that particular publication. "I get a lot of queries on things where you can tell the writer didn't look at the magazine," says Joanne Van Zuidam, associate editor at Family Circle. "For example, they'll propose a biking or skiing workout, [which is] something we wouldn't do." Tailor your query to the market--a beach-body workout might sell to Fitness, while Prevention may be more interested in exercises that help maintain flexibility and strength as you age.

Move to the front. If you're a freelancer without a lot of health and fitness clips, pitching ideas to the "front-of-the-book" section is the easiest way to break in. In most magazines, these pages consist of short, often news-driven items. The editors usually need material to fill these sections every issue, and it's a great way to get your foot in the door and prove yourself for longer assignments, says Madonna Behen, senior health, nutrition and fitness editor at Woman's Day. She suggests that new writers with little experience writing full-length features query with ideas for the "Your Health" column, which consists of 300- to 350-word news items.

Use yourself. Many of my story ideas come from my experiences or those of friends and family. After I started using a heart-rate monitor, I wrote an article for Fit about how to use them to become fitter. Years of battling urinary tract infections led to a short piece on the latest treatment methods for Good Housekeeping, while my sister-in-law's sleep apnea was the spark for a story on women and fatigue for Woman's Day. What kinds of health concerns do you have? How did your coworker lose 30 pounds--and keep it off? Is your gym offering a unique new class? Look for ideas wherever you can.

Develop a Rolodex. In the world of health and fitness, good experts are a must--and that usually means looking beyond your chiropractor or Spinning instructor. You'll need credentialed, recognized experts to back up any claims you make, and there are many ways to find them. Professional associations such as the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Dietetic Association and the American Running and Fitness Association all have public relations staffers who can suggest potential interviewees. You can also call the public affairs offices of major universities for recommendations, visit resource sites on the Internet such as www. profnet.com, or look for recent books on the subject and track down authors to request interviews.

Think in multiples. I usually try to spin more than one story idea out of the initial research I do. For example, I wrote about emergency contraception for Fit in 1999. Soon after, I pitched a similar idea to Marie Claire, which turned into a 2,500-word article on oral contraceptives; my research for that story led to a short piece on new birth- control breakthroughs for Shape and an article on contraception for moms in Parents. While each story required additional reporting, being familiar with the basic topic and noted experts in the field made my job much easier.

Develop a specialty. It's impossible to keep tabs on every aspect of health and fitness today. MEDLINE, the National Library of Medicine's database of journal articles, contains more than 11 million citations, and that number grows daily. It's easier to focus on a specific area or two than to try to cover every possible health topic. I tend to concentrate on fitness, nutrition and women's health topics. If you have a medical background or an interest in a particular area, you can build your specialty around that.

Back it up. Finally, all of the magazines I write for require turning in a copy of the story with references, names of experts and contact information, and journal citations (with copies of the articles) noted thereon. Expect to provide these materials even for short pieces--most magazines are very careful to fact-check any health and fitness information they publish. You can't simply cite a statistic you read in the paper or heard on the news; you need to find and confirm the source.

While I've written about a variety of topics over the years, narrowing my focus and concentrating on the health and fitness area has allowed me to create my own niche--and nearly double my annual income in the process. Turn your own interest in health and fitness into story ideas, and you can do the same.
Freelance journalist Kelly James-Enger is the author of Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create Your Own Writing Specialty and Make More Money (The Writer Books, 2003.) She can be reached through her website at: www.becomebodywise.com.

© 2007 Kelly James-Enger This article is from the July 2001 issue of The Writer. Used with Permission.

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