Resources / Writing skills

BOOK REVIEW: Writing for magazines by Catriona Ross.

Recently, I wrote a post about journalism resource books. I had done some research and found a few books that had good reviews. Looking for something that would give me both practical advice and professional insight, Writing for Magazines was at the top of my list. The tag line ‘Absolutely everything you need to know’ was pretty enticing.

The book is broken down into 14 chapters, is an easy and visual read, and not hard going at all. It really does cover everything you should need to or want to know if you’re looking at writing freelance for magazines. Professional advice, Q&As from employers, insights into those who are freelance… it’s eye-opening but also quite encouraging that so many people go it alone. Catriona Ross had a 14-year career as a magazine journalist, both as a writer and an editor. For high-profile magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Catriona moved on to becoming a commissioning editor and knows exactly what an editor wants from a freelancer. Now, an established freelancer, she shares her tips along the way!

I didn’t intend to buy the book in the hope of finding out how to go freelance (although it was surprisingly interesting), however being a staff member who is looking to write freelance articles too, it was still really appealing for me.

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Now I won’t give too much away because I think if you’re interested in what the book has to offer and are serious about going freelance, buy it. It’s not that expensive, it’s a really easy-going read and it will be worth it. One thing that appealed to my slightly-shallow self was the visuals… stars as bullet points and the bold and big titles. It broke up unnecessary large chunks of text into smaller, manageable paragraphs. Below is one of the ‘practical’ early chapters of the book… what do you need as a freelancer on your own?

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The book also started with the positives and negatives of being a freelance writer, numbered and bulleted and well laid out!

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I found the question and answer sections invaluable. Catriona posted questions to professionals and those who employ freelance journalists to find out what they are looking for when freelancers approach them, as well as how they like articles pitched and other expectations.

Being a practical guide as well as informative, the book had some personalised sections. Below is one where you could tick the subjects you like writing about, and it did make me stop and think. Many journalists have specialist subjects they write about, be it cars/fitness/travel, etc. and I think others are adaptable. I think I’m more of an adaptable writer (spending an internship at GolfPunk having never played golf before!). This gave me a chance to hone my interests and topics I’d quite like to explore in the future.

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And now onto my favourite chapter. Chapter 7: how to write a great magazine feature. Sounds silly, but getting practical advice on how to ‘write well’ isn’t always as easy, with vague and brief comments about keeping to the point and not waffling on. But HOW? Being someone who wants to be able to write lengthy magazine features that keep the reader interested to the end, this was definitely a chapter I was most looking forward to reading.

Some tips from Catriona mentioned in this chapter:

  • Don’t make the reader work too hard – the feature should be easy to read and understand
  • Keep descriptions tight, just a word or two!
  • Answer all the obvious questions from the reader
  • Kill ALL clichés

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I was really pleased with the book, and it’s something that is good to always have there as a reference. I found many small nuggets of information I wouldn’t have known without it that have helped me with both my writing, and approaching magazines.

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Interested?

Catriona has recenty launched the Peacock Project, an ebook on writing a novel. She said: “I do think fiction writing and longer journalistic stories have similarities and require certain common skills – for example, hooking the reader in from the first sentence, setting the scene and outlining what the conflict is in the first paragraph, the importance of setting, dialogue (in an article, this would translate into quotes to breathe first-person life into a long screed of reported speech), characters (case studies in journalism), description (in an article, just a couple of deft descriptions of people, places or situations can add so much interest) etc.”

In the mean time, Writing for Magazines is available on Amazon, here. If you read it and love it like me, let me know! If you want to know more about the contents of the book then drop me an email.

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