Would Your Book Idea Work Better in a Magazine?

In her February 22 blogpost, Bookends agent Jessica Faust said one of her top reasons for rejecting a (nonfiction) book is that it “would work better as a magazine article.”

This hit home because I’d just read a book by a friend of a friend who’s seeking advice on marketing. It’s a fun how-to about shopping for bargains—well written and informative—but the lovely color photos make the book too expensive for the average bargain shopper.

(Note to self-publishers: if your paper book retails for more than $15, you’re about to have a major problem stacked up in your garage.)

In the case of the bargain-shopping guruess, I wanted to scream at her: this stuff belongs in a magazine! That’s where photos are a major plus. (And it’s one of the reasons my freelance magazine career stalled. I’m the world’s worst photographer. For some reason I always wiggle the camera and my photos come out looking like a bad dream by Claude Monet.)

Magazine articles aren’t as easy to place as they used to be, but they’re still easier to sell than books. (See my post on the inefficiency of the book as an information-delivery device.)

My advice to the writer-friend-of-a-friend, and anybody else who’s working on a non-fiction project is: take excerpts from your book, turn them into short articles, and start querying magazines. Now. This doesn’t mean you should stop work on your magnum opus, but selling bits of it right away will be a win/win prospect for you.

There are some reasons why:

1) Magazines usually pay actual cash money for your work. Not that much, especially when you’re just getting started, but getting paid for writing is as good for the soul as it is for the wallet. The day you get that check, you can call yourself a “Professional Writer.” See? Doesn’t that sound good?

2) Published articles help establish you as an expert in your field.

3) They provide credits that look impressive in your query letter.

4) They build platform. Even if you don’t get paid, a bio in a strategic local magazine can give a link to your website or blog and bring in potential customers for when you do get that book published.

Here’s what I suggested my friend’s friend could do:

1) Extract selections from the book that can tweaked into 300-1500 word articles.

2) Subscribe to Writers Market online (still a bargain at $6 a month)

3) Compile a list of local publications—including newspapers—that accept freelance work. In the beginning, you don’t have to limit yourself to the ones that pay. Not only are you building platform, but you’re getting to know editors who may give you some ink later on—like an interview with “our own” contributor who has come out with a new book on…”

4) Start sending out queries and full articles (depending on guidelines.)

5) Start collecting clips. (Those are published articles you can use to sell more articles.)

This advice isn’t just for authors of how-to books. Consider this route for memoirs, too. There are lots of nostalgia, history and regional magazines that are interested in well written (and especially humorous) tales of days gone by.

Here are a couple of paying-market nostalgia magazines:


Also check out local publications aimed at seniors.

And while your fiction-writing friends are papering their walls with their 11,100 rejections, you’ll be a published writer with some extra bucks in your pocket.