Maximize Your Setting: Bringing Locations, Eras and Worlds to Life on the Page

When the reader can feel as if they are physically in your story’s setting, they will be more inclined to let themselves experience what the characters are seeing and hearing. Here, author Curt Eriksen offers considerations for bringing the locations and eras in your fiction to life.

By Curt Eriksen

Joseph Conrad defined the job of the writer who aspires to produce art as that of making you, the reader, “hear”—via “the power of the written word.” It is, he wrote, my task “to make you feel—it is, before all, to make you see.”

Conrad’s emphasis upon the presentation of sensory material has been echoed in every MFA program across the country. Aspiring writers are told to affect the senses of their readers by providing them with concrete stimuli. Or, as Nabokov put it, “Caress the details.”

But I have always understood Conrad to be referring—when he uses the word see—not only to those fictional facts capable of transporting a reader and placing them within any particular scene, as a witness to what is happening, but to the necessary vision of the writer, which underscores the action and acts as a sort of superglue, holding everything together.

That vision, or glue, is what unites the disparate elements of any story. And makes that particular version of a story, told numerous times by numerous authors, unique.

Among the elements held together in this way are setting, character and theme. And among the very first decisions a writer makes, whether deliberate or not, is the decision of where to set the story he or she wants to tell.

That choice of setting—combined with the writer’s vision, in an organic process that fuses all of the elements of the story into one experience—can result in the setting coming alive and influencing the characters much as a powerful antagonist might. When the reader can feel as if they are physically in some place they might have actually never been—like Conrad’s Dutch Congo, in The Heart of Darkness—they will be more inclined to believe what they are seeing and hearing.

The Serengeti Plains, where my novella is set, is a landscape bristling with threat. Living is intense there, and exotic to most readers, because we’re not used to seeing so much dying occur before us so routinely. The violence involved in being eaten—while still alive—is fierce. By setting the conflict between my protagonists—a wealthy, fifty-something entrepreneur named Richard, and the younger freelance writer Sofie—in this potentially ferocious environment, I was able to add considerable tension to the story of two lovers who hoped to discover paradise on a two-week trip to Tanzania, half a world away from their ‘real’ lives in Minnesota.

Just as a war zone—or a colonial crusade into the upper reaches of the Congo River at the end of the 19th century—provides any story set there with intrinsic danger, any journey into a sere and unforgiving landscape full of predators presents many possibilities for heightened drama.

That said, I’m not suggesting that a writer choose a dangerous setting for their story in order just to increase the excitement in that story. The setting of any story has to fit together seamlessly with the other elements of that story. But had my story of two lovers involved in an affair been set in their hometown, Minneapolis, there would have been none of the opportunities for metaphorically portraying their dilemma that arose, quite naturally, out of the setting and circumstances of my story. Or at least those opportunities would have been very different.

Chekov’s treatment of this classic situation in “The Lady with the Pet Dog” is set in Yalta, on the shores of the Black Sea, a setting most of his readers would have been familiar with, if only in terms of its reputation. So my story of illicit love far from home could have been set anywhere. But setting it in the Serengeti allowed my vision of a doomed relationship to be enhanced by my protagonists’ surroundings.

In addition to that, and as a consequence, I think of the synergy that occurs while involved in any creative project, a second story took shape while I was writing my novella, framed, as it turned out, within the parentheses of the larger narrative.

In this second story a young lion has been driven out its pride and forced to look for another group of lionesses among whom it might reign. Driven by hunger this lion attacks an aging Cape buffalo and tries to bring it down. While Sofie witnesses this eternal battle between predator and prey, Richard is off on a parallel adventure: searching for a miracle cure to his cancer diagnosis.

Imitating the Masters: How to Use Setting to Test Your Character’s Voice

The landscape of my story—that desolate yet teeming wilderness—produced not only the drama of the hunt, but the context for two lovers who, once they finally get the chance to be alone with one another for a prolonged period of time, find that the secrets they have kept from each other—Richard’s diagnosis, and Sofie’s involvement with Zuri—have the power to destroy not only their love, but hope for any future at all.

It was never my intention to write this second story—or that of Richard’s pursuit of a miracle cure—allegorically. Instead this is something that occurred quite naturally, through the process of telling a story set in the plains of East Africa. Although these paired stories do reinforce each other in some ways, they are not identical. Richard is not the aging Cape buffalo, struggling to fend off the attack of the lion, who is not Zuri, the young Tanzanian who approaches Sofie on the beach in Zanzibar while Richard dives among the coral reefs.

But the juxtaposing and intertwining of these two stories of desire and survival does suggest that, in some ways at least, Richard could have been that aging Cape buffalo and Zuri might have been that outcast lion.

It is my hope that a reader of A Place of Timeless Harmony might feel as if they were right there, in the heat and the dust and the cold at night, where lions have always stalked their prey and Cape buffaloes have always fought back. It is my hope that a reader might actually hear that call of the lone lion in the middle of the night, while lying beside Richard and Sofie in their camp bed, privy to the secrets they have kept from each other.

Because, if that happens, my mission as a writer is nearly complete. And I can leave the reader alone with the vivid sensory impressions of a fictional trip through the Serengeti. And that reader can judge the story of Richard and Sofie’s love for themselves.

Curt Eriksen was born in Kansas, but spent half of his life in Europe. He currently lives between the Sierra de Gredos, in western Spain, and Boston. Eriksen’s short fiction, novel extracts, and political commentary have appeared in numerous print and online journals in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, India, and Spain, including Blackbird, Rosebud, and Alba. Currently unrepresented, Eriksen is working on a novel about the origins of salsa in the early days of the Cuban Revolution. Learn more at

Learn more in the online course Description and Setting from Writer’s Digest University.

Writing a novel can be overwhelming—especially if you are new to writing. Build your writing skills and challenge your creativity with this online writing workshop. You’ll learn the elements of how to write setting and description from Ron Rozelle’s Write Great Fiction: Description & Setting. This book explains how description can bring a story to life and includes examples from well-known pieces of fiction. Master the basics of fiction writing and create believable people, places and events through setting and description! Learn more and register.

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from Writing Editor Blogs –


IELTS essay, topic: Advertising affects what people think is important and has a negative effect on their lives (agree/disagree)

Today people are surrounded by advertising. This affects what people think is important and has a negative impact on people’s lives. To what extent do you agree or disagree?

With the advent of the Internet, advertisements, originally displayed only on TV, billboards, posters and so on, are becoming increasingly ubiquitous and commonplace for the general public. In my view, this kind of impact could be both crucial and, on a certain level, detrimental.

On the one hand, this phenomenon could denote that although we have already had a diverse range of , people are still capable of inventing innovative approaches catering for all kinds of requirements of advertising. It is a symbol that demonstrates the creativity rooted in human beings. Apart from that, it also represents that the speed of spreading information is conspicuously escalating. More purposeful is, therefore, the fact that, besides booming of the advertising, it constitutes a major reason why people could be so prosperous in this digital age.


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On the other hand, there are various unpleasant consequences as well. Firstly, with the omnipresent , it could potentially cause people to do impulsive shopping. Secondly, the , if regulated in a mismanaged , could make people constantly feel uncomfortable or annoyed. In this sense, instead of being an instrumental tool to promote amenities, advertisements could be considered a hindrance when people are frequently blocked by them. Furthermore, it would cost one precious time to have to sift the helpful ad from a host of others.

In conclusion, as far as I am concerned, advertising is a beneficial phenomenon for all with a number of insignificant drawbacks. I believe that in the future we can improve the way advertising is done at present, and embrace the positive influence of advertising even further in the long run.

This essay is another example of what Band 8 writing may look like. It’s weak point is that the author goes slightly off-topic while trying to discuss whether advertising affects what people view as important and instead talks about the reason advertising is spreading and about human creativity. However, the other part of task type (negative effects of advertising) is covered well, the ideas are well-developed and supported. There is a clear logical flow of information and a range of transitional words is used appropriately to sequence ideas. The way author uses synonyms to rephrase the task topic in the intro paragraph demonstrates their lexical skill, which is also evident in other parts of this essay. There are many complex sentences and very few errors. Overall, this essay seems worthy of IELTS Band 8.0.

Click here to see more IELTS essays of Band 8

the writer means ‘advertisements’
the writer means ‘advertising’
the writer means ‘advertising’
the writer means ‘manner’ or ‘way’

from IELTS-Blog

Case Study: How Self-Publishing Led Author Jonathan French to Hybrid Success

Jonathan French’s approach to self-publishing played an important role in how editors and agents perceived his book, and persuaded French to reevaluate his perspective on how authors can, and should, break into print.

On a Sunday night in October 2016, Jonathan French stepped into the spotlight on the small stage of the Highland Ballroom in Atlanta. He sat on a wooden bar stool, turned to page one of his epic fantasy novel The Grey Bastards, and captivated the room.

French evoked crisp, cinematic images of Jackal, his half-orc protagonist. Flanked by two half-breed comrades, Jackal prepared to face off with an arrogant cavalry captain: a human who would learn never to provoke a Grey Bastard. On stage, French proved to be a gifted storyteller controlling the pitch and tone of his voice like a seasoned raconteur. At the end of his reading, the crowd applauded with an enthusiasm that had been absent during his introduction. Little did French know that his career was on the edge of a breakthrough.

58 Gems of Writing Advice and Inspiration from Self-Published e-Book Authors

French completed his first novel, The Exiled Heir, in 2010. At the time, his wife worked as a ghostwriter and beta reader for a midlist thriller novelist. Her position put him in contact with some good-to-know folks. “I did the traditional pursuit first because I wanted to see if we could make that work,” French explained. He pitched to agents and editors at writers’ conferences and even captured the interest of a few agents, but failed to secure a deal.

In 2012, after a solid coaxing from a well-trusted friend, French self-published The Exiled Heir. “Sales weren’t phenomenal,” he confessed, but by then, he was fully committed to finding success as an independently published author. French made himself visible the best way he knew how: by attending conventions and book festivals across the country.

He started earning supplemental income from the sale of his books and joined indie publishing panels as a guest speaker, fervently expressing the need for authors to write quality books and invest in professional packaging to compete in the marketplace. He went on to write The Errantry of Bantam Flyn, a sequel to The Exiled Heir, and a brand new first-in-series novel, The Grey Bastards, which turned out to be a game-changer.

French entered The Grey Bastards into the Self-Publishing Fantasy Blog-off (SPFBO), an annual contest hosted by grimdark fantasy novelist Mark Lawrence. Similar to the Self-Published Book Awards hosted by Writer’s Digest, the concept for SPFBO is simple: provide a platform where indie writers can be seen and heard by community influencers. Lawrence recognized that established authors face less of a challenge promoting their books than new or self-published writers do, so he wanted to level the playing field.

The lack of visibility was a struggle French knew all too well. “I was doing some things right, but I was not able to do enough on the side of it, to where my signal was outdoing any noise,” French said. “I wasn’t hitting that critical mass of readers.”

Over the course of the contest, The Grey Bastards climbed the ranks with stellar scores from influential fantasy book bloggers. According to French, something odd happened halfway through the judging process. “I get this email with the subject heading ‘Hi, from an Editor.’ That was all it said,” French recalled. “The signature line was Penguin Random House.”

Julian Pavia—editor of The Martian by Andy Weir, Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline, and City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett—discovered The Grey Bastards through SPFBO and loved it. “I’d vaguely followed the contest in its first year and had checked out one or two [writers] of that first batch of finalists,” Pavia said, “so I already knew it was finding talented writers. As I saw how the judges were responding to The Grey Bastards, I was intrigued enough to pick it up.”

French’s approach to self-publishing played an important role in how Pavia perceived his book. When looking for talent, Pavia, who casually browses blog reviews, contests, and the also bought section on Amazon, said, “I mostly just want to feel that an author’s made an effort to put together a real product, [and] that they hold themselves to a high standard. That was definitely the case with the package Jonathan had put together… it’s important to get the little things right.”

Pavia expressed a desire to have the book formally pitched to him. “Within four days,” French said, still  astonished by the rapid response and genuine interest in his book, “I’m getting emails from agents who are not only interested, they’ve read it [Grey Bastards] within that short amount of time and know it backward and forward.”

In the end, French chose to be represented by Cameron McClure from the Donald Maass Literary Agency. Although French is not the first self-published author McClure has taken on, he is the first for whom she secured a two-book deal. On pitching the story, McClure says, “The Grey Bastards opens with a very strong and distinct narrative voice that I knew would make people sit up [and] pay attention.”

The experience persuaded French to reevaluate his perspective on how authors can, and should, break into print. “I admit it,” he said. “I was that guy that used to go to cons, railing against the gatekeepers, then I started dealing with these people, and it was like, I’m wrong—at least about the people who really know what they’re doing.”

Going forward, his advice to writers is one that nurtures an open mind and a hybrid approach. “If you find success in one and never want to cross [over] to the other, fine,” he said. “But if you do [cross over], each side is making you better at the other. Being a self-published author makes me a better traditionally published author, and now I’m hopeful that what I learn being a traditional guy is going to make me a better self-published guy.”

Learn more about Jonathan French at

Find success in self-publishing at indieLAB.

If you’re confident in your craft and are ready to explore self-publishing options, or are looking for ways to earn a living with your writing beyond book sales, indieLAB is the conference you’ve been looking for. indieLAB—the newest conference from Writer’s Digest—is curated especially for entrepreneurial authors, freelance writers and independent publishers seeking to develop a publishing strategy, build a platform, grow an audience and get paid for their work.

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from Writing Editor Blogs –

The Pros and Cons of Getting Published

Do you ever worry that getting published—that worrying about the business of writing—might sully the purity of your artistic expression and dampen your passion for the craft? Many writers struggle with the concessions required of the publication process, but you needn’t fear them; it’s all part of the experience. 

One of the more interesting things Alice Hoffman told me when I interviewed her for the first time many years ago was how “strangely pure” her MFA experience was. There was no talk of publishers or agents or markets, no talk of genre or trends or readership. According to Hoffman, in her MFA program they only talked about writing.

By the time we met, Hoffman had published over 20 books and I’m sure she had had a lot of conversations about those books that had nothing to do with writing. It’s inevitable. As Don, my very first writer friend often said, “Don’t forget that publishing is a business!” I knew he was right about that, but when we became friends I had not yet published anything and so the whole business thing felt very abstract.

This was just fine with me. I did not see myself a businessman, which in my private lexicon was a dirty word. I considered myself an artist, and artists, I believed, were more interested in what they made than what they made was worth. Except I also very, very much wanted to be paid for what I was writing, and I hoped that when I did get paid I would get paid a lot because, you know, food on the table and all that.

There were, you see, some advantages to not getting published. As long as what I wrote wasn’t published I would not have to sully the pure writing experience with the ugly, businessperson’s question of value. As soon as someone bought one of my stories, I would have to contend with the number assigned to it, would have to decide if that number was it’s true value. I liked numbers, but the problem with them is that there is always one larger. If my story wasn’t published, its value could remain unmeasured.

This was hardly the only advantage. If I didn’t publish my stories, I would also never have to work with an editor. If you work with an editor, you must allow someone else to have input on your story. You spend your whole life dealing with other people and their ideas. You go to the page so you can hear your ideas. Then along comes this editor and you’re back to listening to other people. If I didn’t publish my stories I would never have to subject my writing to society’s ceaseless idea competition.

Don’t miss William Kenower’s presenations, “Fearless Writing” and “Fearless Marketing,” at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference, August 10-12, 2018, and check out his book on the same topic.

And if I didn’t publish my stories no one would ever be able to criticize them. I would never have to read a bad review in a newspaper or blog or on Amazon. I would never have to decide whether this stranger who didn’t like my story was delusional or incisive. No one would get to tell me my stories weren’t interesting, or funny, or useful, or profound. As long as I didn’t publish them, the only opinions about my stories that mattered were mine.

Finally, as long as I didn’t publish the stories they would always belong to me and me alone. I knew what happened when you read a story you loved: It became yours. It didn’t matter if you didn’t write it. If you loved it then you’d imagined, you’d felt that story’s grief and joy and desire, and no one could possibly tell you that that experience didn’t belong to you. As long as I didn’t publish my stories, I would never have to share what I loved; I could have it all for myself.

There was, however, one significant disadvantage to not publishing my stories, and it wasn’t the lack of money or recognition. As long as my stories remained unpublished, I would never understand that the publishing was less important to me than the writing. Until I began publishing my work regularly, the question of whether my stories would be published, and where they would be published, and what people would think of them when they were published, dominated my writing experience. Until all those questions were answered, I felt as if I was forever waiting for test results from a doctor.

When those results did come back, when I sold my first story, worked with my first editor, received my first bad review, heard from my first appreciative reader, you could say I did not bother to read my diagnosis. Nothing that happened after I began publishing my stories actually changed my relationship to writing, which had been my greatest fear all along. The real question I wanted answered was, “What if writing’s not fun and interesting and inspiring anymore? What if it just becomes another job?”

I am happy to report that writing is still a pure experience as long as I allow it to be. As long as I only think about writing while I’m writing, I enjoy it as much as I ever have. But if I think about writing and publication, or writing and my platform, or writing and my bank account, it’s no fun at all. In fact, if I try to think about two things at once I usually want to quit everything. That’s okay. The instant I forget about the business of being an author and bring my attention back to the story I want to tell, I remember where I want to be and who I have always been.

Learn more in William Kenower’s online course: Fearless Writing — How to Create Boldly and Write with Confidence

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from Writing Editor Blogs –

IELTS test in Singapore – June 2018 (General Training)

A test taker from Singapore remembered the following Writing and Speaking IELTS questions:

Writing testIELTS test in Singapore

Writing task 1 (a letter)

You are planning to visit a foreign country. Write a letter to your friends and say

– Where and when do you plan to go?
– What are the details of your plan?
– Why do you want them to go with you?

Writing Task 2 (an essay)

In many countries the proportion of older people is steadily increasing. Some think this is good, while others believe this is a problem for a country. Discuss both views and give your own opinion.

Speaking test


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– What is your full name?
– Can I see your ID?
– Where are you from?
– Do you work or study?
– What do you do?
– Do you like your job?

Cue Card

Talk about an invention of technology (not a computer). Please say

– What is it?
– Is it a good invention? Why?
– Explain how is it useful to you?


– Do you think inventions are important?
– Can you name a few?
– How do they affect our life?

from IELTS-Blog

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 440

For today’s prompt, write a generation poem. A generation poem could be about the X-generation or the baby boomers, sure, but it could also be about generating poems and/or power. Or re-generation of limbs. Or any number of other topics you wish to generate.


Get Published With Poet’s Market!

The 2018 Poet’s Market, edited by Robert Lee Brewer, includes hundreds of poetry markets, including listings for poetry publications, publishers, contests, and more! With names, contact information, and submission tips, poets can find the right markets for their poetry and achieve more publication success than ever before.

In addition to the listings, there are articles on the craft, business, and promotion of poetry–so that poets can learn the ins and outs of writing poetry and seeking publication. Plus, it includes a one-year subscription to the poetry-related information on All in all, it’s the best resource for poets looking to secure publication.

Click to continue.


Here’s my attempt at a Generation Poem:

“new generation”

call me old or call me crazy
but the new generation is
nothing if not loud and lazy

with their wild music and dancing
through the night and into the day
as if they’d prefer romancing

to getting tied down to a job
that pays well with a desk and pen
and stapler and a sweet key fob

instead it seems they would have fun
and i hope they keep that romance
until their generation’s done


Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). He knows hope springs eternal in the new generations.

Follow him on Twitter @RobertLeeBrewer.


Find more poetic posts here:

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from Writing Editor Blogs –

New Literary Agent Alert: Tara Gelsomino of One Track Literary Agency, Inc.

New literary agents (with this spotlight featuring Tara Gelsomino of One Track Literary Agency, Inc.) are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list.

Bio: Tara Gelsomino is the founder and CEO of One Track Literary Agency, Inc., a boutique, hands-on, editorial agency that helps authors be single-minded for success. She has more than twenty-plus years of publishing and media experience. Previously, she was the executive editor heading up Simon & Schuster’s digital-first imprint Crimson Romance, and prior to that, she held multiple positions at BBC Audiobooks America and Romantic Times Magazine. Tara lives in Rhode Island with her husband and her rescue dog, Yoda. When she isn’t reading or writing, she enjoys watching too much television, seeing Broadway musicals, and buying yarn (and occasionally even knitting it).

What She’s Seeking: I’m seeking romance, women’s fiction, mystery/thrillers and young adult.

How to Query: Readers can query me at http://QueryMe.Online/OTLA with first 3 chapters and a full synopsis of the book.

Get more literary agent alerts by subscribing to the Guide to Literary Agents newsletter:

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Don’t miss the exciting Pitch Slam at the WD Annual Conference! Spaces fill up quickly, so register ASAP to get in on the action:


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from Writing Editor Blogs –

IELTS test in China – June 2018 (Academic Module)

The IELTS Writing and Speaking questions below were shared by a test taker from China – thanks, J!

Writing testIELTS test in China

Writing task 1 (a report)

We were given three pie charts showing export figures from four other regions of the world to Latin America. We had to summarise and compare the data.

Writing task 2 (an essay)

Some people use the Internet to search for solutions to their medical problems. Is it a positive or negative development? Give your own opinion and examples from your experience.

Speaking test


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– What is your full name?
– Can I see your ID?
– Where are you from?
– Do you work or study?
– What do you do?
– Describe your house, please.
– Would you like to stay there for a long time?
– Do you use maps?
– How often do you use them?
– How long have you been using them?
– Do people use them in your country?
– Do they ask somebody for directions?

Cue Card

Describe a comic character whom you like. Please say

– Who is he/she?
– How do you know him/her?
– Why do you like him/her?


– Why do you think some people are popular?
– Do you think only media can influence the popularity of a person?
– Some younger people try to copy celebrities. Why do they do that?
– What are the benefits and drawbacks of being popular?
– Do you think actors are under pressure to look good in front of media?
– Do you have a role model who is a popular celebrity?

from IELTS-Blog

WD Poetic Form Challenge: Rhupunt Winner

Here are the results of the Writer’s Digest Poetic Form Challenge for the rhupunt. And yes, I also selected a Top 10 list.

Read all of them here.

Here is the winning rhupunt:

Non-Domestic Goddess, by Tracy Davidson

I want to make
our wedding cake
but I can’t bake
to save my life.

My kitchen skills
are full of spills,
plus broken grills
and burns are rife.

My food from hell
makes stomachs swell,
emits a smell
from here to Fife.

To stop more squeals
it’s ready meals
and fast food deals
for this house-wife.


Build an Audience for Your Poetry!

Learn how to find more readers for your poetry with the Build an Audience for Your Poetry tutorial! In this 60-minute tutorial, poets will learn how to connect with more readers online, in person, and via publication.

Poets will learn the basic definition of a platform (and why it’s important), tools for cultivating a readership, how to define goals and set priorities, how to find readers without distracting from your writing, and more!

Click to continue.


Congratulations, Tracy! The rhythm of the rhymes are excellent, and it’s a ton of fun.

Here’s my Top 10 list:

  1. Non-Domestic Goddess, by Tracy Davidson
  2. Distraction, by Jane Shlensky
  3. sleeping ugly, by Jacqueline Hallenbeck
  4. And I chose you, by Margo Suzanne LeBlanc
  5. Mouse Murder, by Taylor Graham
  6. Love’s Passage, by Lisa L Stead
  7. The End of Childhood Days, by Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming
  8. The Old Tycoon Remembers, by Will Preston
  9. The Phonophobic’s Fourth, by Bruce Niedt
  10. Almost Dinner, by Heather Paquette

Congratulations to everyone in the Top 10! And to everyone who wrote a rhupunt!


Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community, which means he maintains this blog, edits a couple Market Books (Poet’s Market and Writer’s Market), writes a poetry column for Writer’s Digest magazine, leads online education, speaks around the country on publishing and poetry, and a lot of other fun writing-related stuff.

He loves learning new (to him) poetic forms and trying out new poetic challenges. He is also the author of Solving the World’s Problems.

Follow him on Twitter @RobertLeeBrewer.


Find more poetic posts here:

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from Writing Editor Blogs –

Writing for Magazines: How to Land a Magazine Assignment

Kerrie Flanagan, author of the brand-new, comprehensive Guide to Magazine Article Writing, shares her best tips for writing for magazines. To learn more, check out her book, and don’t miss Kerrie’s session Build Your Author Platform Through Magazine Articles at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference, August 10-12, 2018.

Writing for magazines is a lot like catching a fish. It requires the right bait, understanding the conditions, finesse with timing and most of all, persistence. When it all comes together, the time and effort are worth it when you net the big one.

Use the Best Fly: Pitch the Perfect Idea

In order to catch a fish, you need some knowledge about what they are biting on. I have been fly fishing for about five years now and I have my favorite go-to flies, like the juju midge and the blue-winged olive, but I can’t use these all the time. Sometimes conditions call for the two-bit hooker. Different bodies of water and different seasons call for different flies.

The process of writing for magazines is similar. Using the right bait, which in this case is an article idea, is the difference between a no and a yes. My idea needs to be specific and have an angle that makes it unique enough to catch an editor’s attention. If I want to write for a parenting magazine I need to think about the current market and what concerns, issues and challenges parents are facing. Something like, finding the right preschool for your child might work, but if I can narrow that idea down even more to, 5 tips to finding the right preschool for your painfully shy child, it has a better chance of luring an editor.

Study the Conditions: Find the Right Magazine

Before I don my waders and step into a river or lake, I research the current conditions so I can have a more successful day on the water. To do this, I visit my favorite, local fly shop or check the fishing reports online. Then I can make my plan accordingly and increase my chances of catching fish.

This idea of doing your research in order to improve your results is also true for magazine writing. If you want to get an assignment, you have to find the right publication by finding out more about the reader and the types of articles in the magazine. Then you’ll have a better idea about what waters to cast your ideas into.

  • Search for potential magazines in Writer’s Market (the print version or online) or at New Pages,
  • Make a trip to your local bookstore or newsstand to read through magazines.
  • Visit the various magazines website and read their articles.
  • Look up their media kits and guidelines online.

Media kits contain a pool of information. These are designed so that advertisers can understand the readership and decide if it’s worth spending their marketing dollars with that magazine. But this information is also helpful to writers. The kit is usually found at the bottom of the publication’s website by clicking on “advertising” or “advertise with us.”

Let’s say I find the Denver-based magazine 5280 in Writer’s Market. I am interested in writing a piece about the four best Denver neighborhoods in which to rent your first apartment, and this publication looks like a great fit. To make sure I go the website and find the writer’s guidelines first. Initially, the idea still looks like it might work. Then I go to the media kit. Within a couple minutes, I can see this pitch might not be best for this magazine. People who are renting their first apartments tend to be in their 20s, and the median age for the magazine readership is 49. Plus, 86 percent of their readers own their own home. This idea isn’t ideal for 5280, so I need to move on to a different stream.

Cast Your Line: Get the Idea Out There

Now I am ready to get my line wet. I have my fly tied on, and I’ve found the perfect spot. The chill seeps through my waders as I step into the water. I make a few false casts in the air before I drop the fly on the water.

In magazine writing, this is the point at which you’re ready to create a great query. Start with an amazing hook, which entices the editor to read more and get to the heart of your pitch, which includes what you plan to cover in your article. End with a strong bio explaining why you are the perfect person to write the piece. Because you did your homework, your chances are good you will get a nibble.

Freelance Writing Workshop: Crafting the Perfect Pitch

Be Persistent: Writing for Magazines Takes Patience and Perseverance

To say fishing takes persistence is an understatement, especially when you’re first getting started. I learned how to cast before stepping into any water, but it took time to get my rhythm down. On my very first trip out, it took four hours to catch my first fish on a fly rod. This beast of around eight inches wasn’t anything spectacular, but I was proud of myself for hanging in there and catching it. Now, since I know what I am doing, I catch more and bigger fish.

To be successful with magazine writing, you have to keep casting ideas out there and not give up. My very first published piece was a one-paragraph craft idea in Better Homes & Gardens. As I continued to learn more and improve my skills, the yeses became more frequent and the assignments bigger.

Landing the Big One

The hard work and extra time spent on research up front and refining your writing skills is worth it when you get to see your name in print…

… or catch a fish like this.

Kerrie Flanagan will be speaking at the Writer’s Digest Conference, August 10-12, 2018. Register today to learn more from Kerrie and dozens of other exceptional speakers.

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