One of the Better How-To Books
on Magazine Research and Writing
Basic Magazine Writing
Writer's Digest Books, 1986, 268 pages, $16.95 (U.S.)
Reviewed by Noelle Boughton
As a journalist who has spent several years learning about both
magazine writing and feelancing from trial and error and hints culled
from books, I read Basic Magazine Writing: How to master the
seven most important article forms and get published in the leading
national magazines with a certain longing. From its opening
pages on "How to Become a Magazine Writer" through 16
chapters on queries, story formats and writing techniques, I couldn't
help wishing it had been on book store shelves when I began freelancing.
As anyone in the freelance magazine writing field can attest, Barbara
Kevles' new Basic Magazine Writing is not the only "how to"
magazine writing book around. But it is definitely one of the best
I have seen. It covers the A to Z of magazine writing in a readable
manner and offers hints for the advanced as well as beginning magazine
Kevles, an American magazine freelancer of 20 years and a veteran
writing teacher, brings several strengths to her book. Having written
for many major American publications, ranging from The New York
Times and Working Woman to The Saturday Evening Post and The Village
Voice, she has numerous personal hints and experiences to draw from.
She couples these with writing samples from both her students' and
her own portfolio and critiques both. And her format is so logical
and well-organized that anyone wishing to skim a chapter can still
get its value form her regular selection summaries.
Basic Magazine Writing's 16 chapters cover everything from the
pros and cons of query phone call versus letters, where to find
saleable ideas and identifying the right magazine market for an
idea to how to get and do an interview, writing article outlines
and overcoming writer's block. These chapters are the most interesting,
but they are interspersed with more technical chapters on how to
write seven article types: profile, service, issue, exposition,
question-and-answer, "as told to" and celebrity interviews.
Throughout the book, Kevles thoroughly covers the basics, such
as becoming familiar with a magazine before querying its editor,
researching before interviews and finding timely stories. But she
also suggests some gems such as contacting editors new to a magazine
to check if they want new writers, prefacing tough questions with
a personal appeal for the subject's help and asking distracted subjects
what is troubling them so they can air it and get on with the interview.
These are the pluses, but Basic Magazine Writing also has
some flaws. I question Kevle's urgings to rewrite people's quotes
to add more colourful language - as long as you don't change the
intent - and her note taking method of using a typewriter during
an interview. As one doctor finally told her, that can be hard for
the subject who is talking.
The final flaw is that the book is all American. All magazines
and editors named are American, suggested story lengths and needs
are for American publications and often irrelevant to Canada and
some article types - such as the "as told to " format
- are rare in Canada. But, given the book's strengths, this is only
a minor annoyance and Kevle's Basic Magazine Writing comes
This article originally appeared in Sources,
10th Anniversary Issue, Summer 1987.
Noelle Boughton is a freelance writer who lives in Toronto.
Her recent book, Margaret
Laurence: A Gift of Grace, is available from
the Women's Press imprint of Canadian Scholars' Press, Inc., at
www.cspi.org, or by calling toll-free to 1-866-870-2774.
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