Breaking Into Fitness Writing
Profit Center: Boost your career—and earn extra money—by becoming a published fitness writer.
As a fitness professional, you’ve read hundreds of articles on health and fitness—many in professional publications like IDEA Fitness Journal and others in general magazines like Shape or Health. Who writes these articles? Famous fitness pros? Professional writers who work full-time in the writing business? People with connections?
You may be surprised to know that anyone can be a fitness writer. You can write part-time, and you don’t necessarily need to be an established writer already. What you do need is an interesting idea targeted directly to a specific magazine—and persistence. Discover how you can get articles published and the benefits of doing so.
Writing articles helps your fitness career in several ways.
Expands Your Profile. “Being published is great for name recognition,” says Amanda Vogel, MA, of Active Voice Writing Service in Vancouver, British Columbia. “When I wrote a column for a local newspaper, readers of that newspaper would come to my fitness classes and there would be a rapport—they felt like they knew me already from reading my columns. In that sense, writing articles can be a chance to establish yourself as a fitness pro in your area.”
Writing is an efficient way to get your name out to a lot of consumers and professionals without buying any ad space, notes Alexandra Williams, MA, a writer in Santa Barbara, California, and a blogger at www.funandfit.org. “If you write regionally or nationally, you can establish yourself as an expert, which can help if you want to apply to present at national or international conventions.”
Enhances Your Writing Ability. Writing professionally gives you practice writing. “You have to make spelling and grammar corrections and you learn to think concisely,” says Williams, who is also a contributing editor for IDEA publications. “These skills will make you stand out as a professional if you are doing a blog or any kind of marketing campaign.”
Increases Your Confidence Level. Another less obvious advantage is the confidence you gain from seeing your name in print, says Williams. “Not only will you feel good, but your clients and colleagues will respect you that much more. Being published is a permanent marker of your success that is never out of date!”
Writing is also a way to generate additional income without putting physical strain on your body. How much can you make? Some publications ask writers to write articles for free. Others pay a flat fee depending on the number of words the editor assigns you.
Vogel provides estimates below of payments for different publications:
- newspaper articles: $.00–$0.80 a word
- consumer magazines (written for the public): $0.50–$3.00 a word
- trade publications (geared to a specific industry): $0.20–$0.50 a word
- online articles: $0.50–$0.75 a word
While it’s helpful to consider these rates, Vogel encourages you to look at what you expect your hourly rate to be after you have finished writing the article and doing any follow-up work the magazine requests. “Some magazines don’t pay a lot, but they are hassle-free to work with,” she says. “Others offer a nice paycheck, but there’s a lot of expectation in terms of back-and-forth communication with editors and sources, revisions, research—all of which takes more time to complete.”
You might think that the best way to get an editor to buy your article is to write the full manuscript and send it to editors. Wrong.
“In most cases, it’s not a good idea to write the entire article and then shop it around, because what you write might not fit with what editors are looking for,” says Vogel. “E-mailing query letters is standard protocol in the magazine industry. A query is a short letter that’s meant to sell an article idea to an editor. The query might include a short lead-in, written in the style of the magazine you want to break into; a brief outline of the article you wish to write; and an explanation of why you are the best person to write that article.”
To come up with a good topic for a query letter, Williams advises asking yourself these questions:
- What do I know a lot about or what interests me enough to do the necessary research?
- What do I have to say that hasn’t been already said?
- What unique angle can I put on a common topic?
- What would I want to read?
Sandy Todd Webster, editor in chief of IDEA publications, also suggests thinking about your qualifications when brainstorming potential article topics. Consider:
- What are you good at? (Think outside of your fitness skills. Consider research, business, motivation, organization, technology, etc.)
- What experience or information do you have that makes your perspective unique?
- What kind of relevant training or degree do you have?
“When writing a query, be sure to address why the topic is pertinent now, why it will interest readers and how it will benefit them,” recommends Vogel.
When first querying, you may want to start small—low-circulation magazines, websites and local newspapers—because these publications tend to be less competitive and easier to break into compared with larger magazines and websites, notes Vogel. “And getting assignments helps you practice your writing skills,” she adds.
Once you’ve been assigned a fitness article, what can you do to make sure your editor wants to work with you again? Webster offers these suggestions:
Do a Good Job. Follow directions and stay in touch with the editor, especially if you find yourself struggling. It’s okay to ask for help. Editors appreciate honesty and sincere effort.
Meet Your Deadline. Period. Life happens sometimes. Be in touch with the editor and let him or her know as soon as possible if there is a problem.
Don’t Write Too Much. Do not exceed the assigned word count. You may think you are doing an editor a favor by giving extra words, but editors have only a certain amount of space for your article. Make their jobs easier!
Turn in the Assignment You Were Assigned. Don’t veer off on your own without discussion with the editor.
Send in Factchecking/Backup Material. See what the magazine’s policy is regarding sources. You may need to provide material verifying who or what the sources are. You may also be asked to suggest art ideas or send in supporting, videos (for online tie-ins) or photos.
“Becoming a published fitness writer isn’t just for well-known people,” says Williams, who co-presented a session on fitness writing with Webster at the 2010 IDEA World Fitness Convention™. “I encourage everyone to take their best ideas and submit them to magazines!
“In fact, some of the people who attended our workshop sent their queries to IDEA and got them accepted!” she adds. “They are now official writers! So it can be done. Also, it’s really fun. I write all the time and love it.”
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Want to write an article for IDEA? Consider these suggestions from IDEA editor in chief Sandy Todd Webster for getting an editor to hire you to write an article based on your query letter.
Rule #1: Follow Directions! If you can’t demonstrate that you can follow simple directions based on the IDEA Author Guidelines, you probably won’t be a good match to work with an editor on a writing project. Read the guidelines and follow them if you want to get your query considered (see www.ideafit.com/publications/author-guidelines).
Rule #2: Be Familiar With the Publication. Know the publication you want to write for and demonstrate understanding of that publication’s content and “voice” when you create your query. Even better, know the section/column of the magazine you want to write for.
Rule #3: Think Ahead. Editors live in a bizarre time warp because of printing deadlines. We work 4–6 months ahead of issue cover dates. Don’t pitch a summer boot camp article in June. By then, I’m already assigning the November issue.
Rule #4: Be Patient. We may not get back to you right away. Follow-ups are fine, but not every week after you send in the query. We appreciate your enthusiasm, but we need some space.
Rule #5: Start Small. We almost never award article series writing or features to first-time authors. You need to prove your ability on a small scale and work up from there.
Rule #6: Have Someone Else Read Your Query. Before you send it to the editor, ask a colleague or mentor to read your query. If they are clear on what you are trying to communicate, chances are that I will be, too.
Rule #7: Try, Try Again! Your first query attempt will probably be rejected. We’ve pretty much heard and seen it all over the years in our jobs as editors, but eventually you may come up with an angle that piques our interest. Don’t give up.
To learn about IDEA’s article query process, see www.ideafit.com/publications/author-guidelines.
To learn more about fitness writing or to improve your writing skills, use the following IDEA resources:
- “Writing on Health and Fitness” by Amanda Vogel, MA. www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/writing-health-and-fitness
- “Stepping Up to the Pen” by Deidre King, MA. www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/effective-written-communication
- “Write-Right” by Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA. www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/write-right-0
Amanda Vogel has created several resources to help fitness pros with article writing, including “Anatomy of an Article” and “How to Write Winning Queries.” See www.activevoice.ca.
© 2011 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.
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