Successful fitness pros say it all the time: Write health and fitness articles for newspapers, magazines and websites to advance your fitness career by leaps and bounds. And they’re right. By authoring articles you will gain exposure and build credibility as a fitness pro, open doors to new career opportunities, share your expertise with a wider audience and generate more clients for your fitness business. Oh, and you’ll directly increase revenues if you contribute to publications that pay!
On paper, having a goal to write health and fitness articles sounds promising. But to succeed at it, you need practical, real-world guidance. For example, how do you get started or progress to bigger writing opportunities? What’s the difference between contributing to large and small magazines, or print and online media? Here, learn the ropes from a veteran fitness writer and IDEA author.
Large, National Magazines
You’ll find these high-circulation magazines (some are called "glossies" because of their slick covers) on newsstands, in bookstores and by the checkout stands in grocery stores. You might think a large magazine boasting millions of readers would run articles that appeal to the masses. In actuality, these magazines are highly targeted to a specific market, such as high-earning professionals, health-minded women in their 30s and 40s or young, male bodybuilders.
Writing for big-name magazines is competitive, so you must develop a solid plan for how you’ll approach the discerning editors at these publications. Many fitness pros try to break in by first writing an article then sending it to editors, asking if they want to publish it. However, the more productive, time-saving and professional approach is to send a query, which is a letter or e-mail that showcases your writing skills and describes your proposed article. With a query, you sell a story idea, not the article itself. This pitch is the type that editors at large magazines expect. For a how-to-query resource, see the sidebar.
Once you break into a big magazine, be ready to devote time and attention to your article. Many large publishers require you to submit factchecking material based on the research used to write the piece, and they may request one or more rounds of revisions. The payoff is, well, the pay! You can receive thousands of dollars for one article, not to mention bragging rights for having your author byline in a prestigious publication.
Small, Community Magazines
Compared with large magazines, small-circulation magazines—often available for free around town—can be much easier to break into, because the competition’s not as fierce. You should still send a query to the publication, though. This saves you the trouble of writing an article without the assurance of an assignment, and it makes you come across as more professional. That said, editors at small magazines might be more open to receiving an unsolicited manuscript, especially if they buy reprints. An unsolicited manuscript is magazine-industry lingo for a completed article that an editor did not request, and a reprint is a piece that has been published elsewhere first (large magazines rarely accept reprints).
For the most part, small magazines pay small fees (usually a few hundred dollars or less per article). But you might complete these assignments quickly, leaving you with plenty of time for training clients or writing new queries and articles! Plus, the exposure within your community can attract new clients.
Newspaper Fitness Column
Most fitness columns in newspapers run weekly, biweekly or monthly. Being a fitness columnist allows you to receive repeat media exposure, which strengthens your profile as a credible, go-to fitness pro in your area. And since it’s common to personalize columns by writing in the first person—using "I" and "me"—your readers (i.e., your potential clients) may feel as if they know you long before you meet face to face. The result is a strong foundation for selling your services.
To express your interest in becoming a fitness columnist, query the editor with an initial list of topics you could write about, including a brief overview of what you’d cover in each of the columns. Frame your query so it focuses on why the content would be of interest to readers, not how it would showcase you and your services.
The trick to nabbing a fitness column (apart from proving your writing skills) is proving you can handle recurring deadlines. One of my first writing jobs was as a fitness columnist for a local paper. On the day I got hired, the editor asked if I’d have enough material to sustain a weekly column for more than a few months (lots of columnists don’t, he said). Turns out, I did. I kept that column for 4 years before resigning to pursue other projects.
Unlike large magazines, newspapers have a diverse readership. Your column topics must be varied and general enough to appeal to a wide range of readers, some fit, some not so fit. In other words, if you keep writing about your high-intensity boot camp week after week, your column will be short-lived.
The pay? Small, community newspapers either don’t pay columnists at all or offer a small fee, such as $10–$100 per column. Still, the education you offer and recognition you receive may be substantially rewarding.
Fitness Trade Magazines
So far, I’ve focused on print publications for the general public (i.e., fitness consumers). However, there are also opportunities to write for fitness trade magazines, like the one you’re reading right now! As with the previous examples, you can increase your success by preparing a proper query that clearly outlines your article idea. Stay focused on the magazine’s target audience—fitness pros. Avoid the mistake of pitching a story that’s more suitable for your clients than your colleagues. Of course, writing for your industry peers doesn’t mean producing a piece that’s dry, formal or overly academic. Use a conversational yet informative style.
The pay for trade magazines varies, depending on the publication, article length and author’s expertise. Most article fees are more than what small, community magazines offer and less than what big-name publications dole out.
Article Distribution Websites
Dozens of article distribution sites exist on the Web. Here’s how they work: you write an article (this is one case where writing queries isn’t appropriate) and submit it to an article database, such as ezinearticles.com. Once your piece is approved, it goes live so people can republish it on their blogs, in newsletters, in e-zines, etc.—provided they include your author bio/resource box and don’t alter the article. There’s no pay. Submitting your writing to online article databases is strictly a marketing maneuver.
As with any article-publishing outlet, you can increase your chances of having your submissions accepted by correcting typos and offering useful information versus a sales pitch or press release masquerading as an article. And to increase traffic to your website, incorporate the right keywords for your business into your online articles (something you don’t have to bother with when writing for traditional print media).
The right keywords will be different for every fitness pro, depending on the services/products you provide. If you were aiming to attract attention for a fitness boot camp focused on weight loss, you’d want to use keywords such as "weight loss" and "fitness boot camp" in your article. Trainers trying to attract clients in a specific area would also want to include the location in a keyword; for example, "weight loss Seattle."
Your Own Website, Blog or Client Newsletter
In this scenario, you can publish articles yourself on your website, in a blog or in client newsletters. However, don’t think anything goes. You still have to win over readers with compelling articles that inform, entertain and/or inspire. Take time to craft a piece that’s enjoyable for readers—not just one that’s quick and easy for you to write.
The great thing about self-published articles is that you know your audience well, because they’re mostly your clients and prospects. As a result, you can expertly tailor your pieces to satisfy their interests, wants and needs. Compose online articles so they’re easy to read on a computer screen, using short paragraphs, subheads and/or bullet points.
SIDEBAR: Glossary of Common Article-Writing Terms
Here are common terms every aspiring health and fitness writer should know:
Masthead. The page that shows magazine editors’ names and job titles.
Query. A letter or e-mail writers use to sell an article idea to editors. Sending a query is standard practice in the magazine industry. For more information on how to write a query, see How to Write Winning Queries at www.ActiveVoice.ca.
Writers’ Guidelines. A document that lays out a publication’s expectations for writers, including the magazine’s preferred style, query preferences/expectations, research practices and more. Find IDEA’s at www.ideafit.com/pub_guidelines.asp.
Lead. Your article’s opening paragraph(s). The lead’s purpose is to introduce the article’s topic and hook readers.
Sidebar. You’re looking at one. A sidebar is a graphic element that might include resources, lists, a summary or info that’s related to the article but doesn’t logically fit into the body of the piece.
Factchecking. The process of ensuring your article’s accuracy by double-checking information related to research and interviews you incorporated into your work.
Departments. Recurring categories in a magazine, such as Personal Training, Nutrition, Group Exercise and Body-Mind-Spirit in IDEA Fitness Journal.■
Amanda Vogel, MA, is a fitness professional and the owner of Active Voice Writing Service in Vancouver, BC. In addition to writing for IDEA Fitness Journal, Prevention, All You, Self and Health, she is the author of Anatomy of an Article: How to Quickly Write Compelling Articles That Get the Results You Want. Read her fitness writing tips at http://fitnesswriter.blogspot.com.