When I was a magazine editor, part of my job was to design the perfect mix of feature stories that kept readers turning the pages. I would lay out maybe two trend pieces, two service guides, one how-to, a round-up, and a profile, with different lengths for variety.
These types of feature stories are formulaic, and most magazines (newspapers and websites too) rely on them. Once you understand the 10 types of features and how they work, you’ll start thinking of story ideas that fit their molds.
When pitching your feature story to an editor in an email, identify the type, so editors can envision the story. Of course, before you pitch anything, go through the magazine’s features and make sure they publish the types listed here.
It might help to subscribe to magazines you’re thinking about pitching, to ensure your story ideas have merit. So at the end of this post, I’m offering 10 free subscriptions for 10 readers (randomly chosen) who leave comments. The magazine subs come from Zinio, a site offering 50 percent off subscriptions through January 7. (Just for the record, I have not been compensated for making this offer.)
Now, let’s get back to shaping story ideas. Here’s the rundown on popular magazine story formats:
1. Seasonal recipes. This is the most common format for food magazines and those with recipe sections. Usually the piece begins with an introductory paragraph or two and follows with three or four recipes. Time your content to the month the magazine will come out. For example, national magazines work around six months ahead, so don’t pitch a piece on pomegranates for the June issue. Conversely, you might have to find out-of-season produce to test recipes.
2. Profile. Features on a chef, founder of a company, or newsmaker detail the person’s background, influences, and decisions as an influential market leader. If you want the editor to jump on your story, tie the chef or founder to a trend or news angle. Try not to resort to an email list of questions. You might get skimpy or vague answers. Face-to-face meetings and interviews are best, or a telephone interview. Make sure you have done your homework on the person before the interview begins. That means interviewing friends and colleagues, perhaps family. Here’s one of my favorite profiles.
3. Interview with Questions and Answers. Similar to a profile, this type of feature is not a narrative story. Instead, a paragraph of introduction leads into a question and answer session. If you do a few of these for the same publication or website, you might get offered a regular column.
4. Resource Guide. An “all about” story where you detail the subject matter exhaustively. For a story on cooking with farro, you might include 3-4 recipes plus sidebars on storage tips, buying tips, and how chefs use farro in restaurants.
5. Service or How-to. These are such a mainstay of the magazine industry that you can probably think of a million subjects, such as how to figure out if you have a food allergy, how to set up a brunch buffet, or how to stretch meals with meat as a flavoring. How-to stories might give step-by-step instructions. They always provide insider tips and secrets on how to succeed. Because you know the topic so well, you are that expert.
6. Trend. These features are prominent in industry magazines, such as those tied to retail food stores and restaurants. These magazine editors want their readers to know about the latest national trend and how it can be applied to their businesses. For stories like this, you may need to interview people nationally.
For your town’s newspaper, however, the local angle is paramount. You may have better luck getting these types of stories published in the Business or Metro sections than the Food section, which relies mostly on recipes.
7. Round-up. Here’s a mainstay of alternative newspapers and snarky websites, such as “Ten Best Burger Joints in Los Angeles.” There’s a theme or focus, and you’ll need to have opinions and substantiate your choices.
8. Travel. Usually written as a first person essay, travel pieces often include resource boxes for where to stay and eat. It’s often easier to get a food story published in the Travel section of a newspaper than the Food section.
9. Reviews. Whether for books, restaurants, products or movies, critical thinking is a must for reviewers. You can do it if you’re comfortable discussing the grey area between “fabulous” and “hated it,” because reviewing is not about extremes. Know how to discuss the pros and cons, and you’ll make a good reviewer.
10. Personal essay. Publications feature these rarely, yet they are one of the most sought after published pieces for writers, especially beginners who want to tell their stories. Here’s a writer who excelled at them.
Did I forget some categories? Let me know. And comment to enter my free magazine subscription giveaway.
You might also like these previous posts:
- Like Throwing Darts in the Dark? That’s Freelancing
- Melissa Clark Works Her Tail Off and Says You Should Too
- Like Trends Stories? Pitch AP’s Hirsch
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