How to get started in feature writing

I’m often asked: ‘Can anyone learn how to write a feature article?’ I usually answer with another question: ‘Can anyone learn gardening?” The answer to both questions is ‘yes’ and ‘no’. To be a gardener you don’t need a degree in horticulture – particularly if you just want to potter around in the back yard. But if you want to sell your services to lazy neighbours it would help your credibility if you had

  1. completed a course in gardening; or
  2. had years of experience and references.

For most prospective employers, 2) would be more important than 1), but in order to get to 2) it might help to first go through 1).

Natural ability

Then of course, there’s the question of natural talent. Some people are more green-fingered than others. It’s the same with feature writing for publication. If you struggle with grammar or spelling, or English is not your mother tongue, I suggest you first do a refresher course in English language before attempting to have your writing published.

An obvious statement, perhaps, but you’d be surprised how many students I encounter who can barely string a sentence together. With the basics in place, you can then begin to focus on feature writing for the magazine market.

Feature Writing Courses

Some writers, like myself, have degrees in journalism. Others have completed a correspondence course or adult education programme at a local college. Then there are those rare individuals who are self-taught.

I’m afraid this is not enough. Editors don’t care about what qualifications you have, they simply want to know whether you can do the job. And for that you need a portfolio.

Of course, it’s a catch 22. No one will take you on without any ‘cuts’ (mag-speak for portfolio), and you can’t get cuts until someone takes you on. But it’s not impossible.

Writers’ News offer some excellent home study courses, for you to check out.

Building a portfolio

Start out by offering to do articles for charitable newsletters. Once you’ve got a couple of those under your belt then you could offer to do a feature article on the charity for the local newspaper. Move up from there to a small circulation magazine.

You may have to be prepared to work for free for a while, but it will be worth it once you have some good cuts to show a paying editor.

Sniffing out ideas

The key to knowing what to write about is knowing what people want to read. In journalism, this is referred to as ‘newsworthiness’. People are sometimes described as having a ‘nose’ for news, hence the image of the news hound.

Natural instinct aside, you can train your nose to sniff out a good story. Does it impact a large number of people? Does it relate to an anniversary? Is it juicy or titillating? Is it funny? Is it sad? Is it intriguing? Is it shocking? Is it educational but interesting? What is the human interest?

Read magazines and see what types of stories (another word for articles) are published. This will differ from mag to mag and is part of your market research.

Know your market

A good course in feature writing for magazines should teach you how to research the market. You should learn how to ‘read’ a magazine in terms of readership, style, content and so on. The closer you can match your proposed feature article to the types of article already published in your target magazine, the greater your chance of acceptance.

Writing Tips

  • Make sure your written English is of publishable standard. If you have poor grammar or spelling you won’t stand a chance.
  • Do a feature writing course to help you build skill and confidence.
  • Be prepared to work for free to develop your ‘cuts’ – two or three should be enough to get you started.
  • Find out what editors want and provide it. This is called market research.

Read the next in my series on feature writing: the basics of feature writing 1

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8 comments on “How to get started in feature writing

  1. Daniel on said:

    I couldn’t understand some parts of this article o get started in feature writing at The Crafty Writer, but I guess I just need to check some more resources regarding this, because it sounds interesting.

  2. Fiona Veitch Smith on said:

    Hi Daniel. If there’s anything you’d like clarifying or explaining, just let me know. I’ll be running a series of articles on feature writing over the next months, so if you keep checking back, hopefully you’ll find something to help you. Or even better, subscribe to my feed and you’ll be automatically notified as new content is posted. Keep on writing, Fiona.

  3. Gardening Classes on said:

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