So You Want To Be A Writer
November 04, 2010
By Dwight Schuh, Sr. Editor
Commonly I talk to people who say they've always wanted to try writing, or they have a story they think would work in Bowhunter. Do they have a chance? Would Bowhunter buy their story?
That raises the question: Who, exactly, does write for Bowhunter? We have staff writers, of course, whose stories and columns appear regularly. But they hardly dominate every issue. Truth is, we buy many stories from average Joe and Jane bowhunters. That's one quality that makes Bowhunter unique and interesting.
In no issue is this more apparent than the Big Game Special. Just look through this magazine. Sure it contains stories by our regular writers. But more than a dozen of the features are written by everyday bowhunters, people like you who simply have a story to tell. Some have never written for Bowhunter before, and some may never again. But their stories are a vital part - no, the very heart - of Bowhunter. They are what make this magazine work.
That doesn't mean we buy every story sent to the Bowhunter office. That would be impossible. We receive an average of 12 to 15 manuscripts each week, 600 to 800 each year. Yet we have editorial space for only 60 to 80 freelance stories each year. That means we must reject 9 out of every 10 manuscripts submitted.
In one editorial, I can't present a full writing course. But as the guy who reads every manuscript that comes to Bowhunter - and who accepts or rejects each one - I can tell you the main reasons we reject manuscripts. Roughly in order of frequency, they are:
* Poor photos. Clearly, photos are a major element of this magazine. When a writer submits a manuscript with no photos, or photos of poor quality, we simply cannot use it. If you want to sell stories, get good photos.
"Good" has several aspects. 1) Photos must be technically perfect - sharp and properly exposed. 2) Composition must be good. That is, the subject must be positioned properly, with no essential body parts (like the head of a deer or hunter, cut off. 3) Photos must be clean. We cannot use kill shots showing a lot of blood, tongues hanging out (either the hunter's or the deer's), or discarded refrigerators in the background.
* Lack of theme. We commonly get letters that say something like, "My buddy killed a 180 P&Y buck. It would make a great story for Bowhunter." We can only ask, Why would it? So what if he killed a 180-buck? That's not a story.
Nor is a blow-by-blow account of a day on stand. It might be memorable to the writer, but it probably won't mean anything to readers.
Every story must have a point. A theme. To write an interesting story, pick out the highlight of the hunt, and build the story around that highlight. That's the theme. To identify the theme, try to summarize the story in one sentence, and don't start writing until you can do that. Anytime we read a manuscript and then have to ask, "What's the point?" we won't buy it.
* Bad timing. Sometimes we simply have too many stories in one category. If we have four caribou stories in house, we won't buy any more until we have published the ones we already have. Unfortunately, you can't predict that, so you just have to submit your story and take your chances. Of course, in some subject categories, we will buy every good story we receive. Those categories would be whitetails, whitetails, and whitetails.
* Wrong presentation. Some people who submit stories simply don't read and understand the magazine. For example, we receive a lot of poetry submissions. Since we do not publish poetry and never have, poems are automatically rejected.
* Bad writing. You might think this would be the No. 1 reason for rejection, but it is not. Oh, if the organization or grammar is bad enough, we will reject a story for those reasons alone. But, the fact is we can repair bad writing. That's called editing. But we cannot repair bad photos, and we cannot create a theme where none exists. So if a manuscript has good photos, a strong theme, and a timely subject, but is poorly written, we probably will buy it and edit it to read well.
From this you can assume some of the essentials for selling stories: Take good photos during the hunt; hammer out a strong theme; and rewrite your story until it flows smoothly and makes sense. Here are three other tips: 1) To write a story, pretend you're writing a letter to your best friend. 2) Study stories in this magazine, pick out the ones that impress you most, and emulate them. 3) Buy and study books on writing (or check them out of a library). Barnes and Noble devotes at least 50 feet of shelf space to writing. Amazon.com lists 719 books on "writing and editing."
Maybe you have a story that's perfect for Bowhunter. If so, send it, along with photos, to our office at 6405 Flank Drive, Harrisburg, PA 17112. Of course, we can't promise we'll buy your story. But we do promise to give every manuscript, regardless of author, equal consideration. After all, stories by people like you, our readers, are the very heart of this magazine. They're what make Bowhunter work.