Jennifer Davies completed the Magazine Journalism Course and the Advanced Magazine Journalism Course at SA Writers College (www.sawriterscollege.co.za). She graduated in August 2009.
We followed up with Jennifer to see how she is doing as a writer working in the magazine industry.
What writing successes have you had since completing your course?
I have sold five articles so far: two to Fair Lady, one to Femina, one to Cosmo, and one to Destiny. I’ve also been made assistant editor of Vital’s in-house magazine – Vitalise – for which I’ve been writing since 2007.
How does it feel to sell your first article?
Incredible. I think it was one of the most exciting moments in my life – only surpassed by actually seeing it in print, in a ‘real’ glossy magazine, with pictures and everything – with my name for all to see. I actually jumped up and down! Silly, but true.
What have you learned from actually working in the industry (as opposed to the theory of it)?
You have to persevere, as it’s often challenging to actually pin people down. Sometimes you have to email a couple of times and follow up with a friendly phone call (just don’t be rude or pushy). But, take heart, 99% of the people you speak to are friendly and nice – when you get down to it, they want good articles because the success of their magazine depends on it.
Also, it’s generally not the actual Editor-in-Chief that you send articles to – it’s usually the Features editor, or Editor of a specific section (for example Health & Beauty, etc.).
What tip(s) would you give other aspirant journalists?
- Don’t be afraid to chase up your story – chances are, no one’s going to shout at you for just asking if they liked your article!
- When looking for people to interview, don’t be shy: people are surprisingly helpful; even though they’re giving you help for free.
- Persevere! But if you see something isn’t working, take a look at it & consider, objectively, what could be going wrong. Also bear in mind that the economy isn’t great at the moment, so don’t be discouraged.
- Don’t be too ‘precious’ about your articles. I know they feel a bit like your babies, but sometimes editors will edit them, or ask you to change something. If you really feel this won’t work, discuss that with the editor, but also be prepared to make the changes they suggest.
- Stick to the brief (if you get one) and the magazine’s specifications, e.g. if their articles are usually 1200 words long, don’t send them a 2000 word article.
- From what I’ve observed in the industry, a surprising number of people don’t stick to deadlines, and send articles with spelling and grammatical errors. Don’t do this. Always triple-check your work!
- Very important: integrity & reliability – if you promise an interviewee you’ll run the article by them first, do it. Don’t misquote people and don’t use their real name if they ask you not to, etc – just common manners & decency. If you demonstrate that you’re trustworthy, they’ll probably help you again next time.
How did the Magazine Journalism Course help your writing?
I couldn’t have done it without the course, and my amazing tutor, Lisa Lazarus. It showed me exactly how to approach magazines, how to work within the boundaries of style, tone, etc. It also gave me a lot of confidence and the guts to actually approach the magazines. My writing improved immeasurably, through plenty of feedback, and the writing exercises we’re given.
It is scary at first, but knowing that I had actually done the course, that I knew I was doing things the right way, and that I knew how to write and research an article correctly, really helped. Having the feedback from Lisa also gave me insight into how I could improve and where I was doing things right – where my strengths lay. I would highly recommend the course to anyone who wants to get into the field of magazine journalism.