How can I take baby steps toward writing for tech publications?
May 3, 2012 10:39 AM   Subscribe

How can I take baby steps toward writing for tech publications?

I like writing. I also have a lot of knowledge of technology, specifically web/internet. It seems obvious I should try to combine the two somehow. One permutation is to use my writing skills to cover topics in technology.

How can I get started writing technology articles? I think my target publication would be something similar to Wired (though I realize that particular publication is probably out of my reach as a beginner), although I'm more interested in covering social/cultural effects of technology rather than writing about the release of the new iPad. What would be some small steps I could take toward the eventual goal of writing about technology?

I also like writing book reviews. Not sure how to translate this into the tech writing idea, but I thought I'd throw it out there.
posted by deathpanels to Work & Money (7 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
MeMail me if you have a specific story pitch or general beat you'd like to cover -- I've done pieces for Conde Nast properties, of which Wired is one, and am always happy to help out folks who want to break into the field.
posted by evoque at 10:48 AM on May 3, 2012 [6 favorites]

I hate to always answer the same way but here it is: Start a blog. Write the articles you'd like to sell. Sending an editor your blog is the modern day equivalent of sending your clips.

And the way tech writing is going, I'm not sure what advantage there is to navigating the overhead of getting an assignment under the auspices of a big name publication. I can share a link from just as easily as one from Wired.

Also, research research research the publications you'd like to write for. Model your pitches after the stories they've run. Would you consider being the tech writer for, say, a women's mag? Pitch yourself as that. Or do you want to write only for a tech-savvy audience? Do the pubs you want to target have articles by freelancers (almost certainly yes)? Or mostly staffers? Start paying attention to bylines -- who writes where? That will start to illuminate the web of who knows whom.

/disillusioned journalist
posted by purpleclover at 10:53 AM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, and at any point if you get an awesome offer of help from someone with inside knowledge (like evoque's) take it. Do not wait to get your feet wet or gather more experience!
posted by purpleclover at 11:01 AM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I used to write for Wired too (I was also an editor at lots of dotcom era tech magazines that no longer exist, and have written about tech for lots of mainstream magazines as well). It's possible to land a print assignment with little or no experience IF you write a kickass pitch. As an editor I'm always looking for fresh voices and original ideas and don't care where they come from. At one men's magazine I took a pitch from an unpublished writer based on an awesome pitch, and he's gone on to build a writing career that includes two books.

But that's mostly advice from a print perspective. These days, yeah, I'd totally go the blog route and write about whatever gets you excited (and really, be excited and passionate when you write--subject expertise is fine, but what really sets you apart is the originality you bring to the topic). Then, if print is your goal, you can send an impassioned and brilliant pitch along with stuff you've already written, because you'll have a body of work.

Ditto what Evoque said; feel free to MeMail with questions!
posted by bassomatic at 11:23 AM on May 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's possible to land a print assignment with little or no experience IF you write a kickass pitch.

Can you say a little bit about what makes a pitch great, or some rookie mistakes to avoid?
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:18 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Most pitches read like press releases. The best ones are like polished little stories in themselves; they convey not just information, but voice and attitude and point of view. They give the editor a sense of the writer's style, explain why the writer who's pitching the story is the best person to write it, and how the writer would approach the story. They show that the writer is familiar with the magazine (or website or whatever), and might even explain why now is the right time to publish the story.

Let's say a writer is pitching a story about a scientist who has just discovered a way to control gravity. Here's a bad pitch:

Dear Editor,

I would like to write a story about Dr. Ralph Smith, an government scientist who has reportedly discovered a way to control gravity. This is one of the most important discoveries of our time, and I think your readers would be very interested in it.

Better pitch:

Dear John,

Last week, in a remote Alaskan laboratory that according to the government doesn't officially doesn't exist, Dr. Ralph Smith coated a one-pound brick of lead with thin layer of Crapium 427, an isotope he's been experimenting with since the early 1970s. He put the lead brick on a scale. Four minutes later, Smith watched as the scale's readout rolled backward from one pound to zero.

Is this mankind's greatest discovery--or will Smith be silenced like so many of his predecessors?

I propose a feature article in which I'll talk to Smith about the science behind the discovery as well as its potential affect on culture. I've written extensively about physics and have interviewed many high-profile scientists (see the links below), so I can deliver a piece that explains the physics in a way that your readers will understand while also telling Smith's story in a compelling way. In terms of approach, I think this would be similar to your June 2011 article on Stephen Hawking. Smith has agreed to an interview; he's familiar with my work and can make himself available in the coming weeks.

posted by bassomatic at 7:38 AM on May 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

That is great, thank you!
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:10 PM on May 7, 2012

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