Web zines — that is, magazines posted on the World Wide Web and accessed via your computer, modem and Web browser — have matured in the past year, becoming fast, alert and ad-heavy. And an opportunity for freelance writers.
Many print magazines publish Web versions and hire freelancers to write Web-only articles. Content providers like Microsoft Network and America Online sub-contract with entrepreneurs to put together online-only publications that require a lot of new writing. And some recent start-ups, backed by excited venture capitalists, are electronic magazines that appear only on the Web.
Web zines want up-to-date reporting (lead time is typically a week or two), reviews, personal opinions and arguments on just about every subject covered in print. Their audiences tend to be upscale, educated, curious and impatient — 20 minutes is a long time for reader to spend with a Web zine.
You must write tighter for Web zines than you do for print publications because each chunk of your article appears in a rectangle about the size of a 4×6 index card, with text made up of light flickering through a glass.
The poor resolution and tight space mean people don’t like to read any more than they have to onscreen. When you create a paragraph that works well on paper, you’ll probably have to cut it in half for it to work on the Web.
You’ll need to write in shorter chunks, too, and use more subheads. Electronic magazines often offer a miniature table of contents up front, so readers can click a subject and go right to it, skipping your careful preparation and exposition. Even though you’re still telling a story, you must plan for people who skip to the middle.
In a nutshell, Web zine editors want articles that offer more information in less space. Here are several ways to achieve that:
Offer links. Provide readers with links to other Web sites. For instance, your story on phone rates might offer a link to the Federal Communication Commission site. An article on pets could provide links to some of the hundreds of locations with information about the care and feeding of cats, dogs and aardvarks. Links are content: They add up-to-the-moment value to your piece. (But only if they work — test links before you include them.)
Live chats. Bring in an expert on your topic to exchange views with readers. Offer to host a chat, where everyone gets to type at once. Or try a forum, where an expert types at length, and readers submit questions that you review offline, then pass along to the expert for comment. Consider your article and ask, “What will this audience want to ask about, or vent about, after reading what I write?” Then find an expert in that field — or become one yourself.
Give demos. Many manufacturers create interactive demonstrations of their products. Get permission to post one of these tours, or link directly to a corporate Web site. For instance, you might supplement an article on business information with links to demos of database software.
Offer sound and video. If you interview someone, post audio outtakes for visitors who want to hear what your sources sound like. For readers who like your movie review, offer to show the short “teaser” video clips offered by the movie companies.
Collect art. You may never have had to illustrate your articles before, but now many Web editors prefer writers who collect electronic art, get the owner’s permission, and pass those images along to be posted on the Web site. Many companies make such graphics available on request. So now, to brighten up an article on a museum, you can supply images of its collection.
Even with all the gee-whiz effects, writing for Web zines is still writing. You just have to do it in a way that suits the medium. You must adapt your writing to communicate despite the surrounding din, flicker and tempting distractions.
Visit any Web zine you’re thinking of writing for and study it just as you would read through back issues of a print magazine before submitting. Find out what electronic extras the editors like to offer visitors. Analyze the style carefully: Often it’s more personal than you’d risk in print. Learn how the writers and editors persuade readers to respond by e-mail, generating follow-up discussion.
You can probably locate a Web zine on your favorite subject by using the search mechanism offered by your Web browser, or one of the popular search engines like Yahoo, Excite, Lycos and AltaVista. Here are a few Web zines we like, including the one we edit.
Feed delivers amusing, offbeat perspectives on important and not-so-important topics, from high-tech education to sanitation fears. The editors set up highbrow debates about major issues and support extended e-mail discussions on topics that were first described in articles. Feed fosters a lively, talkative community.
Departments open to freelancers include Feedline (opinions and reviews); Feature (full-length reports); Dialog (staged debates between invited guests); Filter (commentary) and Document (a document that readers are invited to annotate); and Community (the Feedbag, in which readers, editors and contributors discuss current issues).
Tips: The best way to write for Feed is to begin participating in Feedbag discussions. TERMS: Pay varies and is made on acceptance. Buys exclusive North America electronic rights and various other rights. SUBMISSIONS: E-mail 300- to 500-word queries with a list of previously published work to Sam Lipsyte at email@example.com. No unsolicited submissions; responds only if interested. Web site http://www.feedmag.com.
Slate, the most famous of Microsoft’s electronic publications, began as an independent under editor Michael Kinsley, but has moved into relationships with Microsoft Network, MSNBC, and the Startup Page for Internet Explorer. Those liaisons have helped increase readership of a e-zine that resembles in tone The New Republic, which Kinsley once edited. With a nice sense of conflict honed during his years on TV opinion shows, Kinsley sets up debates between experts, encourages readers to attack and counterattack, and provides a lot of political sniping that comes from insiders on both sides of the aisle. His staffers review print magazines the moment they appear; his contributing editors handle movies, sports, TV commercials and shows, books, and fashion.
Freelancers check in with humor, diaries, poetry and oddball travel. With 20 contributing editors, Slate is a major publication; it draws many writers from the print world and has established a high standard for the upscale e-zines.
Departments include The Week/The Spin; Summary Judgment (the reviewers reviewed); In Other Magazines; Dispatches and Dialogues (staged debates between invited combatants); the Gist (full-dress reporting); Varnish Remover (TV commercials); Diary; and Doodlenium. There are also major articles, and sections devoted to books, movies, TV, sports and poetry. TERMS: Pays at least $1 per word, on acceptance. Buys perpetual nonexclusive and other rights. SUBMISSIONS: Query via regular mail, 1 Microsoft Way, Redmond, Washington 98052, tel. 206/882-8080, Web site http://www.slate.com.
Thunderbeam is for parents who want the skinny on software for their kids and for themselves. Timely articles, reviews and software demos about learning, education and home-computer software are aimed at parents of children up to age 12.
Features editor Lisa Price suggests freelancers break in the following departments: Behind the Scenes, which looks at how a new, innovative or popular software title was developed; Computers & Learning, which provides articles about the way children learn with computers; and Electronic Home, which concentrates on family issues revolving around the computer, such as parental controls.
Tips: Price especially wants articles that have a new twist; “not just `5 Great Spelling Programs.’ Also, the e-zine will change format go keep checking it.” TERMS: Pay varies and is made on acceptance. Buys all rights. SUBMISSIONS: Query with clips. E-queries okay. Responds in a few weeks. Suite 540, 475 17th St., Denver 80202, tel. 303/296-1599, e-mail features@thunder beam.com, Web site http://www.thunderbeam.com.
Women’s Wire, started in 1992 with $7 million in venture capital, targets well-educated, well-to-do women. With 500,000 visitors a month, this site earned $1 million in ads in 1996, according to Jupiter Communications. With 35 full-time staffers, 22 regular contributors and many freelancers, Women’s Wire has become stable enough to expand. CEO Marleen McDaniel says, “We’re doing as much as we can to extend our content offerings because we need to add more inventory. Our goal is to provide a great place for women from around the world to connect with one another. Women’s Wire aims to inform, provoke and amuse — we reserve the right to talk about things both serious and silly.”
Departments open to freelancers include News of the Day (headlines, gossip, opinions, newsmakers), Style (fashion trends), Work (cool careers, entrepreneurship, top companies for families), Body (nutrition, fitness, sports, sex), Buzz (profiles, books, magazines, gossip, movies), Cash (investing, tax planning, cash flow), Shop (shopping tips) and Beatrice’s Web Guide (good stuff on the Web).
Tips: Parent company Wire Networks, Inc., expects to launch “several additional sites” in the next year. Senior editor Katharine Mieszkowski wants “people who can write cheeky, punchy, fast — with attitude. I’d also like to see writers who can think in terms of multimedia clips, sounds, video and links. The best place to break in is the Work section.” TERMS: Pay averages $300 for 500-700 word articles. Pays on acceptance for various rights. SUBMISSIONS: Query with Web clips, if possible. Suite 150, 1820 Gateway Dr., San Mateo, California 94404, tel. 415/378-6500, Web site http://www.womenswire.com.
Urban Desires aims for young, citified, but not terribly techno-hip readers, with tough-talking gossip, out-of-focus pictures of fire escapes and lyrical memoirs of foreign cities. Worldly and fun, this e-zine resembles its print ancestors in its attention to books, music, travel and sex; the focus is on voice, not technology.
Departments include Written Word (eclectic, mostly first-person essays on modern culture), Art (cool artists and showings), Technology & Toys (reviews and commentaries of the latest releases and topical issues), Sex/Health (fun, pleasure and responsibility), Music (reviews and commentaries), Performance (celebrity interviews and reviews), Food (commentaries), Style (hip and not-yet-hip fashion reviews and comments), and Travel (offbeat places). TERMS: Pay and rights purchased vary for pieces averaging 3,000 words. SUBMISSIONS: Query or send complete manuscript to particular section. 1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York City 10020, tel. 212/522-8772, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, Web site http://www.desires.com.