Every Clip Isn’t Equal

In the world of magazine writing, after an article is published, we commonly refer to the article as a “clip.” I have no idea when this practice began. After almost twenty years of writing for various magazines, I’ve got boxes of magazine clips.

Particularly when you are beginning to write for publication, these clips are important. You make a photocopy of it and add it to your query letter to the magazine.  If you’ve been published in a national and easily recognized publication, then it’s easier to use these clips to validate your publishing experience. The editor looks at these clips to learn a bit more about your writing style. Also clips are sent when you write for a new publication.  Other writers will simply point to several of their magazine articles on a website to show their writing.

Thousands of magazines are printed each month in various areas of the marketplace. Some of these magazines are inspirational / religious magazines while others are trade magazines (like for a particular organization). Other magazines are consumer magazines which you can easily find in your local stores.

I enjoy writing for magazines as well as the longer book projects. The magazine articles some times lead to book projects. The assignments get the writer out into the marketplace of ideas, interviewing people and interacting with organizations.  I find many writers focused on longer books—when often they need to begin in the magazine area to build some publishing credits. Magazine writing is shorter in length and also a shorter time frame for publication.  It can often be a year from submission (even a contracted book project) until a book appears in print. Most magazines are working four to six months ahead of their publication schedule. If you turn in the article, it appears several months later.

Several months ago, I took an assignment from a small publication. I’ve not written for this particular magazine for many years but the assignment was short and different. Typically in these smaller publications, the payment isn’t large but some times these opportunities can lead to other things. I didn’t want to ignore these possibilities.

I put together the article, received my payment and haven’t heard anything else from the publication—until this week. This type of practice is fairly typical for these smaller publications with limited staff. In the larger publications (and when I was a magazine editor), we would send the author an edited version of their story. Usually you have a tight deadline and are only checking for accuracy. Often this accuracy check doesn’t happen in the fast-pace for the smaller publications—but it should.

In my weekend mail, I found my contributor copies of this publication. The magazine is impressive and full-color on every page. I eagerly turned to my article.  I knew the information about my background would be brief. I was surprised to learn that I live in Tuscon, Arizona (their spelling since the city is correctly spelled Tucson).  It’s not where I live. I live in Scottsdale, Arizona which is outside of Phoenix. It was a beautiful short article and my only consolation is they correctly spelled my name.

I completely understand how such errors happen in the rush to publication with limited staff—yet I was a bit chagrined with the error.  I walked over to a market guide to check the circulation estimate of this publication.  I was relieved to see it was less than 50,000. Sometimes the circulation numbers are much higher. For example, over a dozen years ago, I was editor at a publication with a monthly circulation of 1.8 million copies. When we made such an error, it was a much bigger mistake.

I’m pleased to have written for this publication. It will likely not be a clip that I will show to many people. Every clip isn’t equal in the magazine business.

4 Responses to “Every Clip Isn’t Equal”

  1. Bucktowndusty Says:

    Mr. Whalin,

    How do you feel about people writing online to get their feet wet, as opposed to magazines? Just curious, considering that some web sites get an exponentially larger market than some magazines might.

  2. Bucktowndusty Says:

    Clarification: by writing online, I mean people creating their own web sites (or blogs) and getting exposure that way.

  3. Terry Whalin Says:

    Hello Bucktowndusty,

    You can certainly publish your writing online but the worlds are completely different–print magazines and online publications. Print magazines still have more weight with editors (book editors as well as other magazine editors) than online publications (despite the claimed greater audience). It’s like apples and oranges in terms of the comparison–difficult if not impossible to do. Print magazine to print magazine can be different as well but it’s easier to compare for the editor.

    I personally believe writers learn more through the print magazine experience than working with online publications. Even if the print magazine has a small circulation–it has greater value from my view.

  4. Bucktowndusty Says:

    Many thanks for the free information you provide.

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