How To Write A Magic Article That I (Or Anyone) Will Publish

Submissions. I get ’em. And I want more. But sometimes I have to reject ’em. It has been said that SOME sites will publish "anything that’s sent to them,"* but the fact is that probably a fifth of all articles submitted here get rejected – and that’s including the Featured Columnists, who usually don’t get…

Submissions. I get ’em. And I want more.

But sometimes I have to reject ’em. It has been said that SOME sites will publish "anything that’s sent to them,"* but the fact is that probably a fifth of all articles submitted here get rejected – and that’s including the Featured Columnists, who usually don’t get the axe.

Is it that hard to write for us?

Nah. Heck, I did it and I’m kind of an idiot. ANY of you who are reading this RIGHT NOW have the stuff it takes to write a worthwhile column. I believe this.

It’s just that there are a fair amount of people who really don’t know what makes an article publishable – and so I figured I’d show you the ropes.

So without further ado, here are The Ferrett Tips for Writing for StarCity (Or Any Other Site):

Nobody Wants To Hear About You.
Wanna make me reject your article right off the bat? Then start off with some apology about how you’re just a scrub from Walamazoo, or whatever, and this is your first article ever, and how you hope this will be a good article, and you hope to write more, and yadda yadda yadda.

Nobody really cares.

I don’t mean to be cruel, but the readers don’t care about you. They care about what you can TELL them. Wasting their time with goofy in-joke diatribes or lame apologies for your scrubbiness is just annoying, and makes them think less of you. I know you’re trying to connect with your audience, but your audience really isn’t that fascinated until you’re Jamie Wakefield-style famous – and by then, you have other issues to write about. If you have something valid to say, just start right in and say it; otherwise, back off.

Let the content speak. Not you.

(Which is not to say that occasionally a brief bio isn’t out of line for SPECIFIC articles – for example, if you’ve won three local tourneys with your Ankh Tide deck and this is an article about Ankh Tide, then by all means share. But otherwise, drop the limp salad and get straight to the main course.)

Content is King.
Speaking of content, that’s what they come here for. There is precious little of it out there, so if you give me ANYTHING there’s a good chance it’ll go up.

Keep in mind that "content" here at StarCity isn’t necessarily defined as "The latest and greatest Magic tech." Unlike more focused sites like the Sideboard and Mindripper, we love philosophical discussions on Magic, bizarre combos that might never be pulled off but are still amusing, multiplayer analyses – and yes, serious tourney info. (It never ceases to annoy when we’re written off as "the newbie site" when we have at least four or five solid tourney-worthy articles going up a week.) We encourage writers who don’t always speak to the draw phase – writers like Josh Bennett, Sean Erik Ponce, and Michael Granaas.

But it has to be something new. Something that people can’t get anywhere else. That is content.

So to help you decide, "Does this article contain content or not?", here’s a helpful list of common mistakes:

* If said article is less than a page and a half, it probably is NOT LARGE ENOUGH TO HAVE CONTENT.
* If your article deals with a deck that has not been playtested, it is almost definitely NOT CONTENT.
* If your article is a tourney report that makes no references to specific plays or notes on local deck variations (Fish-style Rising Waters decks, for example), then it is utterly WITHOUT CONTENT.
* If your article refers to people nobody knows or makes in-jokes that 90% of the audience will not get, it is NOT CONTENT. (Note that by this rule, 100% of all "Slops and Props" are content-free.)
* If your article consists of paragraphs that are mostly two sentences or less, there is a very good chance (though not a certainty) that it is NOT CONTENT.
* And, as stated, a long discussion on who you are and how cool (or uncool) you are is NOT CONTENT.

Decklists Don’t Cut It.
We receive decklists all the time. We don’t particularly want them.

Decklists are a dime-a-dozen. There are three things that need to be added to any decklist to make it into a valid article:
* Why it’s good in the environment it’ll be played in (a metagame call, also known as "What matchups is it good against?")
* How to play this deck properly (like Ankh-Tide or Stasis decks, which require some finesse to pull them off)
* Why certain cards differ from the nine million OTHER versions of this deck out there, and how this helps (as in, "I used Vine Trellises instead of Birds in my BlastoGeddon deck because they were better against beatdown…")

If you don’t know the answers to these three factors, then you probably shouldn’t be submitting an article on it. Remember, Content Is King.

The Reader Really Wants To Be Elsewhere.
If I were to give any writer one piece of advice, it would be this: "Always assume your reader is just on the verge of going out for a ham sandwich."

It sounds silly, but it’s true. Assume that you’re writing for a guy who’s just about to leave the room, then do everything you can to keep him there. Don’t take too long getting to your point. Write clearly and concisely. Throw in some humor every once in awhile to make him laugh. Make sure each sentence has earned its spot in the article.

And above all, DON’T WASTE HIS TIME.

By continually writing to win the reader over, you’ll have a far better article.**

Keep the ‘Net-Speak to a Minimum.
You’re not writing an email to your friend – you’re actually writing to a larger audience. As such, all of the little shortcuts like IMNSHO,LOL!, BTW, :), and so on should be kept to a minimum. (I do find that the occasional smileyface is invaluable, though.) And especially if you’re used to writing emails and you’re a teenager, do me a favor and capitalize sentences and such, and do try to restrict yourself to a single end-of-sentence punctuation. It seems to be a common trend. Man, isn’t it a pain in the butt when I have to edit out seven million question marks?!?!?!??!!?!??!!!??!!!??!!!

Run the Damn Spellchecker.
Frankly, it takes me about fifteen minutes to a half an hour to edit and prepare each article. If you can’t be bothered to doublecheck your own work before you send it to me – and many rejected submissions have an average of two typos per sentence – then I ask myself the same question every time:

"What if I spend an hour editing this bozo and he turns out to be the most popular columnist ever?"

I then flash forward to a nightmare scenario where I find the next Jamie Wakefield, and he’s taken to writing articles that now require three HOURS to edit, and I can’t get rid of this idiot who writes in all lowercase letters and believes that a comma is something you fall into after a long serious illness. This moron is tying up my life. I can’t get rid of him. He’s exhausting me, yet I can’t dump him. My wife divorces me because I’m spending all my time at the computer rewriting fifteen-page articles.

Then I look at this unspellchecked article again. And hit delete. Hell, let the Dojo deal with ‘im.

The lesson: I don’t require perfection, but competence would be nice.

Don’t Submit to Multiple Sites.
There’s nothing wrong per se with this, but if you give the same article to The Dojo, Mindripper, the Sideboard, StarCity, Neutral Ground, and New Wave, I won’t publish it. It’s not that I’m violently opposed to you doing so, or that I hate the other sites – but as I just said, it takes me about fifteen minutes to half an hour to edit and prepare an article. Should I spend a half hour of my already-tattered evening editing an article that will be posted elsewhere the next day anyway?

I’ve seen some good articles that were sent to multiple sites that never got published, as I suspect Scott Johns and Chris Senhouse feel the same way.

Just pick a site and stay with ’em. Obviously, I’d prefer it to be StarCity, but quite frankly there aren’t enough good Magic writers, so I’m happy to see anyone writing.

You Don’t Have To Write Weird.
Not everyone can be an Alongi, a Rizzo, or a Boydell. There are a lot of good solid writers who manage to be amusing without being psychotic – and if you’ll go through the archives, most of the "whacko" writers started straight and worked themselves up unto a frenzy over the course of a couple of months. It’s okay to start out slow.

Timing Is Everything.
If you want something submitted in time for a specific event, like a pre-States roundup, then try and submit it a day in advance. If it’s a big long article that you submit in email format without spellchecking, then make it three days.

Personal Kvetches.
These aren’t things that will get you rejected from other sites… but, on the other hand, should you wish to gratutitously suck up to me – which happens so rarely that I am pathetically grateful – then watch these:
* Always, ALWAYS submit in Word format if you can – I hate email, since it never formats correctly. (Writing an article in an email and then pasting it into Word doesn’t count.)
* Card names are always capitalized, even if referred to in passing ("At the end of his turn, he used the Bird to Tutor for a Diamond…")
* When submitting decklists, write "4x Karplusian Forests" instead of "4 Karplusan Forests."
* You do not go to PTQ’s; you go to PTQs, unless for some reason you’re going to some area that the PTQ owns.
* Likewise, multiples of cards are never apostrophied (as in the error, "I got four Lin-Sivvi’s in my Sealed Deck").
* And incidentally, it is not "Lin Sivvi" – it’s "Lin-Sivvi," dammit. It is "Rishadan" Port, not "Rishadian" Port. It is "Hammer of BogarDAN," not "Bogarden."
* Don’t write "OK" when you mean "Okay."
* "And/or" is lazy writing. There are better ways to put it and/or phrase it 90% of the time.
* And lastly, don’t go nuts with the weird formatting. Italics and bolds and charts and pictures don’t translate well to web pages without much work by ME to fit them in. If you wanna do something other than straight text, clear it first.

Consistency is Important.
How do you get to be a Featured Writer? Keep writing. It is of note that ALL of the Submissions Contest winners so far turned in more than one column – it convinces me that you’re more than a one-hit wonder. It tells me you WANT to write.

And hang in there. Eventually one day you will draw a crowd. It’s a small world, after all.

Now get writin’!

NEXT WEEK: As I Slowly Descend Into The Depths Of Hell… I Stab For Three

Signing off,
The Ferrett
[email protected]
Visit The Ferrett Domain if you’re not easily offended. Matter of fact, stay away if you’re offended at all. Probably it’s best if you leave now, really….

* – I do, however, try to write back to everyone who submits something that I reject – but it takes awhile some days. If you send something in and don’t hear from me, then ask me after a week or so. Occasionally one slips through the cracks, too.

** – Yes, I know damn well that ham sandwich-eatin’ readers aren’t going to scroll down to read a bunch of dumb footnotes. Especially on the internet. But I don’t always pay attention to my own rules anyway, and I LIKE these footnotes, dammit. And my own articles are admittedly wordy, but I am a fascinating writer. I know. I read my stuff over and over again.