Ok, as a reporter, writer and editor by profession, I can tell you a bit how this works:
1) Narrow down your potential market. Do some research
to figure out which magazines carry the sort of story you're interested in doing. Don't waste your time (and the editors' time) pitching your idea to inappropriate magazines.
2) Assemble a "pitch." This is one page, single
spaced, or a one-page email
. No more. If you can't sell it in one page, it's probably not going to sell. DON'T send the article fully written, even if you have already written it. Included in the pitch
(which naturally should read well, as it is a first impression of how the story will read), suggest where the story will fit in the magazine. For example, if it seems to fit in the magazine's DIY section (where everything is 300-500 words), then pitch
it for that section and promise it at 300-500 words. The editor is looking (usually months in advance) to fill potential holes in the magazine, and this will help him/her envision how you can fill a need. It also indicates that you understand the magazine and its market.
3) Negotiate payment, delicately.
4) If the editor wants the story, he/she might give you some guidance to follow on how to write it and/or who to interview (depending on the story). Follow said advice.
5) Get a rough draft
, then walk away from it for a few days (assuming you have the luxury and aren't on deadline). Go back to it. You'll probably have ideas on improving it. Hand it off to someone whose opinion you value and who you know will give honest, constructive criticism. Be open to suggestions.
6) Deliver to the editor when promised, ahead of schedule if possible. This is important. Magazines are on tight deadlines and they "lock up" well in advance of publication and distribution. Making changes at the last minute is time consuming, sometimes expensive and occasionally impossible.
7) Before you submit, fact-check your story. Make sure it's right. Then check it again. Nothing will unnerve an editor more than a factual error in print. He/she will lose sleep over it and regardless of whose fault it is, the editor will ultimately bear personal and professional responsibility. If factual errors slip into the story, the editor will be extremely reluctant to work with you again.
8) The editor will most likely suggest changes. Don't compromise the spirit of the story, and certainly don't compromise the facts, but DO be open-minded. Editors are not all
idiots, although I have run into my share in this business (and more than a few times the epithet has been directed at me). But, most editors who rise to the top rungs of the publishing business know their art. Listen to them, and be willing to compromise, especially on points of style. Chances are the editor will have ideas that will make your story sing instead of croak. From a writer's standpoint, the best part is that your name (not the editor's) is at the top of the story, so it's you who gets to look like a great writer if the editor helps you improve the final product.
Just a few more points:
When it comes to cruising stories in particular, the natural tendency for newbies is to write chronologically. Resist the urge, as it rarely makes for a good story. What I mean by this is that if you're going to write a story about sailing through the perfect storm, don't begin by how you scraped the topsides backing out of the dock
that day. Think of how news stories are written: the key is the "lead" - the first paragraph. That sells the story to readers. If you don't get 'em in the lead, you don't get 'em at all. So, generally speaking, begin with the most exciting or interesting elements and leave out the mundane details. Sounds obvious, I know, but it needs to be said.
Also, if you're writing about a high-seas adventure, get it down, at least in note form, as soon as possible. Don't just record
what was happening, record how you were feeling
. The visceral nature of your experience will be fresh and help your writing have "edge" if you get it down quickly. And - just as important in my opinion - tell it all: the good, the bad and the ugly. Others will identify if you're honest about the mistakes
you made "out there."
SO, good luck.