Getting on to the Letters Page: Guest Appearance by Julie Lees

Today we welcome Julie Lees of Julie Wow or Wittering blog and champion letter-writer.  Earlier this week, I asked her about how she managed to get so many letters published in magazines and newspapers.

Rosemary:  Do you use any particular format?

Julie:  I don’t have any specific format but, as in all writing projects, it’s important to study your market. All magazines and newspapers adopt their own style and this is reflected in the tone of the letters they choose to print. It helps if you’re writing something you feel passionate about or, at the very least, have an interest in.

Star Letter 2Rosemary:  What should you include in your letter?

Julie:  Again, this depends on the publication. I have had many letters published in the TV Times that relate to specific television programmes, usually from the previous week’s schedule. However, there are many other popular weekly magazines, directed primarily at women, that attract letters focusing on the family, children, partners, pets and holidays and are generally expected to be accompanied by a photograph. Included in the long list of monthly periodicals is the specialist market covering subjects as diverse as cookery, gardening, gaming, astronomy, angling, cycling, your dog, your cat, your horse… the list is endless. Not all include a letters page, so you need to research your market.

The Guardian has a Saturday slot in the Family section of the Lifestyle supplement that encourages readers to share the story behind their favourite photograph, song and recipe. Definitely worth a try!  Spending some time in your local supermarket studying the plethora of material on offer is a good and less expensive way of determining the best market for your work.

Rosemary:  In which publications are letters from budding writers more likely to be well received?

Julie:  In terms of letter writing, I think the novice writer has as much chance as the established writer of getting published. That’s what is so good about it. Of course, you’ll face stiff competition if you concentrate on those publications that pay well, so you may want to target those more likely to receive a smaller postbag, including your local paper.  A useful website is esthernewtonblog because it highlights some markets available to writers, including the particular criteria required.  Submit as much out as you can, as often as you can. Even if it doesn’t pay every time, there’s nothing like seeing your name in print, and it’s all good practice.

Rosemary:  Which magazines pay best?

Julie:  Some like That’s Life! pay as much as £75 for its Star Letter and £50 to any others printed. Pick Me Up! and Woman’s Weekly pay £25 to the Letter of the Week, but nothing to the others. Sainsbury’s Magazine is currently offering a gift of a set of pans worth £400 for its Star Letter, while a mattress bed for your pooch could be yours at Dogs Monthly. Letter writing won’t make you rich, but it can supplement your income and potentially garner some nice prizes along the way.

Rosemary:  Are there any words/phrases/topics that make letters more likely to be published? Anything to avoid? What is deemed an appropriate length?

Julie:  I know I keep repeating this, but study your market. Some publications demand very short submissions — sometimes no more than a caption to Letter to TV Timesaccompany a photograph. Some of the letters I’ve had success consist of no more than 2 -3 sentences, ending with a punchy phrase. I try to avoid topics that are popular.  This increases your chance of success, rather than finding yourself pitted against many others of the same ilk. If you can include a pun, all the better. I did this when I described a programme as ‘riveting viewing’, River being the title of the show. I wasn’t even aware I’d done this until the letter was printed with the caption ‘Stellan is Riverting’.

Capturing a photograph of a comic moment — be that of a pet or spelling mistake leading to confusion — can be a winner with the right tag line. (NB. Parental consent is required to use images of children, under the age of 16.)

Seasonal tips and advice can work for cookery, craft, and interior design periodicals but make sure to submit this in plenty of time. I believed a letter that I’d sent in concerning Christmas decorations had fallen by the wayside, only for it to turn up twelve months later as the Star Letter, securing me £100 worth of designer paint. That was a good day!

Choosing to comment about an article printed in the previous month’s edition of your targeted magazine is another way of increasing your chances of publication. Editors seem to like this; it sends a message that their magazine’s content has provoked a reaction in its readers.

Remember that you need to make your letter stand out, so it should be interesting and have something worthwhile to say, be succinct and without repeating the same point, as well as fitting in with the format of the publication. Good luck!

 

Thank you very much, Julie.  Lots of useful tips there.

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12 thoughts on “Getting on to the Letters Page: Guest Appearance by Julie Lees

  1. I used to submit lots of letters when I first started writing. It’s very motivating to have someone pay for our words, even when it’s just a few sentences.

  2. Yes, I can believe that it is encouraging to get paid for writing something when you’re just starting out. Me, I’ve always dreamed big of getting novels published.

  3. Patsy’s comment is motivating, in itself. I just hope I go on to have a fraction of her success in story writing. Thank you, Rosemary, for giving me the opportunity to write a guest post. I hope it proved of use to anyone thinking of engaging with this market.

    1. When I first saw this post on my phone, I thought it read ‘I’m on the TV…” and, for a moment, I got quite excited. Well done, anyway. I’m sure you’re earning more from writing than I and a lot of other writers.

      1. Sorry to disappoint. I was on the TV once, when I was nursing, but I think it’s stretching it a bit to see me on TV because of a letter. The programming schedule might be pretty poor at times, but it isn’t that bad … yet.

      2. Newspapers often do contact letter-writers when they need a bit of comment. That happened to my husband once.

      3. Ooh! Wouldn’t that be exciting. What was the content of your husband’s letter?

      4. About 18 years ago, there was a dispute at Westminster Abbey. Very political, with members of Blair government involved. Our son was a choirboy there. My husband was supporting the organist.

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