Astronomy Magazine

How did I become a 40-year contributing writer and what can a budding freelancer learn from my experience?

An article in the November 2003 issue

My longest running partnership in writing has been with “Astronomy” magazine. I am a charter subscriber (see the “About Alan” page for some history). With a strong interest in deep sky observing, looking at objects beyond the Solar System, I’ve been able to take my observing interest and convert it into dozens of articles since 1981.

How did I choose topics?

With magazines, the writer must become familiar with the content. If you don’t, submitting an article will likely be doomed. Editors need content that readers will enjoy. In many cases, the article motivates readers into action – or at the very least, provides an enlightening educational experience. That means you must write as a reader. You must also be familiar with the structure of the magazine so that your submission fits the word count.

I’m not an astrophysicist, I’m an observer. My submissions to the magazine (with one exception) have been centered around observing. My goal was to enlighten readers so they would want to go out and observe the objects I featured. The articles had a specific format required by the editor: usually 1,500 words and usually featuring ten objects. (I often provided a second ten for their website in case they wanted it.)

My first article, “Observing Interacting Galaxies” in the February 1981 issue was based on my near fanatic interest in galaxies – what made them normal and what happened when they collided. This was before the computer modeling that removed the mystery (but not the beauty!) of the slow dance between star cities. The editors provided the photographs.

How do I stay fresh?

A challenge after 20, 30, or 40 years is maintaining creativity. How many different ways can one write about galaxies? Or clusters? Or nebulae? Let’s take a look:

Clusters – Open Cluster, Globular Clusters, seasonal clusters, nearest clusters, brightest clusters

Nebulae – Planetaries, Emission, Dark, Supernova Remnants, nebulae in other galaxies

Galaxies – classification of, brightest, interacting, edge-on, peculiar, exploding nuclei, structure, face-on, groups, clusters, superclusters

Stars – doubles, multiples, variable, red stars, nearby stars

Small telescope deep sky observing, suburban deep sky observing, etc.

As you can see, there nearly 30 article possibilities. One might be able to repeat a category with different objects every decade or so. But don’t forget, you are competing with other freelancers and staff writers who may be working that same list of ideas! It is incumbent that you don’t ask to write on a subject that was featured in the last couple of years.

An article in the August 2002 issue

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