Since 2012, most of the monthly issues of Friends Journal have been set aside for specific themes. Every eighteen months or so we poll readers and dream up ideas for future issues. Sometimes we’ll be inspired by a particular article that struck a chord with readers; other times we’ll look at a topic that Friends aren’t talking about enough. There are some relatively perennial themes (race, art, finance, social witness, outreach), but even with these, we try to find hooks that might bring fresh voices to the conversation.
We also keep two issues a year open: no theme and no expectations. Most of our unsolicited articles go into a “General Submissions” list that we hold for these issues. Sometimes a choice is easy: we’ll get a blockbuster article that we know we just have to print. But just as often we’ll run some quiet piece of Quaker life that is offered us without regard to our schedules.
Since we get a fair number of submissions that don’t fall into an upcoming theme, I thought I’d give some tips for writing unsolicited general articles for Friends Journal.
The first bit of advice is to give our editorial submission guidelines a good once-over. Two of the most common problems we see are:
- Length: Articles should run between around 1200 and 2500 words. We can sometimes adapt shorter pieces for our Viewpoint column and longer pieces can be edited down, but it’s never a good sign when something comes to us that so obviously doesn’t fit our format.
- Previous publication: Submissions should not have been published elsewhere. We don’t want readers opening our magazine and realizing halfway through that they’ve already read the piece. This includes publication in online forums including personal blogs. We realize ideas sometimes get a first threshing in blog posts but successful articles are almost always written from scratch with print publication in mind.
The next thing to ask when writing or pitching an article to us is “why Friends Journal?” There are very few places where someone can write on the Quaker experience and see their work published. This scarcity weighs on us as we select an open issue’s mix. Authors don’t need to be Quaker but the piece should have a strong Quaker hook. I’m not above doing a control-F on a submission to see how many times “Quaker” or “Friends” is mentioned. If it’s just a tacked-on reference because you’re shopping a piece written for another publication, it probably won’t work for us.
When you’re ready to send us something, please use the Submittable service so that we will have all of your information on file. “General Submissions” is the category for material that we consider for non-themed issues. Do be aware that we only select for these issues twice a year and that our editorial response time is consequently longer for these.
Do you have a suggestion for an upcoming topic? Please let us know. I keep a running log of suggestions, many of which become themes months or even years later! We’ll be starting our next round of theme planning in late summer 2018.