In recent years, 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 to 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. The introduction to what we’re looking for is instructive.
We prefer articles written in a fresh, non‐academic style. Friends value an experiential approach to life and religious thought. Our readers particularly value articles on: exploring Friends’ testimonies and beliefs; integrating faith, work, and home lives; historical and contemporary Friends; social concerns and actions; and the variety of beliefs across the branches of Friends.
Some of the most common problems we see are:
- Length: The average Friends Journal feature is around 1800 words. We generally only consider articles that run between 1200 and 2500 words.
- Second-hand work: We’re all influenced by others and by people that have come before us. It’s only right to give credit and cite them when appropriate. But when a piece leans too heavily on a single source, it makes us ask why we shouldn’t publish something written by that person instead.
- Structure: It’s important to think about the structure of an article. A good feature will have a couple of big ideas and weave them together in a way that keeps the writing flowing. An alternating mix of personal anecdotes with exposition is often a winning formula. If you’re telling a story about a process a meeting went though, try to avoid an overly comprehensive, blow-by-blow episodic narrative, and instead pick stories that highlight key moments of the discernment and decision-making process.
- Avoid outlines: Submitted articles should not retain elements of their structural outlines. Finished pieces should use bullet points very sparingly. Specifically Quaker outline structures to be avoided are lists of queries or paragraphs built around the “SPICES” list.
- Previous publication: In general, 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. We realize ideas sometimes get a first threshing in blog posts, and we’re a little less strict about this than we used to be, but still prefer something written 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 submissions.