We get far more submissions for every issue than we could possibly publish. Even with the option of online-only feature articles, we only have so much staff editing time and reader attention. Here are some tips for writing articles for Friends Journal. It’s a bit of a behind-the-scenes glimpse into what we look for.
The first bit of advice is to give our editorial submission guidelines a good once-over. The introduction 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 feature 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 with personal stories in a way that keeps the storytelling flowing. An alternating mix of personal anecdotes with exposition is often a winning formula. If you’re telling a story about a process a Quaker 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 the memoir: Similarly, an episodic story focused too much on yourself (“I did this, I did that”) can quickly come to feel repetitive and so specific that it loses its value as a teaching tool others will want to read. Friends Journal values personal stories but they should be chosen to highlight the specific concerns you’re making with the article. One tip: if you do a Control-F search in your article for “I ” and come up with more than 30 results, you should probably restructure your article.
- 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 something in it. 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. If the words “Quaker” or “Friends” are just tacked on to a paragraph at the beginning or end 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.