If you only write about the latest news and the hottest trends, you may be missing out on one of the best niches for freelance writers – historical and nostalgic articles. Editors are paying top dollar for writers who can put a fresh spin on old topics, and I’m not just talking about Civil War chronicles! Historical writing covers a plethora of themes, some you may have never even considered! Here’s ten to get you started:
Readers are hungry for anecdotes of yesteryear. Why? “It’s the fascination factor,” says Betina Miller, editor of Reminisce magazine. “People are fascinated with their own childhoods. Reading about specific periods in time brings back memories of our own past.”
Perhaps that explains the number of magazines that accept nostalgia – fond remembrances about things of the past. Whether it’s driving a Model T or watching the first television broadcast, if you’ve been there, done that – or you can interview someone who has – you’ve got the beginnings of a nostalgic article.
2. Family History
If you’re the writer in the family, you’ve probably been elected, or at least asked, to write the family history. Although it may seem like a tedious project, it could be the springboard for numerous articles or even a book. While researching my family history, I discovered that my great, great grandmother died of an infection following the birth of her twelfth child. After obtaining documents such as her death certificate and the obituary from the local paper, I took that chapter from the family history project and wrote several articles about her death and what it meant to leave twelve children orphaned in the early 1900s.
Angela Hoy, editor/publisher of WritersWeekly.com teaches the online course “Remember, Write and Publish Your Life Story.”
“My children’s great grandmother is the only relative my children have that left her life story behind for future generations,” she said. “I found it incredible that they could . . . talk to and later read about a woman who had first arrived in [Texas] in a covered wagon. Grandma Gregson is now gone, but her life story will live and be treasured forever by her descendants.”
If you think your story or your family’s story isn’t interesting enough to sell, think again. Many regional publications are looking for articles about local pioneers and historical trailblazers. Interview family members, pour over old newspapers, and research public records like property deeds and birth, marriage and death records. You might be surprised by the stories that develop!
3. Business History
Who is the American Tobacco Company, and who cares? T.S. O’Connell, editor of Sports Collector’s Digest, knows! In 1909, the American Tobacco Company inserted about 50 baseball cards featuring John Peter “Honus” Wagner into cigarette packages before Honus objected and the cards were pulled. One of the initial inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame, “The Flying Dutchman” is considered one of the best shortstops of all time. One of the famed American Tobacco Company Honus Wagner cards recently sold for over one million dollars.
Business history, if presented in the correct slant, will sell to a long list of publications. While Sports Collector’s Digest is clearly focused on baseball and other sports cards and memorabilia, keep searching until you find a market for the article you are qualified to write. Or if you’re really creative, flip it around: search out a market that interests you, then develop the perfect business history profile for their readership.
4. Historical Destinations
Think: Gettysburg, the Alamo, Donner Pass. But don’t stop there! The history of any aspect of Anytown, USA will sell to the right publication at the right time. Start right in your own community. Think of local, regional, and even national publications that accept historical pieces. Come up with a fresh angle for some place you look at so often, you’ve stopped really seeing it.
There’s a little town called Clifton just down the road from my town. In Clifton, there is an old jail that’s actually carved into the face of a rock cliff. Now a historical landmark, I pass by this jail about twice a month and think, “that would make a perfect article for a law enforcement trade publication that accepts historical and nostalgic pieces.” That will be my next project! What’s yours?
“People have a real interest in how their ancestors survived and did the things they did,” says Early American Life editor Virginia Stimmel. Hence, the Americana craze. This type of article is wide open depending on a publication’s slant. Subject matter can be anything from a vintage quilt that survived the Oregon Trail to the methods used in preparing dinner without indoor plumbing or electricity. Historical Society Museums are great idea generators.
Maybe you’re no Jean Auel, but if you can blend an engaging plot with an accurate portrayal of a time period gone by, you can write historical fiction. Reading this type of story transports fans to a different place in history. Zane Grey was a master, so was Daphne du Murier. If you have an interest in the Great Depression, the Victorian Era, or even the Fabulous Fifties, try taking it to the next level.
7. Making Music History
You don’t have to read music or even carry a tune to turn a great interview into several G-notes. From Beethoven to B.B. King, the history of music is a sweet song. Markets for this type of article are numerous, from performer’s trade publications to general interest magazines. Songs (Yankee Doodle Dandy), artists (Hank Williams), instruments (squeezebox), concert halls (the local American Legion bandstand), and styles (acid rock) are all fodder for musical history articles.
8. Politics and Religion
George Washington and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., are both commemorated with national holidays, but there are thousands of lesser known, more obscure political and religious figures waiting for their stories to be told who are just as interesting. Within every denomination or political party there are roots: old conflicts, historical accomplishments, and reasons for beginning. Learn how to tap into these dramas and you will have repeated success.
9. Public Service
According to their website, the Boston Fire Department became the nation’s first paid municipal fire department in 1678. That’s over three hundred years of history with just the BFD alone. Consider the numerous other public service departments like the police, EMS, even animal control, and the list of possible historic/nostalgic public service articles begins to grow.
“We have covered most of the major historical fires and fire departments,” says Jeff Barrington, Firehouse Magazine associate publisher. “It has to be something really unique.”
As always, carefully research your markets. Many trade publications in the public service industry accept historic/nostalgic articles, but so do general interest publications, juvenile magazines, and event retirement magazines. The story you’re looking for isn’t a rehashed encyclopedia entry, but a fresh angle on something extraordinary.
10. The Latest News, The Hottest Trends
If you’re still writing about the latest news and the hottest trends, you’re halfway there! Take your current project – what ever it is – and turn it on it’s head. Write about the background, the history, the story behind the story. Everybody and everything had a beginning, a tale of how it got to where it is today. Or maybe a tale of why it didn’t survive to see today.
History writing is one of the best niches available for freelance writers – don’t miss out! Here are some paying markets that accept historic/nostalgic non-fiction to get you started:
5927 Memory Lane
Greendale, WI 531209
Contact: Betina Miller, Editor
“The magazine that brings back the good times.” Publishes true stories through memories and vintage photographs from 1900 through the 1960s. Considers queries, full length features and shorter pieces. Pays $50.00 and up for features on publication, plus the popular “Chevy Bank.” Include SASE with all submissions. Complete guidelines available at or by mail with SASE.
2. Sport’s Collector’s Digest
700 E. State St.
Iola, WI 45990
Contact: T.S. O’Connell, Editor
Accepts queries. Looking for clearly focused articles targeted toward the baseball and sports card and memorabilia industry. Pays $100 and up on publication. Content, length and payment negotiable.
3. Guitar One Magazine
6 E. 32nd St.
New York, NY 10016
Contact: Troy Nelson, Editor
Covers music and guitars. Accepts queries by mail, prefers email. Does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. Pays from $75 and up for shorter pieces and full length features. Uses pieces from 500 to 2,000 words. Although will consider material of any musical style, content leans toward hard rock. Does not accept freelance photos.
P.O. Box 558
Forest Grove, OR 97116
Contact: Curtis Condon, Editor
Family-oriented, general-interest monthly publication used by 46 rural electric cooperatives and PUDs in seven western states. Query my mail or e-mail. Payment is on acceptance and ranges from $30 for a short, un-illustrated feature to $400 for a major, well-illustrated article. Stories and artwork is purchased as a package. Historical/nostalgic articles must have a present-day hook. “We rarely purchase a historical piece without a living, breathing person who is integral to the story.”
5. Firehouse Magazine
445 Broad Hollow Rd., Ste 21
Melville, NY 11747
Contact: Jeff Barrington, Associate Publisher
Accepts queries (no unsolicited manuscripts) by mail, fax or e-mail. Trade publication for the fire service industry. Pays on publication for features of up to 1,500 words. Payment negotiable. Payment negotiated for photographs. Complete guidelines available on-line at: http://www.firehouse.com/magazine/writers
6. The Priest
200 Noll Plaza
Huntington, IN 46750-4304
Contact: Murray W. Hubley, Associate Editor
Accepts queries or completed manuscripts by mail. Nothing less than 1,000 words. Payment on acceptance negotiated for full-length features on priests (profiles), church history, the saints, and other historic/nostalgic topics. Negotiates payment for photos separately. Request guidelines by mail with SASE or by e-mail through the website.
7. The Bark
2810 8th St.
Berkeley, CA 94710
Contact: Claudia Kawczynska
Award winning magazine about life with dogs. Accepts queries by mail only. Pays $200 to $700 on publication for features of less than 1,200 words unless otherwise assigned. No “my first dog” or anything breed-specific. Negotiates payment separately for professional quality art and photography. Complete guidelines available at:
8. True West Magazine
P.O. Box 8008
Cave Creek, AZ 85327
Attn: R.G. Robertson, Managing Editor
Covers Western American history from prehistory to 1930. Query first by mail or e-mail. No phone calls. Non fiction only, no poetry. Features run 3,000 words max, but shorter is preferred. Break in with short features. Pays $150 – $800 on publication. Photos or artwork negotiated separately. Complete guidelines available on-line at
Mikel Weaver is a wife and mother who has been enjoyed freelance writing for over fifteen years. Her work has been purchased by McGraw Hill, Writer’s Digest, Flower and Garden Magazine, Gibson Greetings, The Write Markets Report, WritersWeekly.com, and others. She was a research assistant to historian Edward T. O’Donnell, Ph.D., on his book 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Irish American History (Broadway Books/Random House, 2002). She also writes a monthly childcare/nutrition newsletter for a family services agency. Thanks to Angela Hoy’s WritersWeekly University course, Remember, Write and Publish Your Life Story, Mikel is currently writing her family history.