As a writer who enjoys learning about history, it seemed natural for me to begin writing historical pieces. I started with a piece for an international history magazine, which has led to several additional articles. Next, I sold a story about a little-known pro football team from the coal region of Pennsylvania to a Pennsylvania history magazine. The challenge for anyone who wants to write about history is to make a bunch of names and dates compelling to a reader who may not find this sort of information all that interesting.
If you’re looking to try your hand at writing about history, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Be passionate about your subject. Immerse yourself in your topic as much as possible. You’ll be living with it for awhile. The more interest you have in the subject, the easier your research will be. Your passion will come across to your readers and the finished piece will be more exciting to read. I can’t learn enough about New York City history (particularly the period from the Civil War to the 1920’s), the Roaring 20’s, or World War II, so I’m grateful for any excuse to read more about these time periods. I’ve sold two articles about New York in the mid-1860’s to a history magazine, and was able to use much of the knowledge I’d filed away ìfor future use”. Plus, it was a good reason to learn even more!
- Humanize your research. Don’t just recite a bunch of dates or boring facts. Tell the story of the people who lived through what you’re writing about. What was family life like? How did they dress? What were some of the social customs of the time? How were the people affected by (insert what you’re writing about here)? One of the most fascinating things about history is discovering how alike or different a time period is from modern day life. Try to find those connections and include them in the final draft.
- Visit the area you’re writing about. It helps to get a better sense for the time if you can explore the place you’re researching. For example, I took an historical walking tour of Lower Manhattan and learned about the various neighborhoods and what life was like during the mid-1800’s for my articles about New York during the Civil War. I recently completed a biographical article about Milton Hershey, and used my relatively close proximity to Hershey, PA to my advantage. I took a drive through the town and took a closer look at the factory he built so I could get a more complete picture of the man and the business he created. Though research is important to any historical piece, nothing beats the sights, sounds, smells, and experiences of the real thing!
- Use primary sources if possible. For the Bicentennial magazine project, most of the research will be done using primary sources, since there aren’t many books on the people, places, and events that we plan to include. Property deeds, letters, diaries, birth or death certificatesóany of these documents will give you a more well-rounded understanding of your subject.
- Become familiar with the area’s library and/or historical society. These folks know the history of the place better than you do, so get to know them! Besides the resources they may have at their facility already, they can probably point you in the direction you need to find further information that can help your piece. Their knowledge and helpfulness will be invaluable to you if it’s not already.
PAYING HISTORICAL MARKETS
10 MAGAZINES: America’s Civil War, American History, Aviation History, British Heritage, Civil War Times, MHQ,
Military History, Vietnam, Wild West, and World War II
Pays $300 and up
Celebrates the history of America’s highways and the people, events, roadside attractions, and communities that resulted from those highways
Pays $0.13 per published word.
Good Old Days
Accepts stories of first-person nostalgia, 1935-1960.
Social history magazine covering events up to World War II
Market listing: http://www.writersweekly.com/markets/history-magazine.html
Pays $30 per page.
Natural History Magazine
Market Listing: http://www.writersweekly.com/markets/natural-history.html
Naval History Magazine
Market Listing: http://www.writersweekly.com/markets/naval-history-magazine.html
Looks for little-known and/or interesting material that pertains to any part of Pennsylvania’s history.
Information and submission form available at: Guidelines: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/contact-us/article-submit
Pays various rates per feature, $1,500 per short piece.
MORE: For more WritersWeekly.com paying market listings from history publications, click HERE.
Sara Hodon is a freelance writer based in Northeast Pennsylvania. When not living in the past for the sake of writing historical pieces, she is working on future writing assignments. Her work has appeared in History, Today’s Caregiver, Specialiving, and The Valley: Lebanon Valley College’s Magazine, and is currently at work on a local history magazine project. She is also the “Date and Relate” columnist for Online Dating Magazine. Learn more about her writing endeavors at http://adventuresinthewritinglife.blogspot.com.