Science writing is not about writing glittering prose. It’s about clearly explaining scientific discoveries to your readers. Many of my 1,100 published articles are science stories. If you are a fast learner and have a lively sense of curiosity, you don’t need magic letters like Ph.D. after your name to write and sell science stories. While I have a Ph.D. in chemistry, if I were in college now with the goal of becoming a science writer, I would major in journalism.
There are several major market areas for science writers. Sure, there are magazines targeting scientists and engineers such as “Science” and “Nature,” and trade magazines such as “Chemistry.” But there are also magazines such as “Science News” and “Popular Science” targeting members of the public who have a strong interest in science. In addition, environmental magazines such as “E” often publish articles based on science.
Some newspapers and magazines targeting the general public occasionally or frequently publish science articles for those with a more casual interest in science. These publications include some in-flight magazines such as “Hemispheres” and general interest magazines such as “Elks Magazine” and “The Rotarian.” Some children’s magazines such as “Boy’s Life” and “Cricket” publish science stories tailored to their young readers. Some magazines publishing science articles such as “Sky and Telescope” target hobbyists. Animal magazines such as “The Horse” often publish science articles relating directly to the animals they cover.
Magazines of membership organizations such as “Kiwanis” and “Rotarian” publish some science articles. Editors prefer or require that articles be closely related to their organizations. Writers might quote a scientist who is a member of the organization or describe an organization activity related to the subject of an article. For example, in an article I wrote for “Rotarian” describing paper recycling technology, I included a sidebar describing a local Rotary Club paper recycling project. While magazine staff members might help you research a connection to the organization, your queries should include ideas to tie the article subject to the organization.
Potential markets may be as close as your local newspaper. The keys are developing local contacts and learning how to give a local perspective to national press releases on scientific developments. Managers of local firms employing scientists and engineers are potential contacts. Often the local “Yellow Pages” or the Internet can help you learn who these individuals are and how to contact them. They are always looking for good publicity for their organizations. It helps if you can provide clips, not necessarily science stories, to demonstrate your credentials and professionalism.
Finding gripping article ideas that will interest many readers is no problem. Many news services publish press releases on new developments in science and medicine from universities, companies, government agencies and conferences. My favorite is Eurekalert.org. Many scientific organizations such as the American Chemical Society also publish press releases.
Local chapters of scientists’ professional organizations often welcome guests at their meetings. Attending can provide additional contacts among your local scientific community. Don’t neglect outstanding local science teachers as potential contacts.
Ask your contacts to inform you when significant science or technological developments occur locally. Often no press releases are issued and you’re the only one with the story. Your first published article mentioning their institution will cement your relationship with your contacts leading to additional articles later.
Plan ahead. For example, some big city papers such as “Houston Chronicle” and “Denver Post” run special articles or even entire sections for National Engineers Week. You can provide local angles that press releases from large national organizations do not. Do this by approaching local scientists and engineers for their comments both on the press release subject and how it could affect the local area. The local angle could persuade newspapers now ignoring events such as National Engineers Week to cover them with your article a key part of their coverage.
Use the Internet to find out where scientists making important discoveries earned their degrees. You may be able to sell an article combining the discovery with a profile of the scientist to their alumni magazine.
Interviewing skills are very important to being a successful science writer. You get to interview highly intelligent people who are often quite flattered that you called. I have had no trouble contacting high distinguished scientists and getting them to talk to me. For example, I have interviewed sixteen Nobel Prize winners in chemistry and physics.
After 27 years of science writing, I still love it. Science writing is a very rewarding field.
Editor: Keith Howell
Query with published clips.
Submissions Editor, Cricket
70 East Lake Street
Chicago, IL 60601
Pays $0.25 word maximum for 200 – 1,500 word manuscripts
Submit compete manuscript and SASE to Submissions Editor
114 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10011
Payment varies for articles of 1200-3000+ words.
Submit query, clips and bio by mail with SASE.
E/ The Environmental Magazine
Editor: Jim Motavalli
Managing Editor: Kathleen Mangan
Writer’s Guidelines: http://www/emagazine.com/view/?1512
Pays $0.30 per word for 100 – 4,000 word manuscripts
Managing Editor: Jack Brockley
Pays $300 – $750 for 750 – 1,700 word manuscripts.
Pays $800 – $3,000 for 750-2,500 word manuscripts.
79th Street at CPW
New York, NY 10024
Pays flat fee of $500-$2500 for 1500-2500 words.
Submit 1-page query with writing sample and SASE or ms by mail only. No email or fax.
Editor: Diane Buccheri
Writer’s Guidelines: http://www.oceanmag.org/id25.html
Pays $75 – $500 for 75 – 1,000 word manuscripts
Managing Editor: Kara Sutton-Jones
Pays $300 for a 2,500 to 3,000-word article, less for shorter pieces. Including publication quality photographs could increase the payment to beween $500 and $700.
Editor: Kimberly S. Herbert
Pays $50-450 for columns for 1,500-2,200 word manuscripts
John Borchardt is a freelance writer who covers science, technology, business and career management in today’s era of continuous corporate reengineering. More than 1,100 of his articles have appeared in magazines, newspapers, encyclopedias and online. He is also the author of the book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers.”