WATCH THAT TONE! Learn To Speak The Language That Editors Love By Sarojni Mehta-Lissak

As a diligent freelancer, you’re in a bookstore doing your homework. You’ve settled into a comfortable chair, and the lights shine down on the pages of a magazine you’re studying–you know–the one you’re determined to “get into.” As you read the feature articles, you notice that the tone is smart, catchy, and hip. These pieces might not be suited for Grandma, but they’re definitely perfect for a young, professional, female audience. “I could write like this,” you say to yourself. And you continue studying.

This lightbulb moment could be valuable if you use the insight when querying an editor. Even the tone of a pitch should match the publication’s personality. When you hit the send button and propel your email through cyberspace, it’s essential that the content conveys this message to the person on the other end: “I speak your language.”

Every magazine, trade journal, and newspaper has a particular voice, or tone. Tone is the way a publication speaks to its audience; it is the flavor, feeling, sound, and attitude carried through words. For writers to be successful, they must adhere to this editorial approach. The tone of The New Yorker is sophisticated, presenting articles, commentary, and essays in an intelligent voice. Cosmopolitan magazine is edgy, requiring writers to not only cover topics that may be taboo in other pubs, but also to address readers in a steamy tone and sassy style.

As a freelance magazine writer, it’s vitally important to stretch your writing muscles so you can touch the hearts of editors and readers by using the right voice. Use the wrong voice and you’re sure to get nixed. Use the right one and you’ll be loved by editors because they’ll know that you “get” their sound.

No doubt, you’ll be writing for numerous magazines, which means you need to be adaptable, pulling from your bag of tricks different tones to suit each unique publication. Though your style–or the way you write–develops over time, the tone you use will shift depending on the purpose of your piece and whom you’re writing for.

If your audience is young mothers in their 20s who live a “green” lifestyle, your voice would be casual, your message informative. If the audience is 50-65, your tone might be competent, assertive, knowledgeable. Adventure magazine? The tone must resonate with hair-raising tension, using verbal images that tell tales with language that pulses. This is where subject, tone, and style intersect–and where writers can find exhilaration from their craft when merging these elements.

So what are some different types of tone used for writing? Here are a few. See if your own “voices” match any of these examples:


Besides tone, make sure you’ve got the basics down that make any piece glimmer
and shine so an audience will clamor for more:

Reader-friendly format
Clear presentation of ideas
Accessible writing style
Vivid and lively images
Limited use of difficult or unfamiliar words that might stump or frustrate your readers
Varied sentence length
On course with your angle or slant

The next time you’re ready to query an editor with an article idea, be prepared by becoming familiar with the publication. Read it carefully with an eye and ear for tone, then query the magazine with this useful knowledge. Make it clear to the editor that you understand this key component. If you do so, the jobs are sure to come your way.

Sarojni Mehta-Lissak has written articles, essays, poetry and fiction for numerous print and online publications, including Wild Violet,, BackHome, Mothering, EnergyTimes, Adoption Today, The Polishing Stone and others. Visit her at