*please remember to provide the contact details we request in our guidelines if submitting by email.
How to write good nonfiction for Voiceworks
None of this is a totally prescriptive guide, of course. Let this direct your writing, not shut it down. It’s also mainly aimed at serious ‘articles’. Feel free to write funny pieces, narrative pieces, biographical pieces, things that skirt between fiction and nonfiction, and so on.
The best way to get an idea of the sort of nonfiction we’re after is to read what we’ve published in the past. Having said that, also keep in mind that maybe one of the reasons we never published any X was because we never received any X. So don’t be afraid to experiment, or just ask us whether we’d be interested.
But. We don’t really publish straight-up journalism, unless it’s on something really interesting. By the time we’ve read all the submissions, selected them, edited them, designed them, printed them and distributed them, a very timely or topical piece is probably out of date. What we’re looking for is some sort of insight, whether it’s personal experience or opinion or you’re an expert or want to research it or something along those lines. Maybe there is a person who knows more than you or has experienced more than you regarding the topic, someone who you can write about. We want more than just reportage and rhetorical questions, anyway.
For that reason, we also don’t publish feature articles or reviews of the type that you might see in a newspaper’s supplementary magazine. We’d love you to write about lifestyle, fashion, books—but find some way to go beyond the thing itself unless the thing itself is really interesting and different. A review of Franzen’s Freedom is not what we want, but, let’s say, an analysis of Freedom as part of a bigger exploration of ‘The American Dream’ could be interesting or in comparison to a book by an Iranian dissident or something. Implications, not just recitation.
Maybe one of the most important points is to keep our audience in mind. That doesn’t mean pandering to young people or anything like that, but, for example, we don’t need an article on how we should have gay marriage because equality is good. We know and agree; our readers know and agree. But if you bring in Foucault to that discussion in an accessible way, awesome. If you or someone you know got married in Canada and there’s a really compelling story to tell about it, excellent. If you want to write something about the transformation of Niagara Falls from regular honeymoon spot to gay wedding spot, especially considering its use as a location in old-timey movies, do it. Do these distinction and examples make sense? Let us know if you’d like more clarification.
Some good advice: if you’re just thinking, say, ‘I want to write about soccer’ but don’t know what to do beyond that, ask yourself why. Chances are you have a personal investment or genuine interest in the topic, which is perfect, but you need to harness that. Be honest with yourself as to why you want to write about it, what your relationship with the topic is, and then write towards that—not what you think you should be writing about. That honesty comes through in the best pieces, not necessarily by adding personal reflection or anything like that, but in the writer figuring out and honing in on a very specific thing that they’re interested in, then really getting stuck into what they’re writing about.
Again, we’re also totally open to you writing a narrative or biographical piece, or a persuasive piece; just make sure that’s the best way of presenting your topic. If you’re writing a persuasive piece, remember you still have to back up your arguments at least a little bit with evidence. Voiceworks’ old columns section has been absorbed into ‘nonfiction’ generally in order to expand the scope and possibilities of the kind of writing that was in there, not to get rid of it.
We encourage you to pitch your pieces to us before writing them. You should do this ESPECIALLY if you’re not sure if your piece is appropriate, or what you want to do with it, or anything like that. Pitching is our chance to help you out before you submit. Just send us an email addressing the questions below, along with a 300-word sample from the start of the piece if you have one.
Things to ask yourself either way:
- What is your key point or argument? What is the logical and structural progression?
- Why are you the person to write this piece? Personal experience, willingness to research, etc. Do you have a particular angle to take? If you’re going to need evidence, where are you going to get it from?
- Why Voiceworks?
- Does it relate to the theme of the issue? (It doesn’t have to.)
- How long is the piece going to be?
You don’t have to know all these answers, but it should get you thinking about your piece thoroughly. We can help you try to answer them, if you’d like.
All of this really is to give you some help, not to close off the possibility of writing nonfiction for us. The simple truth is, we get 250+ people sending poetry and fiction but maybe just thirty sending nonfiction. This means we want to read more nonfiction, and frankly that your odds are better, but it also means we’re able to spend more time working with you, both before and after selection. We’re still figuring out how best to do that, so if we’re bad about responding or something, send us another email.
We look forward to hearing from you and reading your work.