The first free-lance article I submitted to the New Era was … well … much like wearing a tuxedo to a pool party. Inappropriate.
Without opening the magazine, I had mailed off a six-page essay on what I had learned being a convert to the Church. The rejection letter arrived in my college dorm mailbox a month later. “How dare they?” I demanded, showing the story to a few young people in my Sunday School class.
“Uh, good spelling,” one said, handing it back without turning the page.
“It’s very neat,” said another, not getting past the first paragraph.
It quickly became obvious there wasn’t a 15-year-old in the Church who would read my dry essay. I hadn’t done my homework, and the rejection letter proved it.
I tried again. This time I dug a stack of New Eras out of my drawer and read. It took a few days, but I got a feel for the style of the magazine—the way the anecdotal leads drew you into more serious topics; the up-tempo, spiritual kids featured in the stories; the faith-building experiences people wrote about.
And, as I read, I learned a few important points—that the New Era is particular about what it prints, and how it is presented.
A few days later, I again found myself in front of my typewriter. I stopped trying to summarize all I had learned since becoming a member of the Church. Instead, I focused on one event that happened while I was growing up in Canada and what I learned from it.
It took a lot of writing and rewriting to make the piece fit the style of the magazine. But a few weeks after I sent the article off, the editors mailed me a nice letter saying they’d like to purchase my story. The New Era wasn’t unreachable after all.
Of course, the New Era uses a variety of articles, fiction, poems, photos, and even essays. While my approach is not the only one, there are some things similar in everything that is printed—the gospel of Jesus Christ.
First, if you have a topic, ask yourself, Why would the New Era want to print this? Does it teach a principle of the gospel to youth of the Church? The main focus of the New Era is to share gospel insights and bring youth to Christ. Make sure your story does that in some way.
If you don’t have a topic, study the magazine to see what types of articles are published, and then think of a new subject or a new approach to an old one.
Second, make sure your article is interesting to the age group the New Era is targeting—12–18-year-olds. That was my big mistake. The writing should be lively, without being worldly. Inject some of your personality into the piece—imagine you are writing a letter to your best friend. And despite what your freshman English teacher may have told you, more adjectives are not necessarily better. Make your writing simple, but fill in all the details for your reader.
Third, show your finished work to a few young people and ask for an honest evaluation. If they like it, chances are better that other kids will like it, too. This is also a good time to find out if anything is missing or if they don’t understand some parts.
Also, if your story is more than a simple personal account—for example, you want to write about an activity a youth group in your ward is involved in—you may want to send what is called a query letter with your idea to the magazine. Summarize your topic in a page or so and then the managing editor will respond with a go-ahead or ideas on improving your proposed story.
It takes a lot of time to find the style necessary to write for youth. Even the New Era editors must continually find new ways to express their ideas. Don’t get discouraged. If you can’t contribute an article, send a letter to the editor, or a response to Q&A, or enter our annual contest. We especially want to hear from our 12–18-year-old readers. Whether you live in Boise, Idaho; Port Louis, Mauritius; or any place else, we encourage you to submit articles.
And, as a last note, if all this talk of query letters and proper style is intimidating, don’t despair. We’re more interested in hearing your story or idea than having it in a fancy format with correct spelling and proper grammar. Just write up what you have and send it in. The editors are on your side and willing to help. We wish you good luck!
How to Write for the New Era
Try breaking in with a department piece for “How I Know” or “Scripture Lifeline.” Well-written, personal experiences are always in demand.
Type your manuscript double-spaced on 8 1/2-by-11-inch paper and include your name and address. If you want your work returned, include a self-addressed, stamped envelope. And, unless your last name is Shakespeare, keep your articles shorter than eight typed pages.
We prefer 35-mm color slides but will accept black-and-white or color prints. Polaroid pictures are hard to reproduce in the magazine.
Be patient. Allow four to six weeks for a response. A polite phone call after a few months is not frowned on.
Be understanding. Please don’t be offended if we can’t make constructive comments on a manuscript that is returned without being published. We get so many submissions that we cannot possibly critique them all.
Send your articles to the New Era Magazine, 50 E. North Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150.