Web zines — that is, magazines posted on the World Wide Web and accessed via your computer, modem and Web browser — have matured in the past year, becoming fast, alert and ad-heavy. And an opportunity for freelance writers.
Many print magazines publish Web versions and hire freelancers to write Web-only articles. Content providers like Microsoft Network and America Online sub-contract with entrepreneurs to put together online-only publications that require a lot of new writing. And some recent start-ups, backed by excited venture capitalists, are electronic magazines that appear only on the Web.
Web zines want up-to-date reporting (lead time is typically a week or two), reviews, personal opinions and arguments on just about every subject covered in print. Their audiences tend to be upscale, educated, curious and impatient — 20 minutes is a long time for reader to spend with a Web zine.
You must write tighter for Web zines than you do for print publications because each chunk of your article appears in a rectangle about the size of a 4×6 index card, with text made up of light flickering through a glass.
The poor resolution and tight space mean people don’t like to read any more than they have to onscreen. When you create a paragraph that works well on paper, you’ll probably have to cut it in half for it to work on the Web.
You’ll need to write in shorter chunks, too, and use more subheads. Electronic magazines often offer a miniature table of contents up front, so readers can click a subject and go right to it, skipping your careful preparation and exposition. Even though you’re still telling a story, you must plan for people who skip to the middle.
In a nutshell, Web zine editors want articles that offer more information in less space. Here are several ways to achieve that:
Offer links. Provide readers with links to other Web sites. For instance, your story on phone rates might offer a link to the Federal Communication Commission site. An article on pets could provide links to some of the hundreds of locations with information about the care and feeding of cats, dogs and aardvarks. Links are content: They add up-to-the-moment value to your piece. (But only if they work — test links before you include them.)
Live chats. Bring in an expert on your topic to exchange views with readers. Offer to host a chat, where everyone gets to type at once. Or try a forum, where an expert types at length, and readers submit questions that you review offline, then pass along to the expert for comment. Consider your article and ask, “What will this audience want to ask about, or vent about, after reading what I write?” Then find an expert in that field — or become one yourself.
Give demos. Many manufacturers create interactive demonstrations of their products. Get permission to post one of these tours, or link directly to a corporate Web site. For instance, you might supplement an article on business information with links to demos of database software.
Offer sound and video. If you interview someone, post audio outtakes for visitors who want to hear what your sources sound like. For readers who like your movie review, offer to show the short “teaser” video clips offered by the movie companies.
Collect art. You may never have had to illustrate your articles before, but now many Web editors prefer writers who collect electronic art, get the owner’s permission, and pass those images along to be posted on the Web site. Many companies make such graphics available on request. So now, to brighten up an article on a museum, you can supply images of its collection.
Even with all the gee-whiz effects, writing for Web zines is still writing. You just have to do it in a way that suits the medium. You must adapt your writing to communicate despite the surrounding din, flicker and tempting distractions.
Visit any Web zine you’re thinking of writing for and study it just as you would read through back issues of a print magazine before submitting. Find out what electronic extras the editors like to offer visitors. Analyze the style carefully: Often it’s more personal than you’d risk in print. Learn how the writers and editors persuade readers to respond by e-mail, generating follow-up discussion.
You can probably locate a Web zine on your favorite subject by using the search mechanism offered by your Web browser, or one of the popular search engines like Yahoo, Excite, Lycos and AltaVista. Here are a few Web zines we like, including the one we edit.