February 2011

Volume 26 Number 02

Editor’s Note - Quick Guide to Getting Published

By Keith Ward | February 2011

Keith WardIf there’s one question I get asked more than any other at conferences, it’s this: “Hey, I have a great idea for an MSDN Magazine article. How do I get it published?”

It’s a good question. After all, writing a magazine article isn’t like writing code; forgetting the semicolon I just placed (after “code”) is less serious than forgetting a semicolon in C#. In one important way, however, they are similar—they’re both creative endeavors in which you start with a blank page or empty Visual Studio project window. From that void comes, hopefully, something wonderful. Here are the most important things to do.

  1. Bribes never hurt. Remember the rule of thumb: The more zeros in the check, the more likely the acceptance of your article. All proceeds go to support needy children—mine.

OK. Enough with the comedy portion of our show. Please don’t send me cash.

The first thing you do need, however, is a great idea for an article. You could have Bill Gates’ programming savvy and Hemingway’s writing chops, but if your idea’s as lame as the new crop of reality TV shows, it doesn’t matter.

So what’s a “great” idea, you properly ask? That’s hard to quantify, but I can list some general guidelines. First, as any editor will tell you, read back issues. If you’re a regular MSDN Magazine reader and pore over every issue, you’ll likely have an intuitive sense of the kind of articles we publish. If not, get your hands on the last half-dozen issues or so (remember that they’re published online in their entirety as well) and do some research.

Such research will quickly reveal some important facts. No. 1, this is a very technical magazine written mostly for experienced developers. Introductory and overview type articles don’t make it in, for the most part. These are not 100-level stories, so keep that in the front of your mind. There are plenty of places to publish those types of articles, and they’re of great value to the right audience. Just know that it’s not our audience.

Fact No. 2: Articles of a general nature are shunned. Another rule of thumb: General = Bad. Specific = Good. “I’d like to write an article on Windows Workflow Foundation” will get a thumbs-down from yours truly. “I’d like to write an article on authoring custom control flow activities in WF 4,” on the other hand, is much more likely to get a thumbs-up. In fact, it did for Leon Welicki, who wrote that exact article for the last issue.

Keep in mind that our readers are generally high-level pros who want specific answers to specific development problems or challenges. To that end, present practical advice for solving real-world issues. I don’t need articles on what the OData Protocol is or can be used for: instead, pitch me an idea on integrating OData with existing Atom- and AtomPub-based readers and writers, as Chris Sells did in the August 2010 issue.

Another source of great anxiety for would-be writers is writing experience. They wonder if they have a chance if they’ve published nothing but a few blog entries here and there. If that’s you, have no fear: previous writing experience is not a prerequisite. I’m more interested in the article idea and how you’d execute it than in how much writing you’ve done.

Certainly it doesn’t hurt if you’ve written before, but if you can demonstrate basic writing competency in your communications—the initial proposal, as well as additional correspondence—we’ll consider hiring you.

If you’re an inexperienced writer, know from the outset that writing is difficult, and writing these types of articles is an art unto itself. It’s one thing to know how to build software, and another thing entirely to write about building software.

And you’re not done even then. The editing process that follows the writing—where we work with you to polish, fine-tune or even ask you to make major revisions to your work—can be agonizing.

I don’t say this to scare you off, but to give a realistic glimpse of what lies ahead. If you truly want to do this, what I’m saying won’t scare you anyway, and you’re likely to come out with a successful article and see your name in the pages of MSDN Magazine.

Send article ideas to me at mmeditor@microsoft.com.