Flip open any print magazine and what do you see? Before the in-depth feature articles, you’ll find a collection of news briefs and short articles known as the “front of the book” or “FOB” section.
Packed with short articles, it’s a freelancer’s best friend. This is the place to break in and prove your writing chops at a new-to-you print publication.
What is the “Front of the Book?”
Placed before a magazine’s feature articles, you’ll typically find a note from the editor or publisher, letters to the editor, and maybe a behind-the-scenes peek into making the issue.
You’ll also find an array of short articles. They could be news briefs, book reviews, infographics, or a wide range of other short pieces. These articles are the “front of the book” sections you’ll want to pitch.
Editors are always looking for content. A single issue’s FOB could have 10-15 short articles (or even more). Compare that to the handful of feature articles in a typical issue, and you’ll see why the FOB holds so much opportunity.
It’s also a great place to break in because editors are much more willing to try out new-to-them writers on short pieces. If a writer flakes, they have a 100 or 200-word hole to fill instead of pages and pages of blank space.
The FOB can also be a great gateway into larger, more in-depth (and often better-paying) parts of the magazine once you prove to your editor you’re reliable, dependable, and can deliver the content they need.
You may even find yourself fast-tracked to writing feature articles.
How do you break into the FOB?
Break into the FOB just as you would any other section. First, find the publication’s writers’ guidelines. These are often found online, but sometimes you’ll have to call or email to get your hands on a copy.
Be sure to read these carefully and follow them. They will often note the best places to break into the magazine and which sections are open to pitches. You may also pick up on some important clues, like whether certain FOB features are written by staff members for every issue.
If staff always writes a particular section, it’s often not worth your time to try to pitch that section. It might not be in the budget or they might have a specific reason for having a section staff-written (such as a staff roundtable selecting the most pertinent news items to cover in each issue).
Pay attention to these details.
When you locate the correct editor, send a well-crafted, well-researched, well-written pitch. Sure, it might take a bit of work to craft a pitch that could ultimately end up being longer than your 100-word story, but it’s worth taking the time to do it right.
Articles in the FOB can pay quite well, sometimes a dollar per word or more. Check Who Pays Writers to see if you can find some clues about the particular publication you’d like to pitch.
And don’t forget, these short pieces are often a gateway to writing longer articles.
How to examine a publication’s FOB
Once you’ve identified the magazine you’d like to break into, pick up a few recent issues (the library is great for this). FOB content can change frequently, so you want to make sure you have current issues.
You’ll also want to look at several issues to get an idea of the kind of content the publication wants to use over time. They may only include certain types of FOB articles (such as book or gear reviews) in every second or third issue.
It may be helpful to grab a notebook to keep track of what you notice about the FOB features in the issues you review.
- What types of articles are in the FOB?
- What regular sections are included?
- How long are the articles?
- Who writes them? Are there freelancers’ names (they may be listed as “contributors”), staff writers’ names or a combination?
- What topics are covered?
- What kind of tone is used in different FOB features?
- How “newsy” are these articles? Are they mostly breaking events, or do they also run evergreen content up front?
- Which FOB sections seem to work best with your ideas?
What to do with this information
Once you’ve gathered plenty of information from your favorite magazine’s FOB, use this information to target a few pitches.
When you pitch, make it obvious to the editors that you are familiar with the magazine and its contents. If you want to write a 150-word article on a certain topic for the “News Brief” section, be sure to mention those details.
Editors like working with people who have taken the time to do some homework.
Have you ever been published in a magazine’s FOB? What was your experience like?