So I want to be a gun writer...


January 16, 2003, 01:45 PM
Lately I've been toying with a couple of ideas that I think would make for interesting articles in a gun magazine. I've started on one, and plan to finish it up sometime in the next few weeks and submit it to a magazine.

Is there anyone here who has written articles for publication in gun magazines before? If so, any tips or hints as far as what makes for a readable/interesting article?


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Mike Irwin
January 16, 2003, 02:15 PM
Hi, Justin.

I wrote and edited articles for American Rifleman for about 3.5 years back in the early 1990s.

This link takes you to a thread over at TFL where I gave pointers for how to approach getting an article published.

Hopefully you'll find it useful. If you have any questions about it, please let me know.

January 16, 2003, 02:18 PM
1. Do you have any Hawaiian shirts?


January 16, 2003, 02:43 PM
Or a 20 Gallon hat! :D

January 16, 2003, 02:45 PM
Or a big fuzzy mustache and the dreaded photographers vest? :D

Good Shooting

January 16, 2003, 02:47 PM
Mike covered it pretty well.

I am not enamored of writing for free (anywhere but here).

"No man, but a blockhead, ever wrote except for money." Samuel Johnson.

I try and keep that quote in mind when I approach the ol' word processor.

Lone Star
January 16, 2003, 02:50 PM
Yes, I'm a masthead writer at a gun magazine and at a knife title. At one time or another, I've written for virtually all of the knife titles, and have freelanced at some other gun magazines and elsewhere, including a major newspaper.

The first thing to keep in mind is that most stories are staff written, often - too often, in most cases- to showcase an advertised product. It's hard for a freelancer to get in the door with that mindset on the part of editors.

Carefully note the bylines at the titles you read and see what sort of features non-staff writers have managed to slip in. Terry Murbach and Mike Cumpston visit here, and they have written some of the best material to ever appear in gun magazines. Maybe they'll see this and comment. Ditto Dave Twigg, who's published a few pieces.

I can tell you that I bought a copy of, "Guns" (I think) once mainly to read a story of Mr. Cumpston's on three-inch barrel .38's. I liked it so well that I wrote to the editor to tell him they needed more such items, and less on the M1911 Of-the-Month.

I sold "American Handgunner" a story on the Ruger .22 auto pistols many years ago, and they coordinated it with Ruger to also run a related article and to get a full color photo of the millionth example of this classic design. You will note that the project gave them a chance to interract with Ruger, a major advertiser.

Another fellow wrote a splendid article on the sort of handguns one should carry (and how) when in dangerous game country. Actually, I've seen two of them: one in, "Handguns" and one in "Guns" or, "American Handgunner."

Dan Johnson's recent story on ammo for .38 snubs sold me an issue of, "Handguns"... once they got around to printing his ballistics test chart from Jason's lab! I assume you saw the traffic here about that!

I'd read a story on defense loads for the .44 Special and the .44 Magnum. I'd read one on Skelton's favorite .38/.357 load, and how it really performed, and whether it could be bettered today by using a different powder than the No. 2400 that he favored. Ditto a story on defense rounds in the .45 Colt, and whether these would also be suitable for some use on game or dangerous animals. I'm always wanting to know more on good .38 Special ammo. Ditto on actual combat performance of handgun rounds.

The rub to much of the business is that you'll need a chronograph to get the data that usually accompanies such an article. Having that info will often make or break a sale. That means you have to be able to set up the chrono and use it extensively, something not often possible at a public range. You'd need private shooting land.

If you can figure out the preferences or background of an editor, exploit that. For instance, if you know that David W. Arnold was originally a South African and that he has an interest in history, offer him an article on handguns of the Boer War. He's no longer editing, "Handguns", but still is on staff, so that's a dead-serious article proposal, if you can get the photos and know what to say. I hope that someone with more resources than I have writes it!

One way to break in might be to write an item for, "Gun Digest" 's feature, "One Good Gun". Also, there aren't a lot of good articles on practical holsters.

First, write to all the gun magazines and request their writers' guidelines. Those will tell you the required story length and how many photos are needed, and how they are accepted. At one time, editors insisted on 8X10 B&W glossies, but many will now use smaller format. Color transparencies are often a must. Some editors insist that submissions come in on computer disk with a separate "hard" copy. Others will accept traditional typewritten copy, if you don't own a computer.

It's usually best to send a "query letter", outlining your proposed article (and available photos), and an outline of the points that you'll make. Tell why you think this story will appeal to readers and list your qualifications for writing it.

Get, "Writer's Digest" and "The Writer" and study the articles there on how to impress editors. The big annual, "Writer's Market" will tell you much about current markets, but in recent years, has had little on gun magazines. It will tell you how to prepare and sumbit a basic mss. to general editors. If you can find a copy, buy the late Jack O'Connor's, "The Last Book". See what he had to say about the gun writing business.

I hope one of the other fellows I named will add more, but that's the gist of it. And good luck. You're going to need it. And don't expect much pay. A GOOD fee is about $350. You'll need to balance this against your expenses, especially in photography and ammo costs and time spent in researching and writing the story. Overall, you'd be better off to work a few nights a week in a retail store instead of writing, if it's just income you want!

Lone Star

El Tejon
January 16, 2003, 04:06 PM
Justin, good for you! I'll be able to say, "I knew him when."

This advice is via Uncle Chuckie when I Lone Ranger and I took a class from him over in HeyHoOhio last September:

1. Photos are worth a lot. Magazines are visual as well as intellectual. Good photos will get you published.

2. Be organized. Break your article down into sections. This will help with editing as well as formatting. Save copies of your articles.

3. Rewrite. Do not just write something. Rewrite it. And again, again, and again.

4. Be persistent. Forget e-mail, too easy to ignore. Write a lot of letters.

5. Target selection. Go to a big newstand and pick out the small run publications. They are more in need but will pay less. However, this will build a rep.

6. Treat it as a job, not a hobby (if only gun dealers did this).

If you make it, can I be a model? It's hard to be tactically cool in a suit and tie or dressing like the Territory Ahead catalogue, but I may add some class to a genre accustomed to pointy, little elf boots, big, silly hats and flowered shirts. As an added bonus, I'll never be photographed pointing the pistol at my chin, leg or thingie like the gun rags do.

January 16, 2003, 04:09 PM
Check out S.W.A.T. Magazine's web site. There's a press kit link on there as I recall that gives you the basics.

4v50 Gary
January 16, 2003, 04:13 PM
Paging Oleg Volk, Denny Hansen & Mike Irwin.

Suggest you study the editorial style of some magazines. Write to that style before you even submit. Make it easy for them.

Detachment Charlie
January 16, 2003, 04:20 PM
I like the Hawaiian shirts, 20-gallon hats and the always-correct photographer's vest.
But, to my professional editor's eye, if you are going to review a gun produced by a magazine's advertiser, the most important thing you'll have to put on is a "red dress".:neener:

January 16, 2003, 04:50 PM
Mike Irwin-
Thanks for the link (and info)! I remember reading that thread when it was posted, but when I went back a couple months ago to dig it out I couldn't find it.

1. Do you have any Hawaiian shirts? I have one (1) semi-Hawaiian shirt. Very subdued colors. No, I would not wear it while shooting pics for the article.

Or a 20 Gallon hat! I think I had a cowboy hat when I was about 6. Personally, I think I look like a retard in any kind of hat.

Or a big fuzzy mustache and the dreaded photographers vest? *sigh* I couldn't grow a 'stache if my life depended on it. No photog vest, either.:what:

Lone Star-
Thanks for the info, especially the advice about knowing what the editors are interested in. (hmmm...) As for access to a range and a chronograph, I can arrange that via a friend of mine.

El Tejon-
I doubt this will result in any sort of fame for me. I'm really kind of doing it mostly because I'm bored. Though having a by-line would definately be a pretty cool ego-rub. :) And yeah, you can be a model, if you want. The only perk of the job would be some complimentary Fat Tire after the photo shoot.

Done that, read it, I think I can meet the requirements.

But, to my professional editor's eye, if you are going to review a gun produced by a magazine's advertiser, the most important thing you'll have to put on is a "red dress".
DC- lol. I wouldn't be reviewing anything new, it'd be more of a DIY sort of piece.

El Tejon
January 16, 2003, 05:22 PM
Mmmmm, Fat Tire. I knew there was a reason I need to be in Red soon!

Standing Wolf
January 16, 2003, 09:20 PM
Speaking strictly as a guy who's made his living as a writer and editor since 1966: the best way to be a good gun magazine writer is to be a good writer—period.

January 16, 2003, 09:46 PM
I've never written anything, but I've read plenty. My only advice: Don't put photos of yourself in the article. That bugs me to no end. 'Here's "The Author" in yet another photo of himself looking tactical'

Gag. :)

- Gabe

PS: One more bit of advice: avoid cliches and witicisms like your life depends on it.

January 16, 2003, 10:55 PM might want to skip the red dress thing unless you are writing a script for MASH. :D

Oh man, the writer pics do make me nuts. I'd rather see pics of folks shooting the weapons, family, heck..even the dog. Too many pics of the same guy trying to be tactical makes me wonder.

That one skinny guy comes to mind...

Good Shooting

January 16, 2003, 11:23 PM
I have managed to refrain from looking "tactical" when my photo has appeared with my gun prose. But, hey, somebody has to shoot the damn gun and sometimes I'm all I got.

I second the advice about being a good writer.

Hemingway remarked in a letter to someone about writing,

"Trying to knock Mr. Shakespeare on his ***. Very difficult."

El Tejon
January 17, 2003, 07:07 AM
Red, hey, what's wrong with skinny guys? Unless they are gun writers or something.

Dan Johnson
January 17, 2003, 12:02 PM
Bear in mind though, good writing for magazines is not the same as good writing as it pertains to novels. Magazine articles are getting shorter all the time and you must write lean without shortchanging the reader on information. When editing your own manuscript, be objective and don't get trapped into the beginner's mistake of trying to woo the Editor with eloquent descriptions of the rising sun and dew on the grass. Just say it was morning and get on with the info.

Dan Johnson

January 17, 2003, 12:20 PM
Speaking strictly as a guy who's made his living as a writer and editor since 1966: the best way to be a good gun magazine writer is to be a good writer—period.

Maybe so, but I can think of several successful gun writers who happen to be terrible writers.

The dialogue in one particular guy's stuff is so corny it's laughable.

Anybody wanna guess who I'm thinking of...?

Joe Demko
January 17, 2003, 01:18 PM
Create a computer program that will write an article to your specified length using the standard phrases:
"if I do my part..."
"acceptable combat accuracy..."
"will correct itself after break-in..."
"light, handy packin' pistol..."
"knockdown power..."
and so on...
Then, all you will need to do is tell the program the name of the particular gun you want an article about, and it will spew one out. Wait, this has already been done and is the method by which the gun rags already produce filler for between ads.
Never mind.

January 17, 2003, 02:51 PM
I write cover stories (as a hobby) for the local gun magazine ( for 3 years. My rules are simple:

- Never be satisfied with the stuff you write,
- Never do advertisement articles (see most US gun magazines), the readers are not that stupid,
- Focus on the subject
- Don't repeat yourself,
- Always show both sides of the coin,
- Be ruthless when it comes to describing cons, failures, so called "break-in" issues :rolleyes:, FTEs/FTFs, etc.
- Never claim to be an "expert" in any subject,
- Avoid "My way or the highway" kinda statements,
- Enjoy what you do,

January 20, 2003, 06:36 PM
Ok, here's a question for you more seasoned writers:
If I'm planning on writing an article on do it yourself improvements for a C&R pistol, do I still have to do the obligatory ammo through a chrono test?:confused:

Or can I forgo that, and just concentrate on the topic at hand?

El Tejon
January 20, 2003, 06:54 PM
Thumper, you aren't talking about my fave big, silly hat and pointy, elf boot-wearing fiction writer are you? That stuff is south of the Border when it comes to silly.:)

January 24, 2003, 11:38 PM
Some very good points. You do need a chrongraph but they are a lot of fun, not too expensive and very addictive. Same with Cameras. Handgunner , Guns and FrontSight will use high density digital pictures and will often even take submissions over the internet.

One editor told me that what it takes to be a gw is (1) a thick skin,and, (2) a good B*** S*** detector. Both are essential because I guarantee you will run into some really wierd stuff. Popular subjects are Concealed Carry and Semi-autos . Less popular subjects are revolvers- which is mainly what I like and one big reason you don't see my byline every month.

Mostly it's just fun and the articles help you pay for more experiences than you would ordinarily have. For instance, I just got a cd burner and have been having frantic fun transmogrifying my old load data, articles and pictures They are real pretty but,aside from personal reference and just knowing they are there, I'm not sure what use they are.

If Lone Star sees this, I hope he will e-mail me. I'm curious about his writing.

Lone Star
January 25, 2003, 07:18 AM

I did see your message here and on another thread, and will try to contact you via the e-address you showed.

Oh: another point about being a writer is to CAREFULLY proofread your material. Then, you won't make mistakes like I did in the long post above where I wrote, "sumbit" for "submit". I tried to edit it, but it seems we can edit for only 5760 minutes after a post is made, and I must have waited maybe 6,000 minutes! Just re-read the post and caught the error. Woe is me!

Be your own worst critic, or some editor will be!

Lone Star

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