Collections of short features play an important role in magazines because they grab readers' attention and give them a reason to stop flipping through pages. The reader may not have time to read that fantastic six-page feature story at the moment, but he or she may well have the time to read all or part of a group of warm, funny, clever or helpful tidbits, some of which may come directly from other readers.
Seeking short submissions to your magazine is a simple way to get engaging content that will appeal to readers because the items come from readers and address topics that matter to them. Brand loyalty is increased among the people whose submissions are chosen.
The content you might seek in these mini-articles depends on the focus of your magazine. If you publish a lifestyle magazine, you could ask readers to submit stories such as tender family moments, wedding faux pas, lost-and-found pets, recipe disasters, funny kid questions, or the best advice they ever received. For special occasions, how about weirdest Christmas dinners/dishes, the story about a special veteran, or readers' handmade Easter baskets? Pictures would be a nice touch.
Classic-car enthusiasts are sentimental about the impressive vintage vehicles they lovingly restore, maintain and keep protected between outings and car shows, and readers would enjoy reading stories of their peers' vehicles — topics could be on first cars (classic or otherwise), dream cars, or cars they missed out on.
Health-related magazines could seek reader pieces about how they stay fit, eat well, and live well. MyPlate, the federal government's replacement to the old Food Pyramid, would have vegetables be the most plentiful food on our plates, but for many Americans the opposite is true. A regular feature could highlight the varied ways readers work more vegetables into their diets, from cooking main dishes with more vegetables than meat and grains to sneaking spinach into brownies (yes, really).
Capitalizing on (Someone Else's) Mistakes
Everyone likes a good laugh, and some mistakes can be laugh-out-loud hilarious. “Consumer Reports” runs a regular monthly feature, "Selling It," in which the magazine publishes funny mistakes and other oddities sent in by readers, seen in advertisements, product labels, signs, and other sources. Readers can send their submissions via email or postal mail.
Here are a few examples:
- A bag of bird seed boasts 17 pounds for the price of 20.
- A prescription drug's label tells patients, "Do not eat or lie down for 30 days."
- An ad for a video store promises a free rental to anyone who brings in a membership card from a competitor. In the small print, the ad says, "Note: Competitor card will be cut up."
This kind of lighthearted content in your publication could be something readers look forward to when they get the current issue. Plus, a call for submissions of this type could make opening the mail (and checking email) more fun!
The Value of Real Voices
A couple of years ago, Niche Media outlined five lessons learned from niche magazine publishers. One of those lessons was to harness user-generated content through reader submissions, guest bloggers and more, to get readers involved in the publications and bring in authentic voices.
This kind of engagement creates interactivity. Readers can feel a connection to the contributors whose submissions inspire, amuse and enlighten, and to the magazine itself for the willingness to reach out and ask people to share what they think, feel and know.
Small magazine publishers don't necessarily have to pay for these submissions — contributors may be just as happy to be recognized — but a small payment, perhaps around $25, could be offered for certain features. One approach would be to generally seek free submissions, but run occasional contests with prizes, seeking submissions for a special feature, such as an essay contest on why readers would marry their sweethearts all over again.
What Do Readers Think?
Publishers who regularly seek content from readers could benefit greatly from an annual survey. As part of the survey, readers could be asked questions whether they have submitted content in the past, how they feel about current opportunities for reader submissions, and what they'd like to see more of in the future. Encourage them to elaborate on their answers. Survey responses are a rich source of information to help keep readers informed and involved, and increase reader engagement.