A look at the August edition of Hemispheres magazine, the inflight magazine of United Airlines, reveals a grand total of two feature travel stories and nine short articles. It’s no surprise then that you’re going to have a far better chance getting in with a small piece. And that’s how most of these large magazines work.
What should you write about? With around 250-500 words to play with, you’re not going to be able to write everything about a destination. You’ll have to break it down to focus on something smaller like a single experience or attraction.
Hemispheres, for this “Dispatches” section in the front of the magazine, favors quirky stories with a lively, sometimes tongue-in-cheek style.
Last year I wrote a piece for them on a Beijing Hutong Cuisine cooking class, which I had attended a few years earlier. I would have had to write an article of at least 800 words to do the class justice. But with only 250 to work with, I decided to concentrate on the teacher, Zhou Chun Yi, who is a real character.
I have to say, the editor ramped up the article considerably. Chun Yi, though strict, is generally sweet rather than sour. Still, I was happy to have this by-line as it’s helped me to build my credibility as a travel writer.
In terms of the content of this piece, the important thing to note here is that while the article looks mainly at Zhou Chun Yi, I was able to get into the piece some sense of the cooking class, even though it doesn’t go through all the steps of making and cooking the dumplings.
Ultimately, in a short piece like this, you are looking to convey a brief impression. You don’t have a large number of words to play with so you need to make them count.