America’s law enforcement print media—magazines, newsletters, websites, and newspapers—is a strong and needed industry. The beneficiaries of this industry range from agency heads, who in developing strategic planning, use such resources to gain and benefit from a national perspective, to patrol officers who expose themselves to new safety techniques, training, or equipment that might save their lives. Nearly all of the authors who write for police publications are freelance writers—the professional men and women of law enforcement-and their stories, expertise, and opinions, once read, have the power to teach, influence, and enhance professional careers.
The publication circle of life
In the publication circle of life, there are four critical entities that must rely on each other for survival: publishers, authors, subscribers, and the advertisement of products and services. Publishers exist because of advertising dollars and attract advertisers through a healthy circulation that targets a specific potential consumer base-like police officers. In other words, the readers of the publication will be the most likely to purchase the advertiser’s products. Authors fill the publication with information (articles) that subscribers want or need. As subscribers read and benefit from the information, they are exposed to the advertising, and thus, become potential consumers. These are the ABC’s of law enforcement publications. All four entities depend upon each other and this relationship would cease to exist if police officers did not share their valuable experience, opinions, and ideas to train and educate through the written word.
The benefits of publication
Many police authors start writing as a hobby, usually initiated by a desire to share information that will be of some value to others. The completion of a quality manuscript can produce a high degree of satisfaction and even more so if the work is accepted for publication. Publication is a form of validation and this substantiation that the written work is acceptable for a mass audience is professionally rewarding.
Despite the feel good part of writing, there are many other benefits as well. Officers who produce published work develop a higher level of subject matter expertise and this adds substantial credibility when testifying in court as an expert witness or while delivering training to others. Published officers who are trainers can use their own written materials for handouts in their classes rather than rely on the written work of other experts. If you have ever done any training, ask yourself, what is the largest number of officers you have trained at one time? Twenty? Fifty?
Having an article published may reach a subscription audience of 30,000 to 50,000 police professionals, all having exposure to your words and learning from what you have provided. Having published work can enhance an officer’s career development as well. During promotion time, having a Professional Publications section on a resume is quite impressive and can distinguish such police authors from the rest of the crowd. Additionally, officers who conduct research for their articles meet other officers and experts across the country and even if the contact is only by phone or email, this networking and development of national contacts is highly valuable.
Lastly, having articles published can be profitable. Many commercial law enforcement publications pay an average of 10 to 25 cents per word and any new product or training courses highlighted through articles will have great exposure to the publication’s entire readership. At 10 cents per word, an article like this could yield about $245.00.
Selecting your subject
Selecting a subject should not be difficult, as most police authors know exactly what they want to write about, however, subject selection is very important. Use the following list as a guide to assist in subject selection.
Is there a demand for or widespread interest in your subject? Just because some officers might be fascinated in the dynamics of police boot selection, doesn’t mean this subject will spark the excitement of a national audience. What are the hot issues inciting national attention: terrorism, child abduction, ethics, identity theft, training, etc. Find out what law enforcement needs and write about it-fill a void.
- Write about a subject that is within your area of expertise.
- Write about something you have a real passion for and your writing will reflect it.
- What products, weapons, training methods, or techniques are new or improved?
- Does your agency have any unique programs or little known information or techniques-tricks of the trade-that might improve policing if shared with other agencies?
- Use the numbers game: 10 Steps to Better Interviewing; A 5-Step Approach to Reducing Liability; The 10 Commandments for Teaching Adult Learners.
- Identify the biggest, the best, the first, or the most and write about it.
- Use the contrast and comparison technique.Why one high-risk traffic stop is better than another. Why teaching with this method is more effective than teaching with that method.
“We are looking for writers to cover the on-going topics of lap-top computers, traffic radar, police uniforms, bicycle patrol, departmental budgets, grant request writing, forensics, criminal investigations, domestic violence, pursuit driving, racial profiling, drug seizures, drug interdiction, drug eradication, drunk driving enforcement, employee discipline, team building, team leadership, SWAT communications, SWAT tactics, tactical medicine, DNA testing, homicide investigation, hate crimes, gang intelligence, police theory, reserve police officers, recruiting, hiring, auto theft, crowd control, less-than-lethal, physical fitness, defensive tactics”.
Ed Sanow, Editor of LAW and ORDER Magazine
Researching your topic
The methods used to gather research are diverse and many. Start by examining existing work from books, trade publications, or materials disseminated during training. Contact local experts or even nationally known experts for their insight or a quote. The experts sought, many of whom are or were police officers, will make themselves available to you and their input and quotes adds both credibility and marketability to manuscripts.
Use local, national, or even international law enforcement associations such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), or your state’s Peace Officer Standards and Training. There is literally an association or formal group that addresses nearly every issue of law enforcement and these sources can be invaluable to writers. Lastly, conduct research on the Internet. The Internet has infinite resources or links to resources and serves as a tremendous tool for officers researching a subject.
Selecting a publication
Selecting a publication is fairly simple. First determine who your audience will be—the readers who will be most interested in your article—then match your audience with the readership of a specific publication. For example, police managers, administrators, and department heads—the executives of law enforcement—dominate Law and Order’s readership. Their editor wants concise well-written articles that will assist and benefit these busy and well-educated executives to better run their organizations. As such, an article written for field training officers on the benefits of coaching trainees would not be a good match to Law and Order’s subscribers. Other publications like The Law Enforcement Trainer, are interested in multi-faceted pieces covering training, learning, officer safety, and all the parallel topics related to officer development.
Authors can visit the web sites of commercial trade magazines or association publications and learn exactly what the publication expects. Many of these publication web sites provide a wealth of information that includes: manuscript requirements, editorial calendars, photograph specifications, and how to submit the materials. One of the best ways to find out if an article or idea fits the needs of a publication is to query the editor. The editor may have five articles on the same subject to choose from, may have had like articles published in recent past issues, or the article or idea received may be exactly what the editor has been looking for to compliment a future issue.
Police authors who don’t subscribe to the publication they are interested in should contact the magazine’s staff and request a few back issues to get a feel for the way it is put together. Lastly, authors should decide if compensation is important or not. Not all publications pay for manuscripts, especially association publications like The Police Chief (IACP) or a number of published newsletters.
The title of an article is important and requires some creative effort. The title authors submit may not be the title that is chosen for the published piece. Editors, appropriately have the final say in deciding the title of the article. The title should have a well-defined nexus to the content. Titles should also be original and have an element of creativity. Readers
skimming through a magazine scan the titles to determine if the content is of interest. For example, an author writing about ethics or Tasers might start out with the first titles, which are descriptive and concise, however, are somewhat boring when compared to the second, more inventive titles, as seen below.
Average – A Formula for Police Ethics
Improved – ETHICAL POLICING: A Best Practices Formula
Average – The Advanced TASER
Improved – STUNNING New Force Options: The Advanced TASER Takes Another Step Forward
Avoid using colored print, fancy or custom fonts, or inappropriate graphics or clip-art as they will not be used. Professional publications have their own art departments and will use the graphics or print that best serves the magazine’s needs. Authors will be best served by creating titles that are concise, relevant, and imaginative.
Submitting your article
Manuscripts should be accompanied with a cover letter, which satisfies several needs. This letter introduces the author to the editor. It may provide the author’s experience, expertise, or longevity in law enforcement and gives the editor an idea who the writer behind the words is. The cover letter concisely illustrates what the article is about and why the publication’s readership would benefit from reading it (sales pitch). The letter also provides the author’s return address, the number of words, what word processor was used and, in non-contractual publishing agreements, authorizes the editor to edit the material to meet the publication’s needs.
The manuscript format and photograph submission should follow the publication’s editorial guidelines. Generally, 8 1/2 x 11-inch paper is used with text double-spaced and never staple your submitted manuscript. Include your manuscript on a floppy disc or CD. Insure you use a modern word processor. Sending articles formatted on your Commodore 64 from the 80’s will not cut it. DO NOT submit your article to multiple publications simultaneously. An editor may love your article and begin to format it, create space for it, or develop art for it to meet a deadline before you can be contacted. Once you are contacted, if you tell the editor that another publication is publishing your article or has purchased it, you will have certainly burned that bridge. After the article has been submitted, be patient. Your article may not get published for six months in order to best fit into an issues editorial theme. Restrain yourself from calling, stalking, or sending emails every week to the editor asking for decisions or feedback about your article. Such assertiveness is considered rude and unprofessional in many publication circles. Upon being received by the editor, your article goes into a, “slush pile” and it may sit there until the busy editor can read it, assess it, and determine if it can be used in a future issue. Commercial publications that purchase the article and the rights to it may send the author a simple contract and compensation is usually paid after the article is published, not withstanding any other arrangements.
“In my opinion, the single best thing that authors can do is to consider their readers. Too often, because authors are so familiar with their topics, they leave out important details, which create gaps or holes in an article leading to confusion on the part of the reader. I always try and encourage authors to try and look at their topic from the perspective of someone who knows very little about it; in other words, don’t assume that your reader is going to understand what you are saying. It’s better to err on the side of providing too much information than not enough.”
Bunny Morris, Associate Editor of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Manuscript Do’s and Dont’s
DO submit quality photos, diagrams, or models that emphasize, reflect, and support the content of your article. Magazine editors love (emphasis added) quality photographs. Publications without photographs would be large soft-cover books.
DON’T submit dark or unfocused photographs, Polaroid photos, or photographs that have little or no nexus to the article.
“If you send good artwork you have a much (much, much, much) higher chance of getting into the magazine. When you take photos, use at least ASA 400 (or lower) film for clarity. Also… get higher or lower when you take the shots. If you’re at the same height as the subject it will be boring. Think about unusual angles, etc. A good photographer with a $10 disposable camera will do better work than an idiot with a $5,000 camera.”
Roy Huntington, Former Executive Editor of POLICE Magazine
DO use a quality printer and send the hard copy or manuscript double-spaced. Use the fonts Ariel or Times New Roman in font size 12. Don’t use obscure fonts sized less than 12, as your editor will find it as annoying to read as you find this.
DO use caution when writing about a product or specific commercial training programs. Publishers may view this as an attempt at free advertising in the form of an article and editors can easily spot this. When writing about things that are sold, services that are provided at a cost, or specific training seminars or programs, query the editor first for direction.
DO consider co-authoring your article with another expert. All of us are smarter than one of us.
DON’T use another person’s work without giving them proper credit or obtaining their permission. Learn about basic copyright laws.
DON’T forget to edit your work until it is as close to perfect as possible. Edit the article for spelling, tense, and grammatical errors. Then edit it again specifically for possible improvements to style, to remove unnecessary filler words, vague words, or to improve combinations of words.This includes the title and subtitles. Then edit the article again to determine if humor or
appropriate tasteful satire can be inserted to compliment the text.
DO use a conversational and transitional style of writing and avoid the common “just the facts mam” police report style of writing.
DO create a brief bio to be included at the end of your manuscript to let the magazine’s readership know who you are and if your available to receive comments.
Sharing experience, knowledge, new ideas, and opinions through published work is training, coaching, and mentoring from afar. Such articles are used to benefit a mass audience that could never be reached in any other way. Law enforcement professionals who write for publication provide the gift of insight to others and their work becomes an official permanent record to be used as a future informational resource. Police authors should find satisfaction in knowing that their published words are considered valuable and are preserved in thousands of police departments, libraries, homes and offices, and officer’s gear bags and lockers across the nation.