YOUR BIG IDEA

The complete guide to writing for Quartz Ideas

When I meet someone new and explain what I do, they invariably say two things:

  1. Ideas Editor is the coolest sounding job title ever!
  2. What kinds of stories do you put in the Ideas section?

I agree with number one. On number two, I don’t mean to be overly literal, but the Ideas section is for stories that lead with an idea–an argument to think about something in a new way. These stories often discuss topics in the news right now. They can also be the product of research, reporting, personal experience, professional expertise, or some combination of those traits. They can take the form of opinion or commentary, but they don’t have to. And most importantly, the majority of Ideas stories are written by outside contributors like you, our readers. That’s why I’m writing this article: to explain how you can contribute your unique story to Quartz.

Why might you want to do that? Well, if you’re reading this, I imagine you as a fan of Quartz. Did you know we have around 17 million unique visitors per month? That’s an impressive figure for a media outlet less than four years old. Our reporters and editors hail from some of the most prestigious publications in the world. Our editorial and business teams have earned awards and recognition from industry publications and our peers. Simply put, writing for Quartz puts you (and your idea) in very good company. That makes up for the pay, which is modest. As one of my colleagues notes to potential contributors: “You won’t get rich, but you will get read.”

So how does this all work? First, the Ideas staff is having a never-ending conversation about the news and notable developments in the fields covered by our Quartz obsessions. And we regularly meet with our other editorial colleagues to hear what’s on their minds. But the Ideas team numbers five, so we know we can’t be up on everything going on in the world. That’s where you come in. Tell us something we don’t know, or something new about a thing we already know. That’s the first step to writing for Quartz.

 The best Ideas stories often start as a single sentence. What kind of topics do we want you to write about? Quartz was founded to cover the new global economy, so we’re interested in stories that have some aspect of economics, technology, policy, science, health, management or business at their cores. Since nearly half our readers are outside of the US, we’re also interested in stories that originate from or discuss international issues. One thing I have learned in my career is that nearly any story can be told from a business angle. After all, businesses are made up of people. We’re very interested in the intersection between business stories and personal stories, and how one informs the other. The lines have never been blurrier; we’re all trying to understand how to even have personal lives in the age of smartphones and Slack. In other words, don’t get too hung up on the business part of your pitch—if it’s a great story, it will work for us.

Remember: Ideas stories leads with a main idea. Your job as a writer is to use your own thinking as a lens through which to view the world, or to illuminate someone else’s thinking to do that same job. After all, in a society increasingly dominated by technology, only people can truly have unique ideas. (For now, anyway.)

By the way, the best Ideas stories often start as a single sentence–a tweet, a question, a line you toss off to a colleague over coffee or a drink that stops you both. That’s probably your headline, or at least your starting point.

 If you’re asking yourself what you should write about for Quartz, the answer is always to write what you know.  Many Ideas articles take the form of a personal narrative, a good way to ensure the article you are writing is based on your own thoughts and experiences. But there’s no reason your article can’t also include reporting, interviews, research, data, charts, graphics, and so on. A special word about personal essays: the best ones are built on a foundation of facts. These are not meandering stories. They have a clear thesis, near the top of the article, that provides an anchor for every word that follows. The question to ask yourself is: Which of the above components advance the story you are trying to tell in the most evocative and effective way? Include the ones that help, and discard the ones that don’t.

Back to topics for a moment. If you’re asking yourself what you should write about for Quartz, the answer is always to write what you know. We have a staff of hard-working reporters who spend their days chasing down stories and breaking news. What we don’t have is you, your experiences and expertise. Whether you’re a CEO, a Navy SEAL, or a seeker of high office, the things you’ve lived have changed the way you see the world. So, please, share them with us.

 If you haven’t written it as a complete article yet, don’t. Do you have an idea in mind? If you haven’t written it as a complete article yet, don’t. We really prefer that you first send us what’s called a pitch: a paragraph or two at most, describing what you intend to say. Again, write well, as this is sort of an audition with the editor. If we think you can deliver, we’ll usually ask to see a draft. And if we have any thoughts about your idea, we may offer some feedback designed to help you shape your story, so that it has a better chance of being published.

If you’ve already written the entire piece, just paste it into the body of your email—no need for attachments. Introduce yourself and explain what you’ve written in a few sentences at most. Then, let your writing speak for itself. That writing should be clear, concise, and almost certainly short. Also, we want you to write about what you do, but we don’t want a sales pitch for your new product or service.

That’s the final point I’d like to make on the writing: No matter how amazing your story is, if it’s not told well, we won’t be able to use it. So write it, then write it again, then have your colleagues and trusted friends read it, and keep going until you think it’s great. Don’t dash it off, hit send, and then realize (too late) you left out three key points. We’ll forgive the stray typo, but a muddy argument that’s hard to follow leaves my colleagues and me grasping at how to fix a story. So, write well, and if you get stuck, it’s best to ask your editor for guidance before you try to power through.

Since there are several editors on the Ideas team, the best way to reach us all with your material is to email us at ideas@qz.com. We get many, many pitches every day, so please don’t be offended if it takes some time for us to reply. If you don’t hear from us in a couple weeks, you can try again. We try to answer everyone, but if we don’t get back to you, we probably couldn’t figure out how your piece would work for Quartz. This isn’t your fault; we wish you good luck with your writing, and hope you will try us again the next time you have a great idea you want to share with the world.

If your story is accepted, you’ll electronically sign a contract that explains your rights and those of Quartz with regards to your story. Then you and your editor will get to work on your draft.

When you work with an editor, he or she will fact check your article, ask you questions, give you notes on changes, and possibly work with you to rewrite some of the piece, in order to make it as clear as possible. Everything we do is meant to strengthen the article. But you’re the writer and expert, so we need your help to be sure the final draft says exactly what you intend it to say. Remember that your editor has a responsibility to Quartz and our readers to make sure everything we publish is accurate, fair, well-written, and not carrying an agenda other than the one clearly laid out in the story itself. When the editing process is complete, you’ll get a last look at any changes. We publish only when the writer and editor are in complete agreement on every word of the story.

Our editors do, however, control the headline, and the photo or illustration that runs with your story. (It does no one any good if you disagree with our headline choice, so we always listen to your thoughts and suggestions, if you have any.) Once the story is all produced and ready to go, it will be scheduled to run, usually within a few days. We’ll do our best to make sure our readers see your brilliant efforts. Take it from a veteran: It can be a pretty satisfying experience to see your name and work in (LCD) lights.

Thanks for reading Quartz; we hope one day you will write for it, too!

We welcome your comments and your pitches at ideas@qz.com.

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