AOPA Pilot Magazine
AOPA Pilot writers' guidelines
Thank you for your interest in submitting a manuscript to AOPA Pilot magazine. We have prepared these guidelines in an attempt to answer the most frequently asked questions. If there's one we've missed, please write or call; we'll answer your questions to the best of our ability. — The Editors
AOPA Pilot is the nation's leading general aviation publication. We maintain a sharp focus on general aviation within the pages of our magazine, and we are interested in reviewing for possible publication only articles that share that focus. If you're familiar with the magazine and have read several recent issues, you'll have an idea of the types of articles that fit our editorial mission.
Write concisely; attempt to make every word count. Try to include enough detail to convey your message without overloading or boring the reader, and keep in mind that too much detail can be worse than not enough. Elaborate on necessary details and omit irrelevant information.
In general, articles for AOPA Pilot should be written in the third person. Overuse of the first person ("I," "we") is seen frequently in articles rejected by Pilot. There are times when use of the first person is appropriate, or even required, but its use generally should be avoided.
We receive numerous manuscripts on historical subjects. While many of these are quite good, we seldom purchase manuscripts of an historic nature. Surveys tell us that this material does not appeal to a majority of our readers, and demand for Pilot's editorial pages is high. Further, we realize that there are several aviation publications that specialize in aviation history topics.
In order to provide a level of consistency among aircraft reports, Pilot generally assigns staff editors to write flight reports and aircraft reviews. Similarly, our editors attend most of the major airshows and significant aviation events, so we do not need general articles on Oshkosh — although a specific experience that you had, somebody that you met, or another specific aspect of such a trip may result in a usable article. Similarly, our editors write all of our "Pilot Briefing" news pages and most issue-oriented feature articles.
While all submissions are handled with utmost care, AOPA Pilot cannot be responsible for unsolicited materials sent to us. Do not send irreplaceable original photographs or materials unless we have indicated an interest in purchasing your manuscript and specifically request that you send such materials. Instead, send copies of your slides or photographs — in many cases, standard photocopies will do — or write a brief description of any such materials.
Following are several Pilot departments that, if manuscript submissions are any indication, are very popular with contributors. It is not necessary to specify for which section of Pilot your submission is intended — and if you specify a section but the editors believe that your manuscript is better suited to another part of the magazine, we will consider it for use in that section, as well.
Because this is such a frequently asked question, some suggested lengths are offered here, although we are usually reluctant to state length requirements. Most of these lengths are flexible, so avoid the temptation to add extra words (or leave out essential details) in a quest for the perfect word count. In general, however, it is easier for us to cut material than to add it to someone else's story.
"Never Again" — For this department, we look for well-written manuscripts that detail a flight, a portion of a flight, or some other aircraft incident from which a lesson was learned. The significance of the lesson and its applicability to your fellow pilots are important. Use of the first person is often appropriate here. Ideal lengths run 1,000 to 1,500 words. You can submit a manuscript within the body text of an e-mail or as a Microsoft Word attachment to the following mailbox: firstname.lastname@example.org or to the mailing address under "Submission" below.
"Postcards" — This department features destinations that can be reached by general aviation aircraft. Sometimes, getting there is more than half the fun. Successful submissions will combine the journey to and the stay at the destination, with an emphasis on fun. Emphasis on aeronautical themes is usually preferred. Readers should come away from the story with a desire to make a similar trip themselves. The key here is to focus on a specific subject; a trip across the country in a general aviation aircraft cannot be documented in the suggested maximum of 2,000 words, but a flying vacation in the Idaho mountains could be. Depending upon your approach, use of the first person may be acceptable here — but avoid a monotonous travelogue ("We took off at 7:30 a.m. and made our first fuel stop three hours later at..."). Destinations and other travel-related material too short for a "Postcards" feature may be considered for "P.S.," an occasional postscript to "Postcards" that offers short descriptions of one or more destinations.
"Pilots" — These personality profiles, published on the magazine's last inside page, are intended to provide vignettes of the lives of men and women for whom general aviation has been a significant activity or who have made considerable, generally unrecognized contributions to GA. First person should be avoided. The ideal length is 400 words.
Features — Pretty much everything else. Feature articles generally run from 1,500 to 2,500 words.
AOPA Pilot prefers original 35 mm color transparencies (or larger), although high-quality color enlargements sometimes can be used if they are clear, sharp, and properly exposed. (If prints are accepted, the original negatives should be made available.) Slides should be sharp and properly exposed; slower-speed films (ISO 25 to ISO 100) generally provide the best results. We are not responsible for unsolicited original photographs; send duplicate slides and keep the original until we request it.
Avoid the distortion inherent in wide-angle lenses. Most of the photographs used in Pilot are made with lenses in the 85 mm to 135 mm focal length range. Frame the picture to the focal length rather than the other way around, and avoid the use of zoom lenses unless they are of professional optical quality.
Discourage subjects from looking directly at the camera (except, of course, in the case of a portrait); a photograph of two people preflighting an airplane against a dramatic mountain background will generally be preferred to the same two people standing in front of the airplane and grinning, Cheshire cat-like, at the camera. For portraits, best results are obtained with a short telephoto lens (105 mm is optimal for a 35 mm camera), a neutral or distant background, and the subject's face prominent in the frame. When taking photos from an airplane in flight, shoot through an open window if possible; otherwise, be particularly cautious of reflections in aircraft plexiglass.
For safety reasons, we do not encourage any contributors to engage in air-to-air photography. Formation flying can be risky when it is attempted by pilots who haven't received proper training. If air-to-air photography is required for an article, we generally prefer to send our staff photographer (and pilots) to the location.
Do not hire a photographer or incur photography expenses without specific instructions to do so from AOPA Pilot. The magazine will not reimburse photographic expenses unless it specifically authorized them in advance.
If you are unsure about an idea for an article, you may propose the article in a written query letter to AOPA Pilot, or you may call and discuss your idea with the executive editor. This may save you the time and effort of writing the article if it addresses a subject in which we have no current interest; on the other hand, we may be able to offer tips or suggestions that could make your article a better match to our readership.
If we are interested in an article that you propose through a query, we will not commission the manuscript. Instead, we will suggest that you send it to us "on spec" ("on speculation"). Upon submission, your article will go through our normal review process, at the conclusion of which a purchase decision will be made.
Submissions should be typewritten, double-spaced, and may be mailed, faxed, or e-mailed. Manuscripts may be submitted on computer diskette, but all such submissions should also include a printed copy. Our primary word processing software is Microsoft Word, although we can access computer files in most popular word-processing programs on both IBM-compatible and Macintosh personal computers. Submissions should be sent to AOPA Pilot, 421 Aviation Way, Frederick, Maryland 21701; fax 301/695-2180; e-mail email@example.com.
Be sure to include your name, address, telephone and/or fax numbers, and your AOPA member number with all submissions, but particularly with e-mailed and faxed manuscripts. You would be amazed by the number of manuscripts we receive that do not include this important information.
Simultaneous submissions — submissions of the same manuscript to two or more publications at the same time — are not accepted. Submit a manuscript to one publication at a time; wait for that publication to make a decision about the article; and then, if it is rejected, submit the material to another publication. AOPA Pilot will not purchase previously published manuscripts.
Unsolicited manuscripts are reviewed by all of the editors at our Frederick headquarters. After each editor has read a manuscript, a decision is made whether to purchase the article, send it back to the author for changes, or reject the piece. Because of magazine publication deadlines, trade shows, and travel required of our editors, we ask that you allow about 8 to 10 weeks for this process. This allows time for our editors to seriously consider every manuscript.
Keep in mind that the rejection of a manuscript is not a condemnation of your work. Few articles are rejected solely for poor content or quality of writing. Many more articles are rejected because they address a topic that we recently featured in Pilot, because we already have an article on a similar subject in house and ready for publication, or because they simply don't fit the magazine's current editorial needs.
Payment is made for articles when they are accepted for publication, even if no publication date has been scheduled. Before payment is made, the author must sign and return AOPA Pilot's standard contract. This contract grants AOPA Pilot first and exclusive one-time international rights to the manuscript, as well as a nonexclusive right to republish the article. This means that AOPA Pilot has the right to republish the article after it has been printed in the magazine, and may republish the article on AOPA Online (the AOPA Web site) or in another AOPA publication. Certain material, including some "Never Again" submissions, may be initially published on AOPA Online instead of in the magazine. In all cases our exclusive rights revert to the author 90 days after our first publication of the manuscript.