There used to be a wonderful newpaper for sale in the supermarket checkout line, a paper called Weekly World News. I didn’t read it as often as I should have (I never actually read it), but now I miss it. The newspaper was famous for reporting on the activities of Bat Boy, a humanoid who was half bat, but the best story I was aware of concerned Russian scientists. According to the article, the Russian team drilled a hole so deep they drilled through the ceiling of Hell. Wait, it gets better. Then the scientists lowered a microphone on a very long cord down the hole and recorded the screams of the damned.
The glory days of journalism are over.
We still have supermarket magazines, however. When I’m trapped in the supermarket line, once a week at least, I observe my fellow inmates, I note what sorts of food items are assumed to be impulse items (mostly just candy, but occasionally something odd, like snacks made of dried vegetables). If I do look at a magazine, personally I prefer to read recipes or look at pictures of gardens, but of course I’ve seen the plethora of supermarket magazines that wallow, screaming happily, in the incredibly vacuous trivia of American culture.
And that’s cool, huh?
So as a public service, and as a former writing teacher, I’m offering some guidelines on how to write for supermarket magazines, in case you get lucky and get a job with one. You don’t have to thank me. It’s OK.
1) Rule number one should be a philosophical consideration that underlies all the other rules. Your basic approach should be to think about what people who are existentially bored by their own existence need to distract them from the tedium of being on the planet. Until you gain more experience, here’s a useful hint: approach your task with the attitude of excited 13-year-olds titillated by the discovery that people have SEX! If you can maintain a stunned tone of excitement about this commonality, you may have a career ahead of you. With practice, you can work up to headlines about the side effects of sex—“Nickie to Ryan: I’m Having This Baby!”
2) The headline just referenced illustrates rule number two. Always refer to everyone only by their first name. If you’re talking about someone so unfamous that even your readers realize how stupid the rule is, then you shouldn’t be writing about that person in the first place. Using only first names, in spite of obvious awkwardness, allows readers the illusion that they are intimately familiar with these people whose lives they’re attempting to experience vicariously.
3) This is a variation of rule #1. Stay focused on the private life of people who are famous, or who you are pretending are famous (see rule #2). Occasionally, when you feel a need to write about something other than sex, try to write about things that normal people would not talk about with strangers—drug addiction, difficulty in losing weight, plastic surgery, the screaming fight they had when drunk after leaving the restaurant and just before wrecking the limo.
4) This is only a punctuation rule, but it is very imporant. Use exclamation points! This cannot be stressed enough! Literally every headline needs an exclamation point. People who are inherently bored by being alive (i.e. your readers) need all the help they can get to pretend they are interested in what is in front of them. After all, Ashton and Demi Are Splitting!
Rules 1-4 apply to magazines like People. There is a second class of supermarket magazines, aimed at women as “serious readers”, such as Woman’s Day. The next two rules apply to this category.
5) Make sure you include 23 ways to use lemons when cleaning the house. Actually, the rule is just that you include numbers in your headlines. Use at least four numbers on every magazine cover, and since the numbers themselves don’t matter, mix them up. 109, 18, 7, 65. Use your imagination. 65 Quick Christmas Cookies.
6) For this same type of women’s magazine, every cover—pay attention here, every cover—must include a headline for two types of article. First, there must be an article about some method of losing weight, and secondly, there must be an article with a really yummy recipe (including a cover photo is even better). If you’re thinking “Wait a minute, isn’t that kind of schizophrenic, a yummy recipe plus an article on losing weight?”—welcome to America.
I wish you luck with this, and write if you find work.