Freelance Authors are a respected and valued part of the editorial team at the SOS Publications Group. We pride ourselves in delivering quality, well-written articles that are factually correct, a stimulating read, and of genuine help to fellow readers of the magazine in question.
Although many of our published articles are written in-house, we do welcome all manner of external contributions, though our quality threshold is very high and only the best submissions ever make it onto the printed page.
How To Submit Your Work
These days we prefer articles to be sent to us via email, either as an attached ASCII text .txt file or Word *.doc file.
Stylistic & Presentation Guidelines
To assist any author wishing to submit an article for consideration, here are some useful style guidelines for you to follow.
The editorial staff generally invent witty (we hope) headers for reviews, techniques and features. While you don't have to do this before submitting an article, if you have an idea for a header, please feel free to include it. Example: "Tu-be or Not Tu-be" (valve versus solid-state amplifiers).
Again, we usually supply bold intro text for articles, but if you would like to have a go, we would welcome your ideas.
Every article needs crossheads, those small headers which divide the bodycopy of an article into manageable chunks and act as signposts around the review for readers. We would ask that everyone please provide them.
For a start, crossheads can make it easier for you to organise your material and help you to think logically. Secondly, if you don't provide them and we have to, it's sometimes hard for us to pinpoint when you have left one area of discussion and moved to another, so it can take a while for us to determine where to put the crossheads. If you incorporate them while writing, this makes more sense.
If no boxouts are provided with an article, we generally pull out a section or two of text to make boxes, for these add visual interest to the magazine pages. Boxouts are also helpful to the reader — they provide a nice side-alley to wander down; a boxout with an eye-catching header can also serve to lure the casual reader into the main body of the article.
Boxouts may also be used for parts of an article which are rather too small to work as a section in the main body, with its own crosshead, or for dull (but functional) listings of parameters or effects, for example. Boxouts are especially useful where they are used to provide background information which is not strictly essential for the purposes of the review, but is interesting to read anyway.
Boxouts are a very loose and personal thing, but they can really add interest to a piece. While the editorial staff will probably still continue to create boxouts from text that we are given, we would also be very happy to see all our writers build them into the fabric of their articles. Bear in mind, though, that you should not interrupt the flow of your article unduly when choosing boxouts — though it is acceptable to mention a feature and then refer to the boxout, for example: (see the XYZ box for more details on this).
One last thing with boxes: Please place them all at the end of your article, rather than scattering them around within the body text.
We have found that when someone starts to read a review of some gear, it really helps them to have a solid idea of what it is they are going to read about, before they read it. So, while it is fine to have a clever intro, what you must incorporate before going on to discuss a piece of equipment in detail is an overview of that item, mentioning at least some of its salient features.
For example, you might write: "The ZZ32 is a 32-note polyphonic PCM-based sound module, with 32-part multitimbrality and a PC/Mac interface. It offers half a megabyte of sample RAM as standard (upgradable to 4Mb) and supports SCSI sample dump via an optional upgrade."
Somewhere within the review, you should refer to the position in the market which the item under review occupies, and if possible include mentions of alternative models in the same price range; if you can, compare features across models ( eg. "The Sporg VO60 costs around 50 pounds more, but offers 64-note polyphony rather than 32." ).
You should also refer to the position of the review item in the manufacturer's range, if applicable. For example, in a review of a new sampler from Akai at the bottom of the Akai price range, you might observe that the new unit is the most affordable way to get into Akai sampling, while also mentioning that the Akai range also extends upwards to the S7000, by way of the 4000, 5000 and 6000 etc...). If the item you are reviewing comes from a new manufacturer, or from one that is new to the UK market, please get hold of and write up some background on that manufacturer (the UK distributor will almost certainly be able to help with this).
Reviews should be organised in any way that advances the appraisal logically and sensibly and does not jump randomly from feature to feature. Try to keep observations about a single aspect of a review item in one place (as far as possible without distorting the review). For example, it is nearly always possible and fruitful to gather together all the MIDI aspects of a piece of gear, say an effects unit, and deal with them together in one section rather than scattering them about.
Specification Box: Always include at least a brief specification box (culled from the owner's manual or brochure) and/or a features list, to enable readers who are just looking for the facts to gain access to them quickly and easily. Point out the "unique selling points" of the item, whenever possible — and say so, if there are none.
When reviewing any sound-making gear, please mention at least a few of your favourite sounds (perhaps in a boxout?); as well as giving readers a few things to try out when they go into their local music shop, this also conveys at least some idea of what can be expected from a given device. Likewise, in effects unit reviews, please devote at least a small section to some favourite (or well-programmed) effects patches. At least an abridged list of effect types can also be useful in an effects unit review (again, a boxout is ideal for this).
If you happen to make mention of previous Sound On Sound magazine reviews or features that the reader could usefully refer back to, perhaps a review of the last version of an item currently under review (and we do encourage you to do this!), please try to include the month and year the article appeared and its web URL, to help the reader find it easily. An index to past articles appears elsewhere on this web site to facilitate this.
Illustrations & Diagrams
If you feel it would help illustrate a point, please feel free to supply artwork from manuals with your reviews or technical features; alternatively (or additionally), if you have an idea for a diagram that would help readers to grasp a point — say, a sound structure, programming architecture, or FX block order — please suggest it to us (or, better still, send in a hand-drawn diagram scanned by you?); we can have a suitable diagram drawn up by our graphics staff if it will improve an article.
Sometimes we come across reviews where facts not already covered previously in the review are suddenly 'pulled out of the hat'. A conclusion should never contain new facts, but should instead be a summary of the salient points previously discussed. When you are summing up, you should be considering things like:
- Is it good value?
- How well does it do what it set out to do?
- Is it well designed and built?
- Does it break any new ground technically or in terms of price?
- Does it have any major omissions?
- What are its Unique Selling Points, if it has any?
Be fair and always bear in mind a product's selling price when making criticisms. A lack of some feature that constitutes a major omission on a unit costing thousands, which you would expect to cover all the bases, may be a minor niggle on an entry-level device costing 200 pounds.
If you criticise a product or feature, please be 100 percent sure of your facts. We have no problem with an author disliking something, but please back up your criticism with specifics. If you come across anything that looks like a major fault or design problem, we would expect you to contact the relevant product specialist or manufacturer and discuss it with them (if you are unsure of who you should talk to, call a member of the magazine's editorial staff and they will almost always give you a contact name within the company concerned). If you cannot resolve the problem speedily, contact us without delay so that we can help to deal with it.
Prices & Contact Details
While many of our writers already include UK (VAT-inclusive) retail price and distributor contact details at the end of their reviews, not all do. We would ask that all freelance authors please provide such information (with both address and telephone number, plus email and web site URL if known).
Apart from anything else, you will need to know the correct retail price in advance to do the review properly. Bear in mind that if the item you are reviewing is part of a system, whose other components you also mention (eg. a SCSI option for the ZZ32) you should also include prices for those components. Please ensure that prices you supply are valid in the UK and include Value Added Tax. If you are unable to obtain prices for some reason, after having tried, we will fill them in once we have received your article — so don't panic.
Pros & Cons
Always include two or three concise Pros, Cons and a brief Summary, for our little pros & cons box. One or two writers in the past have asked why they need to do a summary when they have already written a conclusion for the main body: well, it's because some people like to be able to look at the box instead of reading the review! To be frank, it is a "one-stop solution" for lazy readers! It also helps to sum things up neatly for those who have read the review.
In the past, we have occasionally had features submitted where the word count exceeds what we asked for, sometimes substantially, and where the writer has responded that he was unaware that the word count should include boxouts. Boxouts should always be included in your total word count. If we agree on 3500 words for an article, that means 3500 words (give or take 100-200 words) including boxouts. If an article is over-long or over-short, it may result in your submitted article being temporarily "held over" to another issue, to give the editorial staff a chance to sort out the problems.
If you are reviewing software, we will need to be provided with screenshots relevant to the review content. Also, please include caption text for your screens, as it is much easier for you to know how a screen should be captioned than for us to add our caption, not knowing the software as well as the reviewer. It would also help us if you could indicate roughly where in the text of the article you would prefer a screen to appear (eg. PLEASE INSERT FIG.1 Screen Here).
There's one last thing you can do for us: whenever you take screenshots, we really like it if you save them, wherever possible, with a filename on screen which includes the magazine name. For example: "SOS Test", "SOS Demo Song" or "SOS Sequence". This personalises the screens and makes it clear beyond a doubt to readers that the magazine really did test the software!
There are two main ways of writing an interview:
- question and answer, where we put the interviewer's question in bold or italic type and the interviewee's answer in normal type;
- through-written, where the author 'writes around' the subject, weaving background info and observation around quoted speech from the interviewee.
We prefer the latter style, but we can cope with either approach. What gives us a real problem is when an author mixes the two styles — some question and answer and some background writing. This means that we cannot embolden consistently and produces a rather patchy, unprofessional result. So please: choose one style and keep to that style, either question and answer or through-written. If you go for question and answer, you are allowed to write a text intro, by the way, then we'll go into the Q&A interview format immediately after that.
It is also desirable if you can finish an interview with a closing paragraph of your own words, tying up the feature nicely rather than just stopping abruptly. However, if you have a really killer quote from your interviewee to end on, you may want to use that (we wouldn't object!).
While retrospective articles about old equipment are very personal, there are one or two things we would appreciate being included.
- What price the item sold for on its launch...
- When it was first released...
- How it fits into history....
- What it is worth nowadays...
- How easily available it is?
- We always like to read subjective impressions of an instrument's sound character, and where (if anywhere) it is unique. If you can dredge up some mentions of famous users, or notable recordings the instrument was used on, that's great too.
Photographs of vintage instruments are often hard to get hold of, so any input from you would be appreciated. If you own the subject of a retro and we cannot obtain pictures through our own channels, it would help if you or a friend can shoot your own photos. You'll even be paid for each picture we publish.
Always read what we eventually print in the magazine, and take note of how it differs (if it does) from what you submitted. You would be amazed at how many respected writers never read what is printed, assuming that the original text they submitted was perfect and simply appeared in print "as is"!
These guidelines may seem tedious and difficult to follow, but if you can comply with what we need as regards the format and content of your articles, you are likely to see your written work in print more often. If we are continually having to re-work a freelance author's material, it becomes more difficult for us to justify using them on a regular basis.
At the end of the day, producing a magazine is very much a team effort. We are not the most respected music/audio magazine publishers globally for nothing, and your contribution plays a large part in this success.
Everyone at the SOS Publications Group thanks you for your effort and expertise, and the time spent in reading and observing these guidelines. Feel free to contact the editorial team if anything here requires further clarification.
Tel: +44 (0)1954 789888
Compiled by Debbie Poyser, Matt Bell & Derek Johnson