Sunset editorial guidelines

Freelance Garden Writers

Sunset is Western America's largest-circulation regional magazine, with monthly issues devoted to four subject areas: travel and recreation; gardening and outdoor living; food and entertaining; and home design and decorating.

Sunset is looking for thoroughly researched, well-written stories and ideas for home gardening projects that can be successfully accomplished in a day or over a weekend or growing season.

Submission Procedures: No responsibility is assumed for unsolicited manuscripts. Writers must submit a query letter to the editor in advance.

The query letter should explain and outline the proposed story idea, and suggest an appropriate month or season and the intended edition. Snapshots showing gardens or plants may be submitted with the query letter; include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for their return. Send your query to garden@sunset.com or to Editorial Services, Sunset, 80 Willow Rd., Menlo Park, CA 94025. It will be forwarded to the appropriate editor.

Once an editor approves an idea, the writer will be issued a Story Contract assigning an approximate word length and due date for the text. The contract specifies the terms of the agreement between the writer and Sunset Publishing Corporation.

Writers must have computer capabilities to submit stories by e-mail. The assigned text should be submitted with the resource material specified in the contract.

Following submission of the text, the writer may be asked to revise the manuscript for publication or to supply further information or answer questions posed by the editor.

Payment will be made upon acceptance of the text with submission of an invoice in the amount specified in the contract.

After acceptance, the text will then be processed by staff copy editors and fact checkers. Writers will be credited with a byline if the manuscript is not substantially altered before publication in Sunset Magazine.

Word Length: One-page stories usually run from 450 to 500 words, depending on the number of color photographs or illustrations such as charts or drawings.

Shorter items run from 150 to 300 words.

Take-action Magazine: Sunset is not an armchair magazine. While each item or story ought to be interesting to read, it must also take a how-to approach so that readers can use the information to duplicate the activity in their own home gardens.

Climate Zones: In the West, the kinds of gardening people do, and the seasons in which they garden, are determined by the climate and topography of the area in which they live. The Sunset Western Garden Book identifies 24 different plant climate zones in the West, and it is to these zones (not USDA zones) that stories in Sunset Magazine refer.

These climate zones dictate different planting times, gardening seasons of varying lengths, and, in most cases, different plants. For this reason, Sunset's Garden Guide items and many of the garden stories are published in regional editions.

Regional Editions: Garden Guide items are tailored to meet the home gardening needs of readers of Sunset's five regional editions: Northern California; Southern California (Santa Barbara to San Diego; also Hawaii); Pacific Northwest (Alaska, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia); Southwest (Arizona, New Mexico, Clark County, Nevada/Las Vegas) and West Texas (Amarillo to El Paso); Mountain (Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada except Clark County, Utah, and Wyoming).

Seasonality: Sunset times the publication of its garden stories to coincide with the periods during which plants are planted, in bloom, or ready for harvest.

Plant Availability: Every plant Sunset describes must be readily available in nurseries or from mail-order suppliers of plants or seeds. For plants not commonly available, be sure to list sources, including complete mailing addresses, telephone numbers, and prices for plants or seeds.

Accuracy: Sunset is proud of its reputation for accuracy and dependability. Writers are urged to verify their information by consulting with several expert sources such as botanists, horticulturists, Certified Nurserymen, extension agents, commercial growers, Master Gardeners, and landscape architects and designers. Writers are also urged to check botanical and common names for plants as listed in The Sunset Western Garden Book or another widely respected reference such as Hortus Third.

Style: Write as if you were giving gardening guidance to a friend or family member visiting your backyard. Writers may want to address the reader in the familiar (you) form. Begin with an arresting lead that clearly establishes a reason for reading on. The tone should be active and friendly; informative but not intimidating.

Straight Facts: Basic gardening facts are essential: plant form and size; leaf color and shape; flower color, shape, size, and scent; fruit or vegetable size, flavor, and texture. Give clear directions for planting, fertilizing, harvesting, pruning, etc.

Popular Topics

PLANTS: Flowering plants (annuals, bulbs, perennials); landscape plants (deciduous and evergreen trees, shrubs, vines, ground covers, ornamental grasses); fruits (berries, citrus, grapes, nuts, pome and stone fruits); vegetables and herbs. Emphasis is on what's new, rediscovered, or otherwise noteworthy.

GARDENS: Borders (mixed and formal); containers (pots, hanging baskets, window boxes); country-style (informal or old-fashioned Western look); raised beds; small spaces (narrow yards, rooftops); specialty gardens (antique roses, cooks' gardens, herbs, native plants, rock gardens, wildflowers).

LANDSCAPING: Drought-tolerant landscapes; garden remodels; outdoor "rooms" (spaces defined by plants, decks); privacy screens using plants; steep-slope landscaping solutions; water features (ponds). Timeliness is important: for example, a story on landscaping in fire-prone areas of California might be most appropriate for summer when there is the greatest chance of wildfires.

INDOOR GARDENING: Houseplant care, culture, and display; greenhouses, lighting techniques.

TIPS AND TECHNIQUES: Sunset looks for new and better solutions for familiar gardening problems, including soil preparation, planting, transplanting, propagation (cuttings, grafting), irrigation, mulching, fertilizing, harvesting, composting, pruning, plant disease and pest control using environmentally safe methods, lawn care, and flower arrangement (fresh and dry).

PHOTOGRAPHY: Writers are encouraged to submit the names of prospective sources of color photographs (35mm or medium-format transparencies preferred) to illustrate stories. However, Sunset will arrange for all photo submissions and/or assignments to photographers.

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