Writing for Sky & Telescope

Sky & Telescope is the premier showcase for lively, authoritative, and well-illustrated information about the science and hobby of astronomy. The magazine also serves as a major avenue of communication between amateur and professional astronomers worldwide. We encourage you to consider Sky & Telescope when you want your ideas to reach the widest possible audience of interested readers.

Our Readers

When you write for Sky & Telescope, you're writing for a global readership of more than 100,000 subscribers, newsstand buyers, and others who peruse the magazine in libraries, schools, or their friends' homes. These enthusiasts run the gamut from armchair astronomers to professional astrophysicists. Most, however, are amateur astronomers — people from all walks of life who love the night sky and want to learn everything they can about it.

The majority of readers are intermediate or advanced amateurs. These are active hobbyists who are knowledgeable, own one or more telescopes, and observe the heavens frequently. About 75% of our readers live in North America; the other 25% are scattered among more than 100 countries around the globe. Thus, when writing for Sky & Telescope, it is important to keep in mind that a significant fraction of readers may speak and read English as a second language.

Our Writers

About half the material in each monthly issue of Sky & Telescope is written by our editors and regular contributors. The rest is authored by science journalists, research astronomers, historians, and accomplished amateur astronomers from all nations and diverse cultures. Many authors write for us again and again, but we're always looking for new writers eager to share their enthusiasm, talent, and expertise with our readers.

What to Write About

Feature articles in Sky & Telescope generally run from about 1,000 to 2,400 words and cover a wide array of topics, including:

  • Important new advances or current problems in astronomy and related fields of research
  • Observing projects
  • How to maximize the performance of telescopes and other equipment
  • How to take and process great astrophotos
  • Relate the stories of key figures and events in astronomical history
  • Explore the capabilities of new ground- and space-based observatories.

Sky & Telescope occasionally accepts outside-written articles for our Explore the Solar System and Going Deep departments. Sky & Telescope runs one Focal Point essay per issue, which features articles on contemporary issues in astronomy. These articles do not exceed 550 words.

Our monthly Gallery is a showcase for amateurs' finest astrophotos and digital images; see our separate guidelines for Gallery contributors. We also welcome letters to the editor, news releases from individual researchers and their institutions, and announcements of new products or services for astronomers; see our separate instructions for these contributions.

What Not to Write About

Sky & Telescope publishes comprehensive reviews of telescopes and other astronomical equipment in S&T Test Report. Such articles are usually commissioned by the editors; we do not solicit, and only rarely accept, proposals from authors seeking to write reviews. We do, however, actively encourage suggestions from readers as to which products they'd like to see reviewed in our pages.

You'll hardly ever see a poem in Sky & Telescope, unless one happens to be included in an article to which it's relevant; we just don't have enough room. Also, while we do publish articles about space astronomy and planetary exploration, we don't cover other types of space missions or the aerospace industry more generally. We also do not publish articles involving claims of great new discoveries that have not yet been published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature.

Next Page: Read more about proposing and writing your article.

Proposing and Writing Your Article

Because of the finite number of editorial pages in Sky & Telescope and the large number of people who want to contribute to the magazine, we can only publish a small percentage of unsolicited material. Before starting work on an article, we strongly recommend that you should send a 1- or 2-page query letter to Sky & Telescope's editor in chief, Robert Naeye, providing a summary or outline. The query should describe what the article will be about, why it would be of interest to Sky & Telescope readers, what kind of images or illustrations could run with the article, and why you are qualified to write the article. We encourage you to read articles on similar topics that have appeared in recent issues of Sky & Telescope to make sure that we have not covered your topic in the past few years.

If you've already drafted a manuscript, go ahead and send it. If you intend for it to appear in a specific issue, say which one; but it’s crucial to note that we work about four months in advance, e.g., material for the September issue is prepared in May, and should be submitted by March or April. Our editors will review your letter or manuscript to determine its suitability for the magazine and to check that there are no prior commitments for a similar article.

In your letter, please provide as much contact information as you can: mailing address, e-mail address, and more than one telephone number. Within a few weeks of receiving your proposal, we'll let you know whether we want to publish your article. If you've sent us a manuscript already, we'll indicate whether we want you to make any revisions to it. Once we've agreed on any deadline, payment, and other terms, we'll send you our standard Publishing Agreement, which you must sign and return before we can publish your article.

Since articles are bylined, please indicate precisely how you wish your name to be presented; also, give your professional affiliation, if any. Since we are now publishing author photos with many of our feature articles, please send a high-quality recent photo of yourself that you would feel comfortable being published in the magazine. Finally, for yourself and any coauthors, include a 2- or 3-sentence biography indicating areas of research, interest, expertise, or published books.

Please supply an electronic copy of your manuscript, preferably a Microsoft Word file or a plain text file.

In Sky & Telescope, images and illustrations are as important as text and usually occupy about half the space devoted to each article. Thus it is crucial that you supply high-quality pictures and diagrams with your manuscript or, at the very least, detailed suggestions as to how you think we should illustrate your article and where we can obtain the appropriate materials. If you do plan to supply us with images yourself, please consult our guidelines for photographers. Note that graphic materials will be returned to you only if you specifically request it.

Be sure to keep a copy of your manuscript and any other materials you send us to guard against loss or other mishap.

Editing and Publishing Your Article

Sky & Telescope's editors take great pains to ensure that all the text we publish is clear, concise, engaging, and both grammatically and factually correct. If you want your manuscript to survive the editing process relatively unscathed, you'll take great pains to write it that way. Among other things, you should

  • Never submit a rough draft, only a polished one
  • Capture the interest of readers and draw them into the article in the first 3 to 5 paragraphs, which should be written in conversational language
  • Favor the active voice (astronomers discovered planet) over the passive voice (a planet was discovered by astronomers)
  • Favor active verbs, and avoid the overuse of "is," "are," and all other incarnations of “to be” (the most boring verb in the English language)
  • Write short sentences and paragraphs, try to keep the tone as conversational as possible
  • Avoid jargon, technobabble, and undefined terms, but don’t be afraid to use numbers when appropriate.
  • Don’t bog down the narrative with the excessive use of peoples’ names and institutions (readers won’t remember them)
  • Use analogies from everyday life to explain complex ideas
  • Feel free to inject your personality and humor; try to have fun writing the article
  • Double-check your spelling and grammar
  • Verify all your facts, both big and small.

Every article is assigned to a lead editor; once the assignment has been made, this editor will be your primary contact throughout the remainder of the editorial process. Edited text is usually sent to authors for approval. Any corrections or other changes must be returned promptly, along with the signed Publishing Agreement if you haven't yet sent it back.

We try to publish articles as promptly as possible, but there is always a backlog of deserving material, so sometimes there can be a significant lag between acceptance and publication. If you have any questions or concerns, contact your assigned editor for a status report.

Some Final Points

Upon an article's publication, the author is sent two copies of the issue in which it appears; this applies even for small items such as letters to the editor. For reprints in quantities of 100 or more, contact Dominic Taormina (+1 617-864-7360 x2164). We also offer the alternative of a special rate to authors for extra copies of Sky & Telescope. If you anticipate ordering more than about 50 copies of the magazine, please inform us when you approve the edited text.

We pay for most articles upon publication; your editor will discuss rates with you when preparing the Publishing Agreement. We generally do not pay extra for long-distance telephone charges and other incidental expenses incurred while preparing an article; if you anticipate unusually high article-related costs you must get our approval in advance to be reimbursed for them.

We also pay for the use of certain paintings, cartoons, photographs, and other illustrations. For these you may be referred to our art director to discuss rates.

An article proposal and/or manuscript submitted to Sky & Telescope should not be submitted to another publication until we expressly say that we are unable to use it. Magazines prefer their contents to be unique and original.

If you have any questions not answered by this guide, please contact us. Thanks for your interest in Sky & Telescope!

Robert Naeye
Editor in Chief
+1 617-864-7360, ext. 2144
rnaeye@SkyandTelescope.com
Sky Publishing
90 Sherman St.
Cambridge, MA 02140, USA
Fax: +1 617-864-6117