"History is a strong seller and offers a great way to break into magazine and book writing."
American author Sean McLachlan states that local history offers only a small market for writers, but state history "flies off the shelves" (http://www.writing-world.com/freelance/history.shtml).
While military history is of interest to Americans, it depends on the war: the Civil War and World War II attract the most attention. Important historical figures are a popular topic; however, if you're going to write about one, find a new angle. For instance, rather than writing about the explorer Sir John Franklin, write about his ship which was just discovered at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean.
Use primary sources (letters, diaries and documents) as much as possible. For example, who knew that the city of St. Louis, Missouri was planned by a 14 year old boy? Sean McLachlan says that such odd facts add "zest to narrative and are remembered long after most of the names and dates have faded from [the reader's] mind".
What topics should you write about? Choose subjects that you are passionate about, but at the same time are broad enough to be examined from different angles. For example, Sean McLachlan decided to write about the state of Missouri for Missouri Life magazine. He started with the state's general history; followed by a collection of tales for young adults; next came a book about outlaws; then he wrote about Civil War guerrillas; he based his next novel in Missouri. He derived at least five major writing projects out of one subject.
Look for spin-offs for your initial writing project. How can you make use of your surplus material after you've written an article? Maybe you can write another article. Perhaps you have enough material to write a book. Or how about an article to promote the book?
Make sure you exhaust all potential resources for you article. Visit your local library or university library. Request material through inter-library loan. Visit local historical societies. Read widely to learn what has already been covered on the subject, what sources are reputable, and who is publishing on the subject. During his research about Missouri, Sean McLachlan learned that Carolyn Bartels is the Civil War Book Lady.
Build off your magazine reputation. Writer Lise Hull wrote a piece about castles for Ninnau , a North American Welsh newspaper. This article led to the first of many book contracts about the British Isles and castles. Now publishers are approaching her.
Be aware of controversy surrounding certain subjects ex. Islamic history, labour history. Make sure you back up your opinion with solid research.
Note: For an example of a historical article read Linda Ward's "Africville: The Lost Town" at http://hrsbstaff.ednet.ns.ca/waymac/African%20Canadian%20Studies/Unit%208.%20Afro-Canada/africville.htm.
Here are five possible websites to peruse if you are considering submitting a query for an article:
1. Smithsonian Magazine
The following columns are open to freelancers: Phenomena & Curiosities (science & nature); Points of Interest (Americana); Presence of Mind (opinion essay). Features are up to 4000 words.
2. American Heritage
This magazine promotes American history ex. prominent figures, military, technology, entertainment, culture. Features are a maximum of 6000 words.
3. Canada's History (formerly The Beaver)
Recent articles include: "John McCrae's War", "Freeing the Netherlands", and "Viola Desmond: An Unlikely Crusader".
4. Canadian Historical Review
This periodical features stories about: Native-European contact, society & war, Canadian and Quebec nationalism, class and gender.
5. BBC History Magazine
Recent articles include: "9 Things You Might Not Know about Anne Frank", "5 Strange Causes of Death in the Medieval Period", and "6 Myths about Richard III".
6. British Heritage
Recent articles include: "C.S. Lewis: The Lion in Oxford", "Join Pilgrims on the Mayflower Trail", and "King David's Border Abbeys: The Architecture of these Great Scottish Churches"