Back in 1993, WIRED’s founders published a manifesto offering some guidance. “Our first instruction to our writers: Amaze us … tell us something we’ve never heard before, in a way we’ve never seen before. If it challenges our assumptions, so much the better.”
All these years later, that still sounds pretty good to us, if incomplete. We want to encourage a broad set of writers to amaze and challenge us. So here’s a more transparent look at how we assess and assign stories.
What makes a story WIRED?
WIRED is a publication about change—about the ways science and technology are reshaping the world and what it means to be human. While the subjects of WIRED stories run the gamut from deep dives into the biggest tech companies to Hindu extremism to space food to true crime, every story has technology, science, or innovation as one of its key variables.
The science fiction author William Gibson supposedly once said that the future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed. WIRED stories are often about those places where the future seems to be welling up in the present. We are always on the hunt for faint signals of change that have the potential to become strong signals later.
What kinds of stories does WIRED assign to freelancers?
There are three main areas where we assign stories to contributors from outside our staff: Longform print features, longform online features (for the Backchannel section of our site), and online essays (for our Ideas section). We also assign a smaller number of freelance stories for our business, science, and service sections.
How do I pitch an essay for the Ideas section?
The Ideas section takes pitches for reported or personal essays, analysis, criticism, and commentary on any WIRED-related topic. Finished pieces tend to be in the range of 1,000 to 1,500 words. It’s helpful—but not strictly necessary—to include a line or two at the top of a pitch explaining how your idea relates to current news or trends in technology or science. Ideas pieces are not news articles: We’re more interested in your thoughts and arguments than quoted experts. Here are a few examples from the section.
Send your pitches to the Ideas section editor, Daniel Engber.
What are basic guidelines for longform feature pitches?
The vast majority of the features we publish are narratives. Which is to say, for best results pitch us a tale you’re going to tell, not a topic you want to explore. What central chronology are you going to reconstruct? Who are your main characters? What scenes are we going to be able to see? You don’t have to know the full narrative arc of your story when you pitch, but you should be able to give some indication that it’s going to be a satisfying one. Also be able to convey your tale’s larger implication or importance.
WIRED does occasionally publish feature-length essays, but there, too, we’re looking for a focused throughline, not just an exploration of a topic. What argument are you making, and what evidence will you muster for it? Or: What’s the core example (or two, or three) that will animate the idea you’re hoping to get across?
For any feature pitch, give us a sentence or two about the sort of work you’ve done, and please include links to other stories, especially longform narrative pieces.
How long should my pitch be?
A pitch needs to have enough detail to intrigue us, but not TMI. For a feature, 500–600 words is a good range. For Ideas, 200–300.
What’s the difference between a longform story that runs in print and one that runs online only?
The print edition of WIRED comes out 10 times a year, which means we run only about 40 to 50 feature stories a year. That’s not many!