Every freelance writer wants their piece to end up in the "well." And every freelance writer needs to know what the "well" is and where to find it. The "well" is the section of a magazine, usually the middle, that contains the magazine's feature story. It is where the longest piece of the magazine is found, whether it's a consumer magazine or a trade magazine. Having a piece in the "well" is a coup for a freelance writer and goes far to secure further assignments at that magazine or a magazine of the same genre. A "well" story is a big deal and needs to be taken seriously. When a writer is tapped for a "well" story they are being asked to produce high-equal journalism.
What's in the Well
In addition to "well" pieces being long, they are generally in that section of the magazine with less advertising and therefore they count as prime real estate for writers. The "well" is traditionally one of four sections in a magazine. The others are the middle, the front (referred to in the business as front-of-book), the back (referred to as back-of-book), and the cover story which is often synonymous with the feature or "well" story.
Some magazines, such as Vanity Fair, are known for their lengthy, in-depth middle-of-book "well" stories that focus on in-the-news trend stories. Others, like the prestigious New Yorker Magazine, carry original works of fiction.
Every magazine is different. For example, House Beautiful's "well" section will have a three-to-four page feature story on a home decorator who designed a brightly-colored home (for the spring issue) with photos of their work. House Beautiful's front-of-book will have a page filled with over a dozen home accessories (e.g., pillows, plates, mirrors) all in a hot pink color perfect for spring. A literary magazine, like Harper's, on the other hand, will have a "well" story containing fiction by a famous writer (such as Joyce Carol Oates) but Harper's "well" also has work by lesser-known writers.
Freelance writers should not shy away from magazines perceived to be inappropriate for the topic at hand. Vogue magazine may be the most famous fashion magazine but Vogue is known to have feature "well" stories on issues appropriate to women such as advances in breast cancer detection. Even local trade outlets like Crain's New York Business hold the opportunity for freelance writers with a "well" section featuring longer pieces on the hot new business in town or emerging on-trend neighborhood.
The most important thing for a freelance writer is to thoroughly research the magazine beforehand. If the writer looks at the last three "well" stories they'll get a good sense of the length and style required. And remember, freelance writers can either be generalists or choose a genre (such as men's health or gardening) but all writers need to develop good contacts and relationships with those making the assignments.