Model Railroader Magazine Contributor Guidelines

Contributor Guidelines

By Angela Cotey | October 20, 2020

| Last updated on October 25, 2023

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Thanks for your interest in contributing to Model Railroader.

Before you submit any article, please write us a short letter (address below) or email us ( your inquiry describing what you want to do. We can then tell you if it fits our needs; this may save you from working on something we won’t be able to use.

For layout stories, please include cell phone “snaps” so we can get an idea of your layout. We publish articles on all aspects of model railroading and on prototype (real) railroading as a subject for modeling.

Here’s a general list of our requirements:

Present your subject simply and directly in plain English. Keep it brief — most of our articles are one-third text and two-thirds photos or illustrations. If you are writing about a how-to project, first introduce the project, then start with the first step, and work your way toward the end. It is important that you don’t jump around. If you are submitting a story about your layout, please introduce the layout and its concept, and then describe interesting aspects of its benchwork, roadbed, track, wiring, scenery, structures, trains, and operation. We prefer text in Microsoft Word but will accept other types of files. Please save your text file or files to a flash drive and mail the flash drive to us. You must also include a paper printout of the text. Unless arrangements are made in advance, we do not accept manuscripts by e-mail.

We prefer digital photos. You will need a camera that can produce images when sized to 300 dots per inch are 8 by 10 inches or larger (300 dots per inch is a requirement for printing on magazine paper). Please read our digital photo guidelines for further explanation.

Digital photos should be sent on a flash drive with a paper printout of a contact sheet. Be sure to label the flash drive with your name and title of the article. Should you desire to upload your photos to our FTP site, go here. Please do not send digital photos for publication as e-mail attachments. You can send cellphone “snaps” as part of an article inquiry.

Be sure to include a caption for every photo. The captions can be included at the end of your text story. Be sure to label the photos and captions so we are able to match them up correctly.

If you feel you need to place your photos within a text document to better present your story, please also send us your photos and text separately as individual files since we ultimately will need them as separate files.

Are you new to digital photography or to photographing a model railroad? Even if you’ve taken model train photos before, you’ll want to check out Brooks Stover’s handy, easy-to-follow guide to taking photos of a model railroad. Brooks has contributed several articles to Model Railroader magazine and is a National Model Railroad Association Master Model Railroader. Follow the link to get this free download.

Drawings and track plans

Clean, neat pencil drawings are fine for how-to illustrations, electrical schematics, track plans, and maps. These will be redrawn by our art staff for publication. Track plans should be drawn to a scale and curves and turnouts must be accurately depicted. If you are a draftsman and want to contribute prototype drawings, write or call for information on our style and standards.

How-to article checklist

The how-to article you send to Model Railroader should include the following items:


Tell how you did the project (or tell the reader how to do it) in simple, clear, and direct language. Keep it as brief as possible — most Model Railroader stories are no longer than six magazine pages. Use photos and drawings extensively, and put details, dimensions, and part numbers in the illustrations. Use active description or instruction, such as “I painted the roof black” or “Paint the roof black,” and avoid the passive, “The roof was painted black.”

Lead photograph

Show the model or project at its best to get the reader’s attention and encourage him to read and follow the article. Usually it’s best to show the subject of the article in a finished model scene, with the photo composed so the article subject is the dominant element. Alternately, show the subject against a plain, untextured backdrop of a neutral color — seamless photo backdrop paper is ideal.

How-to illustrations

Use drawings and photos to show the project under construction. Number each as a figure (i.e., fig. 3) and refer to them by the corresponding number in the text. Neat, legible pencil drawings are adequate, as our art staff will prepare finished drawings for publication. These drawings need not be to scale unless scale is important, as with exact-size templates. How-to photos should generally be taken against plain, neutral-colored backgrounds. Avoid using your workbench tabletop surface or a cutting board as the background since often they can look distracting in close-up photos. You may include photo callouts — labels with pointers. If a how-to photo requires labels with pointers, but please hand draw them on a paper printout of your photo. Do not embed them directly to the image files.

Provide a detailed list of items needed to build the project. Include manufacturers’ names, part numbers, part names or descriptions, and quantities required. Be sure your information is current. Explain if the reader will have to substitute for items that are no longer available. If you doubt that the reader will know where to find some item, include the manufacturer’s address. We rarely purchase stories that require out-of-production kits or parts.

Use photos and/or drawings to show the reader the prototype you followed. Photos may be color, black-and-white, or both. If you did not take the photo personally, you must provide written permission from the owner of the photograph in order for us to use it with your story in Model Railroader. Usually the original photographer or the publisher of a book in which the photo appears owns the copyright.

Send everything for one article at one time, if possible all in one package, and with your name and address on every item. Address your package “TO THE EDITOR, MODEL RAILROADER MAGAZINE,” and mark it “MANUSCRIPT ENCLOSED.” We’ll send you a card acknowledging receipt of your article, and our goal is to review it and contact you no later than 60 days from the receipt of the article. Manuscripts are reviews by the Model Railroader staff members. We’ll return articles that we can’t use if you include return postage.

Mail your manuscript to:

21027 Crossroads Circle
P.O. Box 1612
Waukesha, WI 53187-1612

If we can use your article, we’ll send you a contract to purchase the article and we will pay once we have received a signed copy of the contract rather than waiting until the article actually appears in Model Railroader. Our rate is between $75-$100 per printed page in Model Railroader, depending on the content expertise. That rate includes drawings and photos. Our standard acceptance agreement specifies that Kalmbach Publishing Co. is buying all rights to publish the article. Contact us to arrange a different rights contract.

The soonest an article can appear in Model Railroader is six months after acceptance; but it’s usually longer and may be a year or more. Our staff starts work on issues six months in advance of the cover date. The length of time between your submission and its publication is largely dependent on the number of manuscripts we receive each month and the topics covered by those manuscripts. When we receive other worthwhile manuscripts on similar topics during the same time period we have to pace articles appropriately, which can add months to the time it takes for a story to be published. Our initial payment will be based on a page estimate, and we’ll make an additional payment upon publication if the article exceeds our estimate.

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