Editor’s note: this is a guest post by fellow Top Ten Blogger Linda Formichelli of The Renegade Writer.
I know, I know–you look at the title of this post and say, “Why the heck would I want to write magazine articles? I am an artist–I care about the craft of writing, not the business of writing.” But hear me out. Writing articles can:
- Let you earn money while you’re working on your fiction. You have to pay the bills somehow, right? It may as well be by writing something, even if it’s not fiction, rather than working at some stopgap job to pay the rent until your novel earns royalties.
- Help you hone your craft. A magazine writer has to learn to write in various magazines’ styles, much the same way you need to switch styles when writing different types of fiction or when writing from the viewpoint of different characters. Any magazine writing you can do will be valuable experience that will help make your fiction stronger.
- Give you perspective on your work. Last week I wrote a guest post for Victoria A. Mixon on how and why to divorce yourself from your work. When you write for magazines, you will get edited — and you’ll learn to get used to it and act like a professional when an editor suggests changes to your fiction (which is also guaranteed to happen).
So now that I’ve convinced you, how can you get started? Here are the steps:
1. Get the Idea
You can find ideas for magazine articles everywhere. I have an article in Writer’s Digest magazine this month on how to “steal” ideas from books, press releases, government reports, other magazines, newspapers, and your own writing. Also, keep your ears open for what your friends are talking about. Is there something bugging them that you could solve in an article? Finally, become a voracious reader of magazines. What kinds of articles do your favorite magazines run?
Keep in mind that most magazines work three to six months in advance, so the time to pitch Christmas stories is in June, not November. Remember this lead time when you’re brainstorming.
2. Find a Home for It
Some writers brainstorm ideas with particular magazines in mind, and others (like me) brainstorm ideas constantly and then look for magazines that may want to publish them. Both ways are fine and it’s a matter of personal preference.
When you’re looking for magazines to send your ideas to, go beyond the newsstands, which have only a small fraction of the thousands of magazines out there. Check out Writer’s Market, use Yahoo’s Magazine Directory, Google your topic plus “magazine,” look at the publications in your doctor’s office and hairdresser’s waiting room, and keep an eye out for the mags you get in the mail from the businesses you frequent. Many magazines also have websites that have separate content, and of course many websites run articles from freelancers as well.
Once you find a likely suspect, read some back issues if you can to get an idea of what the magazine runs and how they format their articles. Look at the ads: Do the ads target moms, wealthy people, budget shoppers, health-conscious men? This will tell you if your idea is a good fit.
When you have your target magazines chosen, find out the name and e-mail address of the editor who handles freelance submissions for the department your article would best fit into. The best way to do this is to call the magazine. Mastheads (the section in the front of the magazine that lists the editors) are often out of date, magazines’ writer’s guidelines (which are available on some magazines’ websites) are there mainly to discourage newbies, and even Writer’s Market becomes outdated quickly. If you’re afraid to pick up the phone, call the publication after hours and use the dial-by-name directory to check that the editor from the masthead is still at the magazine.
3. Shoot the Query
To pitch an idea to a magazine, you’ll need to write a query letter–a kind of sales letter that sells the editor on you and your idea. I won’t get into the mechanics of writing a query because there are entire books written on it–like the book I co-authored, The Renegade Writer’s Query Letters That Rock–and e-courses like my 8-week Write for Magazines class.
In short, though, you need to start with a lede (yes, that’s spelled right–it’s an article beginning) that reflects how the magazine typically starts its articles, tell the editor what your idea is and how you plan to flesh it out, and end with a paragraph on your credentials to write the piece–whether it’s personal experience in the topic or previously published stories or articles. I also like to interview two or three experts quickly and include a few quotes in the query to help bolster my idea and show the editor that I know how to find good interviewees and how to get good quotes.
4. Send It Off
Once you have your query done, you can e-mail it to the appropriate editor at your target magazine. Keep in mind that some editors, especially at national magazines, take a long time to reply, so be patient–and follow-up if you don’t hear back in a few weeks. And especially when you’re starting out and editors don’t know you from Adam, do send your query to several different magazines at once (tweaking where necessary to make it fit each magazine). As I said, editors can take forever to reply, and if you send it to one at a time and wait for a rejection before sending your idea on to the next pub, it could take a year to sell your idea.
5. Do It Again
Take it from me: You will get rejected. But you need to get up, brush yourself off, and keep trying. Eventually, you’ll score a magazine article assignment. Persistence is one of the most important traits of a successful freelance writer.
Linda Formichelli has written for more than 130 magazines since 1997, including Health, Redbook, USA Weekend, Woman’s Day, Writer’s Digest, and WebMD. She’s the co-author of The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success and runs the Renegade Writer Blog. Linda offers an e-course on breaking into magazines, phone mentoring for freelance writers, an e-book on productivity for freelancers, and a free packet of 10 query letters that worked.