How to Break Into Magazine Article Writing

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.

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.

Happy writing!

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.

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16 comments on “How to Break Into Magazine Article Writing

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Donna Baier Stein, sillystoryideas. sillystoryideas said: How to Break Into Magazine Article Writing: Editor’s note: this is a guest post by fellow Top Ten Blogger Linda … http://bit.ly/ebf4XZ […]

  2. Ollin says:

    Thanks Linda! You just taught me so many things I did not know before and made me feel like I can break into magazine writing today! Thank you for your practical, useful tips and your wonderful encouragement.

    Oh, and thanks for guest posting!

  3. K.M. Weiland says:

    Great post! I’ve long enjoyed Linda’s articles in Writer’s Digest. This is a venue I’d like pursue one day, so I appreciate your sharing your experience!

  4. Judy Dunn says:

    LINDA,

    Bet I’ve been reading your articles for years in Writer’s Digest and never realized it! I did the magazine writing thing for several years and I know how sometimes you have to start small (small blurb/tip, etc.) but if you develop a relationship with an editor and turn in consistently good work, the sky’s the limit. I started that way with Instructor magazine and still remember the day they assigned me a cover article. Boy, was I excited! (Then I had interviews to do and lost my voice to a huge respiratory thing.) : )

    I love the way you stress diligence and perseverance here. It is the ONLY way to succeed in the tough markets. And you certainly have proven that you’ve done that! Excellent advice here.

  5. Cities of the Mind says:

    You know what I am doing today, Ollin? I am writing query letters. So, mad props to your magical guest post timing.

    Linda, thanks, this was genuinely helpful, and as you might have already surmised, totally timely in its delivery.

  6. Good stuff. I have a 2011 Writer’s Market book, but there is very little useful information in it regarding the different strategies for submitting work to magazines. A lot of the mags themselves have bits on what they expect, but there seems to be little room for up and coming writers.

    Thanks again…

    Darlene

  7. I am with you, Linda. Being a freelance writer myself, I can safely attest that the “business of writing” as you put it is most addictive in its own sense.🙂 Once you’re in, you’re hooked for life!

    Great post. I am sure many of us looking to jump in magazine-writing will take-away a lot from it.

    -BrownEyed

  8. Thanks for your comments, and thanks for having me, Ollin! Judy, TWICE this year I’ve had to reschedule interviews because I lost my voice. Goes with the territory.🙂

  9. The Renegade Writer books and blog have been so helpful to me while freelancing. Thanks, Linda, and great tips listed above.

    You are hosting some fabulous guests, Ollin!

  10. You make it sound so easy, Linda! Take note everyone: that’s the voice of a pro.

    I know it’s not easy, but I also know how you have the chops to make it sound like it is—because you treat it like a competency to be learned and a responsibility to be followed up on, not a wild shot in the dark. This is what all publication takes, fiction and nonfiction, essay and article.

    And thank you again for your great post on my blog. I’ve already gotten feedback from a fiction client I’m working with right now, who said, “I’m surprised you didn’t just come right out and say to me ‘be sure to read this!'”

  11. souldipper says:

    Very clear, very concise and very helpful. Many, many thanks to both of you, Linda and Ollin.

  12. Thanks for your comments! Victoria, I’m glad your fiction client found my post on your blog helpful. And you’re right — writing requires skill — and persistence.

  13. This post is a great motivator for finding other writing outlets beyond the sole manuscript I’ve been nursing for oh-so-long…and I appreciate the realism that rejection is inevitable, but to persevere through it and, once accepted, to be professional about receiving constructive criticism during the editing process. Thanks, Linda!

  14. […] on FreelanceSwitch — I’m a fan of big-list posts. This one’s a print-and-save. How to Break Into Magazine Article Writing by Linda Formichelli of The Renegade Writer, on Courage2Create. Once again, a Top 10 blogger […]

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