Why would you want to write for magazines? They’re passé, right? Well, no. We’ve often talked about platform, as readership. Writing for magazines puts your name in front of lots of eyeballs, and you can parlay that attention in many different directions.
In the 1990s, a magazine editor for whom I wrote each month passed my name to the acquisitions editor at the publisher Prentice Hall. The editor signed me for a series of business books. While those books didn’t pay much, they got me offers to ghostwrite several books, which did pay well. They also led to some other very lucrative gigs writing for global companies.
It’s the old saying, it’s not who you know, it’s who knows you… and who needs what you can do. If you’re writing for magazines at the top levels, you can make anywhere from $2 to $4 PER WORD. Nice. However, the biggest benefit is that writing for top tier magazines has prestige. That prestige turns into money: you’ll not only get interest from companies which want to hire you, but you may also get approaches from literary agents who want you to write a book.
If you want to write for magazines, you can
Here are ten tips which will help.
1. Love a magazine? Send them a query
Go with your gut. If you love a magazine, and read it cover to cover, chances are good that you can write for them. Keep sending queries (proposals), until you get a response.
2. Keep sending queries, even if they ignore you
It takes time to build a relationship. I courted a magazine by sending queries to the editor several times a month for NINE months, until the editor phoned. That initial gig turned into an on-going gig. I wrote for the magazine for 15 years, through several editors. The pay was good; the steady gig was brilliant.
3. Look for ideas, everywhere
Magazine writing is all about IDEAS. Switch on your idea radar. Ideas are everywhere.
Commit to sending out a certain number of queries each day.
4. Think beyond the newsstand
Think beyond consumer magazines. There are thousands upon thousands of trade magazines: magazines for trades, and for the members of a profession – everyone from hairdressers to pathologists and farmers.
You won’t find these magazines on the newsstand. Consider your family, and think about their professions and trades. At the next big family gathering, ask individuals what magazines they subscribe to, or receive for free. You’ll be surprised at what you discover. Some trade mags pay very well.
5. Companies publish, too: custom magazines are lucrative
Check your mailbox. Do you receive a magazine from your health insurance provider? That’s a custom publication.
Look in the Yellow Pages for “custom publishing.” Custom publishers publish magazines for many companies. Make a list of local publishers, and call them. Ask whether they use freelancers.
6. Pick a topic, research it, develop a slant
Ideas for magazine articles are everywhere. Choose a topic – anything which interests you. Research the topic. Make a list of ten articles you could write about the topic. Now slant those articles – make the topic suitable for a specific publication.
Here are some good examples of slants:
Angle: Article Idea Title
- Regionalism: An expat’s guide to developing a French garden.
- Humor: 5 plants even you can’t kill.
- Looking back/recalibration: Experienced gardeners weigh-in on what they would have done differently when starting their gardens.
- Gender Differences: Tips on how to resolve differences when you and your mate have different visions for your garden.
7. Forget your doubt, send it out
When I first started writing for magazines, I sent out five queries a day, each weekday: 25 queries a week. Every week, for months. This was way back in the 1980s, so those queries went by postal mail. Most boomeranged back. Some days our mailbox was stuffed with manila envelopes.
The biggest benefit of sending out masses of queries wasn’t the gigs, it was psychological. After so much rejection, I no longer cared about rejection. It didn’t matter. I knew that there was ALWAYS a home for an idea, somewhere. I just needed to find it.
You’ll become inured to rejection too: it’s just feedback. Keep sending out queries. Today, you don’t even have to go to the post office. 😉
8. Pick up the phone: research your ideas
Magazine writers spend hours on the phone each day. It’s fun. You’ll speak with many different people, and most will be happy to talk to you. One morning I spoke to: the owners of several companies which hosted kids’ parties, the CEO of a major publisher, and a TV actress.
Use Skype. It’s cheap, and it’s easy to record calls (make sure you tell the other parties that you’re recording calls.)
9. Set process goals: productivity is everything
A “process goal” is a goal over which you have complete control. Sending out five queries a day is a process goal.
You need to become a self-starter, if you aren’t already. Decide how many words you’ll write each day, how many people you’ll talk to – and do it.
Successful magazine writers make six figures because they have process goals, and commit to those goals.
10. Just write it: nothing you write is ever wasted
Occasionally, a magazine will decide that it doesn’t want to publish an article you slaved over, and will pay you a kill fee — that’s just a pity-payment for your trouble. You’re free to sell the piece elsewhere.
This is disappointing, but remember, nothing you write is ever wasted. Especially not in these days of indie publishing and the Kindle.
Of course, you can always reslant the piece and offer it to someone else. One of my best friends has spent the past couple of years digging through her magazine article archives, and turning her articles into ebooks.
Therefore, make sure you archive EVERYTHING related to your magazine writing career. Keep your queries, your research, your published articles. Your archives are your own personal gold mine.
In a nutshell, here’s a simple process for writing for magazines, Writing For the Changing World of Magazines: Huge Opportunities For Freelance Writers | Angela Booth’s Fab Freelance Writing Blog:
“Writing for Publications: a Simple Process
Here’s the very simple process:
* Get the spark of an idea;
* Research and find sources;
* Slant the idea, and structure/ organize your material;
* Write up the idea into a story for a specific publication.”
Magazine writing is challenging, and lucrative. Have fun… 🙂
Updated on July 28, 2014