You’ve probably heard that before you endeavor to write a book, you should first try to write for magazines. To be sure, there are many advantages to writing for a magazine over a book. A big one for me is that a magazine readership is typically much larger than for a book, unless you are able to sell 100,000 copies of your book (which you might be). Still, some magazines have readerships of over 1 million!
And, it’s true that getting published in a magazine is easier than having a book (traditionally) published. But even magazines can be tough to break into. So what’s a new writer to do when it comes to trying to build a resume filled with magazine credits?
For one, don’t automatically approach the largest magazines you can think of (such as those with the 1 million+ readership I mentioned). Sports Illustrated, Cosmopolitan, and The New Yorker would not be good places to start! Grab a magazine market guide and look for those with readerships of 100,000 or less. There are quite a few out there who only reach 10-50,000 people. They are typically the ones most open to new writers.
From there, find magazines that have several departments open to freelancers. As you begin to research your market guide, you’ll find that some magazines are mostly staff written, meaning the odds of a beginner freelancer being published by them are very slim. Also look for magazines that deal with subjects that interest you. You’ll discover it’s easier to research topics you enjoy, and your passion will come through in your writing.
After you’ve selected which magazines to submit to, go to a library or online and read through at least 5-6 issues to get a really good feel for the tone of the magazine, the length of the articles, and what the structure and topics are of the various departments available to freelance writers.
If you’re a beginning writer, stay away from the feature articles at first. Look instead to see what the magazine uses in terms of fillers, reviews, and other shorter pieces. Fillers consist of things like anecdotes, crafts, recipes, various quotations, and activities or games (yes, even for non-children’s magazines!). Reviews may include books, movies, music, or any product specific to the magazine’s theme.
Fillers and reviews may not seem like much, but they provide an excellent way to break into a magazine and get your name known by its editors. Meeting word counts, submitting according to their guidelines, and paying attention to their magazine’s particular needs shows them you do your homework and you’re capable of delivering quality material. After your submission gets accepted, send in another with the phrase, “by the way, I have an idea for an article I’d like to run by you…” in your cover letter. If they’ve liked your work so far, it will give you an advantage over other writers they haven’t heard of yet.
If you choose to write an article, pay attention to the different departments that seem “friendly” to freelance writers. If you notice that the writers of the various departments are also assistant editors, then you’ll know that those are usually written by staff. In many cases, the most friendly areas for outside writers are the short personal essays, memoirs, or similar personal stories or anecdotes. You may also try submitting how-to articles or list articles (Top 10 Ways to Save Money on Groceries), which magazines always buy.
As a new writer, your chances of getting published will decrease with interviews, round-up articles, and feature stories. Most often–although not always; there are always exceptions–these bigger paying articles are reserved for writers they’ve worked with in the past or who have already built up some substantial magazine credits.
I’d love to hear from any of you about how you broke in to the magazine market or what approaches you’ve tried if you haven’t yet been successful.