Welcome to this edition of Wednesday Writer. If you have been following this series, you know we’ve talked about starting small as a writer and learning the craft through books, magazines, courses, conferences, critique groups, and mentors. Today, let’s talk about breaking into magazines, both print and digital versions.
Editor Andy Scheer once told our conference group that he is a magazine evangelist. He said most books sell less than 2000 copies. (Don’t cry yet.) That means maybe four to six thousand readers, if you are fortunate. Most magazines have circulation in the upper thousands, sometimes the millions. Which place would you rather send your message about life?
(BTW, you have a message. No matter what you write, your worldview will seep through.)
Where to begin. Start with publications and websites or blogs that you enjoy reading. Look them up in Writers Market or visit their website to find writers guidelines. Even if you check Writers Market for an overview, visit the website for current guidelines. Sometimes these are hidden in the fine print of “contact us” or some other heading. You may need to use the search tool.
The best place to pitch your first article is in a column or department that is open to freelancers. These are fewer words, and they are less often farmed out to staff writers. Study the section you have chosen. Find three or four past issues and actually dissect the column. Does it start with action or description. Is there much dialogue? Does the tone feel light or serious? How many paragraphs? Does it wrap up neatly at the end or leave the reader with a question?
What to write. Most magazines include a section on their website called a press kit. This will give you demographic information on the readers. You can discern the same thing by looking at the advertisements. If the magazine advertises mostly diapers and baby food, don’t pitch them a piece on choosing your retirement destination. A magazine that advertises expensive cars and designer clothes probably won’t want your article on how to shop with coupons.
Once you have narrowed your market, write your best piece, using all the tools you’ve gathered along the way. Then, let it sit several days and revise. Repeat as many times as necessary. (Eventually you have to stop. I always want to edit the piece again after it comes out in the magazine. This urge never ends.)
How to open the door. You send a query letter. (Some publications will just ask for the full article. Check guidelines.) A query is just a question, as in, “Would you be interested in my article on how to help teenagers stay safe on social media?”. You can search Google for “query letters” and learn exactly how to write the perfect one for every scenario.
Write, polish, and send your query. Then, you wait. Sometimes several months. (Some won’t even respond. They tell you to move on if you don’t hear from them in eight weeks.)
While you wait, choose the next market you will target if this one turns you down.
Repeat until the article sells or until you are convinced it needs reworked.
Keep on doing this with other articles so you have several in various stages. That helps you stop hovering over your in-box for a response from anyone.
Okay, have fun! Let me know when you place your first article.