How to Write for Magazines | 7 Tips to Get Started

Learning how to write for magazines is one of those things I didn’t understand until someone else taught me. So I thought I’d do the same for you today.

Write for Magazines

How to Write for Magazines

Maybe you’ve been a writer for a while and you feel like you should know how to do this and now you’re afraid to ask. Or maybe you’ve thought about writing for magazines but don’t know where to start. Or maybe you know what you want to pitch to a magazine but you don’t know how to do it, if they accept pitches or where to send it.

All good! I didn’t know either. A lot of magazines accept freelance pitches and pay for articles but figuring that out can seem a bit overwhelming until you understand how it works. Here are a few quick tips to get you started.

Tip 1: Figure out what magazines you want to write for

You should have a basic idea of the type of magazines you want to publish articles in, and even better if you have a few specifics in mind. If you don’t know, start by doing some research. Go to your local library and look through their magazine stacks—which magazines are you interested in reading? Which ones publish articles in the style you write? Which ones would you like to see your byline in? Make a list.

Tip 2: Brainstorm several article/story ideas

When you write for magazines, much of the time it’s you, the writer, pitching ideas to them, the editor and/or publisher. So you can’t go to a magazine and say, “I’d like to write for you, what are you looking for?” This approach outs you as an amateur and doesn’t get you far. You need solid story ideas when approaching a magazine and, in general, you want a few in your back pocket so when the opportunity arises, you’re ready with your pitch. So have a few ideas going before you need them and keep this list topped up.

Tip 3: Before you pitch, do your research

Cross-reference your list of target magazines with your list of story ideas. When you write for magazines, you want your pitch to stand out from the rest. The best way to do that is to ensure your idea fits with what the magazine publishes and that they haven’t done it before. Many magazines publish their upcoming themes on their website, which will also help you out.

Tip 4: Write a query letter or letter of inquiry (LOI) when pitching

For the most part, you’re sending in queries about an article, not the full article itself. Your query letter is a quick pitch, trying to see if there’s any interest in your story. Your goal from this letter is to get the assignment so make sure it’s good!

Tip 5: Ask your network for introductions to magazine editors

I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again, your freelancer network is your strongest asset. Your freelance writing friends may already be writing for magazines. Ask them which ones they’re writing for. Or, if there’s a specific one you’re interested in, ask if your writing friends have any connections there. Then, ask for an introduction. Not only will a referral get your query past the gatekeepers and into the right person’s inbox, it improves your chances of your pitch being read and considered. One caveat: if you’re asking for a referral remember your friend is putting his/her reputation on the line for you. Be professional, be courteous and—above all—don’t be a flake.

Tip 6: Don’t know who to contact? Look in the front flap at the masthead

If you know which magazines you want to write for, look at the masthead and find the editor’s name for the section you want to pitch to. You’re looking for something like a departmental editor or features editor. If their email isn’t listed, look on the magazine’s website and see if you can find it. You may find a “write for us” area on the website where there will be more specific pitching instructions. Do your best to send your query to the editor rather than the general info email unless you’re instructed to.

Tip 7: Wondering which publications pay? Get a market guide

If you can’t learn anything from your research or network about whether or not your target magazine pays for article, you can purchase a market guide to help you. It will also give you a ton of magazine titles to consider, contact information for the editor you need to query and special instructions for pitching. This is a gold mine of information. Here are a couple I recommend.

I hope this helps you write for magazines! Let me know how you do.

Learning how to write for magazines is one of those things I didn't understand until someone else taught me. So I thought I'd do the same for you today. Here are seven tips for getting started.

Other helpful resources

Network with Freelancers to Grow Your Business

The best marketing you can do is network with freelancers. A bold claim, I know. But I stand behind it. Building a strong network will help you grow your freelance business.

Network with Freelancers

Why Building a Network with Freelancers will Help You Grow Your Business

If the idea of traditional networking fills you with fear and loathing, allow me to present a different way. Think of networking as making friends with like-minded freelancers and treating them well instead of attending awkward events with strangers and trying to pass out business cards.

Doesn’t my way sound better?

In order to network with freelancers you have to avoid thinking of other freelancers as your competition. It’s easy to slip into a scarcity mentality and view every gig as something another freelancer can steal but the truth is there’s more than enough work for everyone.

The freelance life is tough enough as it is, and isolated. Make friends with other freelancers and see what you can do to help and support them. It will make a huge difference to your own business.

But maybe this still doesn’t make sense. I understand. When you haven’t experienced the amazing give-and-take of a true network this approach seems counter-intuitive. I’ll give a couple examples from my last year of freelancing to help you understand.

Example One

I attended a webinar through one of my professional networks, Canadian Media Guild Freelance on how to price your work. As part of the training, the presenter asked if the attendees would share our hourly rate with each other. She said freelancers have to stick together and talk with each other about their rates, how they charge, how they put projects together…and more.

But we’re so afraid to share. Maybe we’re charging too much! Or maybe we’re not charging enough! Maybe we’ll reveal how much we don’t know if we say anything! Here’s the truth: you’re stronger when you ask questions and share with one another. Imagine how empowered you’d feel about your pricing if you knew what others charged and could stand behind your quotes with confidence!

Example Two

I have a friend who is just getting started in her freelance career. Earlier this year I taught a series of workshops and she came out in support, which I appreciated. A few months later we met up and she shared a bit more about what type of work she was thinking about pursuing. So you’d better believe when a colleague asked me if I knew anyone who was looking for work in exactly what my friend had said she was looking for I referred her first.

Now, this may seem like an obvious choice but think about it. I know lots of freelancers. I could have referred any number of equally talented, qualified, available people for the gig. So what made this friend stand out? Well, for one she supported me at one of my events without expecting anything in return. And for another we stayed in touch and she shared what she was looking for. So when the opportunity arose, she was at the top of my mind.

Helping others helps you

Get it? Helping each other benefits everyone. Share what you learn with each other and help each other out when you can. Referrals are the freelancer’s bread and butter so keep your freelance friends close. Listen to them, support them, ask them questions, and refer them when you have an opportunity. Introduce them to people you think they’d benefit from knowing and grow your network one by one. And, hopefully, they’ll do the same for you.

The best marketing you can do is network with freelancers. Building a strong network will help you grow your freelance business. A bold claim, I know.

Other networking tips for freelancers

What is Prescriptive Non-Fiction?

The question, what is prescriptive non-fiction, isn’t the only question I received at a recent workshop I taught called Is It Time to Write Your Book. However, it’s one I have also asked so I thought it was an excellent topic to cover.

What is Prescriptive Non-Fiction

When I first started planning my book I thought there were two choices: fiction or non-fiction. But deciding on non-fiction is just the first step.

I outlined this a bit when I explained how word count changes based on book genre. Here is the TL;DR version.

Non-Fiction Genres

  • Devotional
  • Self-Help
  • Memoir
  • Narrative Non-Fiction
  • Biography
  • Prescriptive/How-To

And yes, there are more genres within non-fiction (personal development, practical non-fiction, general non-fiction). But that’s another topic for another day.

What is Prescriptive Non-Fiction?

Prescriptive non-fiction books are known as being strong topical guides or instructional how-to books. They help readers accomplish something or acquire a new skill.

Here are a few examples.

From these titles you know what you’re getting. First you’ll learn how to walk in high heels, then how to get great book reviews and finally how to write a first draft in 30 days.

What does it take to write prescriptive non-fiction?

In order to write a prescriptive non-fiction book the author has to know and understand the topic at a deep level. Deeper than the people who are learning the topic. An expert, if you will. Another option, if the author is not an expert, is to curate interviews with experts and compile the information into a book.

Writing prescriptive non-fiction is a good option if you’re looking to write something but you don’t have an idea yet. Because chances are you’re an expert about something. Think about what you know a lot about, what you have interest in and what you think you could spend a lot of time talking about without getting bored. The more specific you can get, the better.

Everyone is an expert in something so writing prescriptive non-fiction is a good option if you're looking to write something but you don't have an idea yet.

If you’re looking for a challenge, read Nina Amir’s How to Blog a Prescriptive Nonfiction Book in 30 Days. Of course you’ll need a tight writing schedule to accomplish that but I know you’re up for it.

How to Find Great Freelance Writing Jobs

When you’re a new freelancer, finding freelance writing jobs may seem like an overwhelming task. And I understand how finding a gig—any gig—can feel a bit like luck. Where do you even start looking? And when you find someone looking for a writer, how do you know the job is any good?

freelance writing jobs

The good news and the bad news about online freelance writing jobs

OK, here it is. The good news is, when you Google “freelance writing jobs” you’ll find a lot of postings. The bad news is, when you you’ll also find a lot of low-paying postings and straight up bad gigs. Learning to tell the difference is an important part about finding success as a freelance writer. Finding gigs that pay what you need is another important part.

How to discern a good freelance writing job from a bad one

The first thing to keep in mind is “good” and “bad” gigs are subjective. You need to know ahead of time what kind of job you’re looking for and what type of client will suit your needs. If you’re new to the freelance world you may not know this yet and will learn through trial and error. That’s OK! But take a few minutes to think about the types of freelance writing jobs you’d like to have. Writing blog posts and articles? Media releases? Business profiles? Journalism? Think it through and write it down.

After you know what type of writing you want to do take a few minutes to figure out who your ideal client is. Are you looking for someone who is hands off? Someone to collaborate with? Do you want to be able to meet in person? And do you want one-off clients or ones you have an ongoing relationship with? There are no wrong answers here, just what’s right for you. Knowing what types of clients you’d like will help you avoid overwhelm as you comb through the vast array of freelance writing jobs out there. It will also keep you from applying for gigs that aren’t a good fit for you.

One more tip: keep a close eye on how the job postings are written. If you see phrases like “looking for hungry writers,” or a value attributed to the quantity of articles they’re looking for rather than quality of writing, these should trigger warning bells in your head. These gigs are often low paying (pennies per word, if that) and demanding. Even if you don’t have much experience yet, you can do better.

How to figure out what you need to earn as a freelance writer

Even though many writers aren’t numbers people, it’s important to learn how to budget so you know how much income you need in order to reach your goals. Do a bit of number crunching and determine what you need per month to get by. Also figure out how much time you have to dedicate to your freelancing. From here you’ll have a good idea of how many clients you can take on and how much you need from each one.

If you’re wondering how to set your prices, check out my free 15-minute course on how to price your work. Setting your prices takes a bit of effort but it will help you stay away from jobs that don’t pay enough.

When you look at online postings you may feel like you have to lower your prices or standards in order to get work. Don’t give up! There are great freelance writing jobs out there but sometimes you have to know where to look.

Where I look for great freelance writing jobs

I encourage writers to think outside of the box when looking for work. Even when you need to get clients fast you shouldn’t lower your standards. The main ways I find work are from referrals, networking with other writers and Twitter (really!). There’s always someone looking for a writer but people have to know you’re a writer in order for them to think of you and reach out.

Job boards are a great starting point for freelancers who don’t have established networks. The good gigs are scooped up quick so if this is your go-to then you will need to check often and apply a lot. It’s a numbers game so don’t become discouraged if you don’t hear back from many or most of the places you pitch.

Here are a few suggestions for job boards I’ve found good.

One more tip: I’ve learned it’s important to keep looking for freelance work even if you have a full client load. Developing strategies to keep the marketing machine going during busy times ensures you won’t have so many dry spells. And the better your clients are, the less you’ll need in order to reach your financial goals.

When you are a new freelancer, finding freelance writing jobs may seem like an overwhelming task. And I get how finding a gig can feel a bit like luck.

Finding Keywords SEO Tips for Writers

At some point in your writing career you’ll be asked about finding keywords or SEO (search engine optimization). SEO is a marketing skill, which writers may or may not have. I say it’s a good idea to become acquainted with the concept as it will make you more valuable to your clients.

Keywords SEO Tips

Finding Keywords for SEO

Most freelance writers spend time researching different topics online, which is good news because finding keywords involves the same skill: research. And, in fact, there’s a good chance you’re doing keyword research as part of your regular workflow. Brainstorming writing ideas, building content calendars or working on branding all involve some aspect of SEO.

This can be as simple or complex as you make it. I like to keep things simple.

SEO Tips

  1. Answer questions your audience is asking

    Think about the audience you serve and the types of questions they’re asking. Then take those questions and answer them. If you take the time to figure out what questions your target audience, customer or reader is asking, the more you increase your chance of them finding your answers. It’s amazing stuff.

    If you don’t know what questions are being asked browse through forums and Facebook groups. These are a gold mine when doing customer research. And if that fails, talk to some real people. Find out what they’re confused about and try and help clarify.

  2. Figure out three or four main topics for your website

    If you’ve done any type of editorial planning then you understand how this is done. If not, think about the main themes or categories of the product or service you’re writing about. Then break those main ideas down into smaller topic ideas or sub-categories. Continue breaking the ideas down into smaller and smaller ideas until you’re as focused as possible. You now have a HUGE amount of on-topic keywords to build articles and content around.

  3. And my favourite keyword hack

  4. Look at what others in your industry/niche are writing about

    Browse their websites and see what topics they’re addressing. Is there anything missing? Can you offer more information about one of those topics on your site? Can you go deeper on any of these themes? See what your competitors are doing and improve on it.

    If you don’t know who your competitors are you can open up an incognito browser and Google your theme or topic. See who ranks in the top (not counting ads) and check out the articles. Ask these same questions and see how you can improve on what’s already ranking well in search.

One last tip: Tech Tools

If you’re stumped for ideas online tools like Wordstream’s Keyword Tool or Google Trends will help you brainstorm ideas. They will also give you a good indication of how many people are searching for the term so you don’t waste your time answering questions no one is asking.

A few years ago my website was quite random and unfocused. I spent a lot of time writing about whatever struck my fancy and not much time wondering what people would like to read. One day I realized I was ranking as the number four search in Google for “DIY Chocolate Bubble Bath.” I thought that was pretty great until I realized I have no interest in the topic, offer no services or products on that topic and no one ever actually searches for that topic. Oops.

Conclusion

The closer your keywords are to the actual topics you cover and services you offer the better your SEO ranking will be. Part of your website’s value comes from how long people spend on your site. If you show up in search and people click on your link only for them to leave a second later, this tells Google the search result wasn’t relevant to the user and over time your ranking will go down until it disappears altogether.

There is a bit of a learning curve to figuring out keywords and SEO but if you keep it simple and think about what your audience is searching for online, you’re on your way to optimizing your writing.

At some point in your writing career you'll be asked about finding keywords or SEO (search engine optimization). To be clear, SEO is a marketing skill, which writers may or may not have. So you're off the hook there. That said, it's a good idea to become acquainted with the concept as it will make you more valuable to your clients.