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.
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.
- Writer’s Market 2019: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published
- Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents, 28th edition: Who They Are, What They Want, How to Win Them Over (here’s my review of Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers if you’re curious)
I hope this helps you write for magazines! Let me know how you do.