• Advice

The freelancer's guide to writing for magazines

This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send your blog post to us here.

If you are currently a freelance writer, chances are you’ve already got some sort of literary portfolio and a resume full of happy clients who you can cite as references.

These things, unfortunately, don’t generally make things happen for those trying to get published in major magazines the same way they do with other freelance work.

On the bright side, a journalism degree is not a requirement for magazine publication. Even with no article writing experience at all, it is possible to break into the field. People just have to create the right opportunities for themselves.

There are legitimate reasons why a freelancer might want to work for a magazine, pay being at the top of the list. Freelancers have the potential to earn top dollar via gigs like blogging and creative writing for private clients.

Unfortunately the amount of work can vary so greatly that it’s hard to be consistent with your time. Some large-scale magazines provide a way around that, should you establish a relationship and begin writing regularly.

Here’s how you can make a wholehearted attempt at making that your reality.

Start Planning Way in Advance

Magazines work out all the details of an issue sometimes three to six months before printing.

If you’re looking to get your work featured in an authority publication, you need to be on the same page. Of course, if you’re writing about current events, this does not apply to you, but with other targeted subjects it likely will.

So if you plan on publishing a Christmas article, for example, rather than wait until November to pitch your idea, try and get in contact by late August or early September (even sooner for big name printings).

This will save you a lot of heartache compared to if you find out you would have to wait another 9-12 months to start the process.

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Contact the Editor Directly

Some magazines have article submission forms on their websites, and they can sometimes be a convenient way to throw something out there. Most of these forms, however, are used so often that it’s nearly impossible to ensure that your work is ever going to be seen.

So, rather than play the waiting game, find out who the editor is for the section you would like to see your feature in, and contact them directly with your pitch.

You and the editor will have a chance to establish some rapport. It is more difficult to ignore a real person than a name next to some text.

Some writers are lucky enough to have their first article published in something like The New York Times or People. This is more likely to happen after you have already been published in a smaller, more localized publication, having something to show for your skills.

So, as a rule, send your first few pitches to smaller magazines before you try to “land on the moon.” Many times, prior publication is the key.

Know the Difference Between Subject and Story

Apparently it is a common mistake for writers to send in a pitch with a detailed outline of the story they would like to share. Much of the time, this gets the idea thrown out before it’s even read, simply because the editing staff has little to no time to read through the hundreds of stories they are sent.

Another point that editors make is that it seems amateur that a writer wouldn’t know the difference between the two; hiring someone with that little knowledge of writing fundamentals would require too much guidance in order to make it worth the magazine’s time.

Keep in mind that until you are actually in communication with the editing staff, you don’t know enough about their needs to provide them with all the value you are capable of delivering once you know more.

Write a Brilliant Pitch

Editors see the same pitching mistakes over and over again. Although easy to avoid, they really are pretty universal across the board. You probably won’t get blacklisted for a bad pitch alone, but it is an excellent idea to research how to send a pitch based on the niche you’re interested in targeting.

Also, try to resolve your pitch with questions on how their team thinks you could make your subject idea better - after all they are the experts, and you never want to come across as arrogant.

Write Your First Draft Immediately

As soon as you have the topic, start writing. You will want to edit and re-edit your piece until it is perfect.

Find out if the editor wants to see your piece in draft form before you start the final editing process. They may want specific changes to take place that you hadn’t thought of.

Enlist Outsiders to Read Your Piece

You probably don’t want to ask your mother what she thinks, unless of course she is an editor or published author herself. Asking relatives and close friends isn’t generally a good idea, only because they’re more likely to tell you how good it is - even if it sucks - and reiterate how proud they are of your accomplishment before it’s even accomplished.

If you have any colleagues in the writing field, that is a good place to start. A writer’s group off or online can be a good start as well. Hiring a fellow-freelancer to help you out might be a excellent idea.

The point is that, until you are well-established with the magazine, you will want to make sure your drafts have gone through extreme scrutiny.

Perfect Your Final Draft and Submit

Now it’s time to polish your work and send it to the editor for approval. Don’t get upset, once you hear back, if they want to see additional edits. This is a normal part of the process. Just make the changes they need in a timely manner, and you should see some results.

Once you have your foot in the door somewhere, it is more likely that you will be hired again. Repeat these steps and write your way to success.

Coby Stephens is a content writer at Same Day Essays. He provides writing advice to aspiring freelancers.