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Writing Magazine Articles - A FAQ

Is writing for magazines hard?

On the whole, the answer is yes, writing for magazines is hard work. There's simply no getting around it, writing is hard work. It takes time to develop your skill, time to develop an idea, real effort to get it written, and even more effort to do the necessary rewriting.

Which doesn't mean you can't be successful at it - you can.

See also the Hard FAQs of Freelance Writing.

Will I face much competition?

There are two types of competition in magazine writing. The most obvious is the established writers whose names you see in the magazines you read. Less obvious are other freelancers who submit articles and queries that get accepted. There are way more of the second than the first, but you can move into the first category if you work hard at it. There are even more who submit and get rejected.

Of course, most beginning writers think first of the magazines they read. Next they think of the magazines they see on their newsstands. While, as a general rule, these consumer magazines pay more, they are much harder to sell to simply because of the competition. Another approach is to write for trade magazines.

Trade magazines are those magazines aimed at a particular industry. They are designed to inform, and advertise to, people who work in those industries.

For example, if you wanted to write about makeup, the obvious place is the woman’s magazines you’re familiar with, and, indeed, this is a possibility.

However, at least until you get some credits, writing for the beauty trade itself might make more sense.

Many trade magazines are listed in such resources as Writers Market. You can also try an internet search on (industry name) magazine. Another way to find them is to stop by a shop or office and simply ask about the magazines the people who work there receive.

How much money can I make writing magazine articles?

Like so much in freelance writing, how much you make can vary widely. Most magazines pay by the word… as little as one cent per word and as much as $2.00 or more per word. Some magazines offer a flat fee. Obviously, the more you sell, the more you’ll make, and the more you sell to the higher paying magazines, the more you’ll make.

Go ahead and shoot for the highest paying, knowing you may have to sell to a magazine that pays less, at least until you’re well established.

Where do I get ideas for magazine articles?

Ideas are everywhere, literally. You could, for instance, turn what you had, or didn’t have, for breakfast this morning into an article.

The trick is honing an idea so it meets a market need – that is, some sort of information a magazine wants its readers to have. Breakfast could, for instance, become 5 Quick and Healthy Breakfast Ideas or How I got my 6-year-old to like oatmeal or even Chocolate for Breakfast? You Bet!

Keep the ideas flowing, but learn to be discerning about them.

Learn more about ideas here.

How do I know what a magazine wants?

You determine what a magazine is likely to need by reading it cover to cover. Then go back through it, mining it for information:

  • Read the masthead, noting the various kinds of editors. Note if there is any article submission there.
  • Study the table of contents. Determine what departments and/or regular columns the magazine has. Do those departments show on the masthead with a particular editor? Note the titles of the features. Does the magazine seem to like, for example, How Tos or other form? Reread any articles that seem roughly similar to your idea. If, by chance, your idea is just like an article they have, find another market. Even with major refocusing, most magazines won’t publish an article on the same subject for at least 6 months, and more often longer than that.
  • Read the letters to the editor – they can give you a feel for the audience.
  • Go back through the magazine again, this time focusing on the ads. Advertisers spend a lot of money determining their audience and you can learn the same thing just by looking.
  • Does the magazine have a website? If it does, spend some time there too. You may find actual writers guidelines; even if you don’t, you’ll develop an additional feel for the kind of article they want.

Studying a magazine is imperative if you’re to have a good chance at selling them an article. It’s worth every minute you spend.

Read more about market listings here.

Should I query first, or just submit?

It depends. First, see if you can find a Market Listing for the magazine in question. You may find this information on their website or in Writers Market or from some other source. Market Listings often indicate a magazine’s preference.

If you’re a brand new writer, with no or few credits, you probably should send the whole article. Once you’ve sold a few, moving to queries is much more efficient.

If you decide to submit the whole article, make sure your cover letter states that you’re sending an “over the transom” submission.



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