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How to Get Published in a Magazine: A Step by Step Guide
The World of Freelance Writing
The world of freelance writing is a harsh one. But getting published isn't impossible, and it isn't even as scary as you might think. This article has some tips on how to get published in a magazine, taking you step-by-step through the publication process, from thinking of possible topics to sending off your letter to the editor/publisher.
Table of Contents
To succeed in freelance writing, first you have to figure out what you know and what you can learn. "Research" doesn't just mean researching facts and figures. It also means mining your mind for ideas.
How do you brainstorm best? Do you draw little doodles to come up with ideas? Do you make lists in straight lines with color coding? Do you write notes all over a piece of paper in phrases unintelligible to any but yourself? Maybe you record yourself digitally. However you brainstorm, just try to get down your ideas. Don't censor yourself.
Once you've finished picking your own brain, it's time to research what's going on outside your head. It means going to your favorite blogs and websites and seeing what people are talking about. You may have a ton of knowledge on a particular topic, but if no one is really interested in that topic, then it might not be the best idea to write about with the intent of publication. If you want to write just for yourself, go nuts! But you have to keep in mind that writing isn't just about what you're interested in. The way to get published is by writing about what people want to read. So, that's what the second part of your preliminary research is about.
Once you've completed your initial freelancer research, it's time to come up with a topic that you can write about. Start general; for example, you could begin with the heading of "Living Green." This is a popular topic right now.
Of course, there are about 2,505,357 potential articles that could fall under the heading of "Living Green." Before you start looking for magazines to publish your work, you need to hone your topic to get more specific. Are you going to write about recycling? conserving energy? saving the rainforest?
Then, once you've decided on your subtopic, you should slice it down even further. Say that you are going to write about conserving energy. What angle are you going to use? What questions are you going to answer? Perhaps you can go back to the detail questions you learned in elementary school: a complete article answers the Five Ws, who, what, where, when, why, and how.
- Who: Are you going to interview someone? Who is the target audience? What point of view are you going to take? (first person, third person, etc.)
- What: What is the meat of this article? What's it about?
- Where: Are you focusing on a specific city, state, country? Do you need to do any background research about the area?
- When: Are you writing about something that happened in the past? Are you writing to describe the current state of things or to say what should happen in the future?
- Why: What is the purpose of your article? Are you trying to inform? persuade? merely entertain?
- How: How are you going to present the information? Are you going to write a list? Will you write from personal experience? What will be the tone of the article: satirical, angry, matter-of-fact?
A smart freelance writer finds a magazine that's exactly right for that topic. Go to the bookstore, the library, Amazon, just to see what magazines are out there. You may think you know all the magazines that have to do with a specific topic, but think again. There are hundreds of thousands of magazines in print, from national to local, not to mention magazines that exist online. Do a Google search on your topic and add the word "magazine" and see what comes up.
One of the best resources for finding magazines to publish your work is Writer's Market, an anthology of magazine listings, book publishers, and agents. See my article on Writer's Market to read more about what it is and how to use it: Writer's Market: A Freelance Writer's Best Resource for Submitting Your Writing.
Find markets to get published
At this point, let's assume you've chosen a magazine or three that seem right for the topic that you've narrowed down for yourself. As much as I adore Writer's Market, you can't rely on it to tell you everything about a magazine. You have to read it for yourself to see if it's truly right for the type of article you want to write.
If you want to get published in that magazine, you had better read it, at least one issue, preferably several issues. Depending on the popularity of the magazine, you may be able to buy a copy at a bookstore or newsstand, but if the magazine you've chosen is less well-known, you will probably have to go online and order a copy or back issue directly from the publishing company.
Many magazine readers are passive, not actively engaged in what they read. When a freelance writing hopeful reads a magazine, she needs to be 100% present in the reading experience. You can't just read; you need to analyze. Analyze for style, topics, article length, target audience. As you can see already, I love lists, so what the heck, let's make an analysis list:
- Style and tone. Does the magazine tend to publish academic writing, informal style, sarcastic pieces? Do the pieces address the reader directly or use the first person?
- Topics. What topics are generally covered in the magazine? Health, fitness, eco-friendliness?
- Article length. Does the magazine tend to use long, in depth pieces or short, to-the-point clips?
- Target Audience. Who reads this magazine? Think about the audience's economic status, gender, interests, ethnicity, religion, age, and personality. Hint: Look at the ads, too. What kind of person are the ads targeting?
- Writers. Who writes for this magazine? If there are bios, read the bios. If not, see if you recognize any famous names. Or if the editors are the ones writing the pieces, which tends to happen in small-time magazines.
- Editors. This isn't so much an analysis as a resource for when you sit down to write your query letter. You need to know the names of the editors.
- Layout and sections. Take note of how the articles are organized in the magazine. Do pictures always accompany them? Are there lots of sidebars? What are the sections that would best fit the article you want to write?
If you discover that the magazine you've analyzed doesn't really fit the topic you want to write about, repeat the magazine selection and analysis process with other magazines. Because you won't get published if your article doesn't fit the magazine that you submit it to.
The Writing Process
You already know how to write. You probably have your own process of writing. But for the aspiring freelance writer, the best piece of advice I can give is this:
Write your article first. Don't try to submit your query letter and then write the article later.
The reason for this is that you want to be specific in your query letter as to EXACTLY what your article is about. I know that I've found that my original plan for a piece of writing was far different than the actual piece. Writing often takes on a life of its own. You don't want to promise an editor something in a query letter and then not be able to deliver if you receive that wonderful acceptance in your mailbox.
Help with writing query letters
The Query Letter
If you want to have a shot at getting published in your desired magazine, you need to learn how to write a query letter. A good one. Like a resumé or cover letter, this is your one shot at getting the editor of the magazine to give you a second glance. Re-read, re-read, revise. Query letters should include the following information.
Include the Basics:
- The date
- The name of the appropriate editor. Use his full name, no Mr., Mrs., etc., unless it's Dr. or other professional title.
- Formal salutation
- Include your name, address, email address, and phone number in the letterhead or at the bottom of the letter.
- Single-space paragraphs; double-space between paragraphs.
- The paper should look clean and professional.
- If mailed, include Self Addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE).
- Make sure your query letter does not go over one page in length. If sending an email query, type it first in Microsoft Word to make sure it's not too long.
In the Body of the Letter:
- Your idea should be presented at the beginning of your letter.
- The opening of your letter should grab the editor's attention.
- Inform the editor exactly what you intend to include in your article.
- Give a proposed article length. Round to the nearest 100 words for an article under 2000 words and to nearest 500 for longer articles. The length should be appropriate for that publication. You should know this from your magazine analysis.
- Identify which section of the magazine you believe your article fits best. Again, you should know this from your analysis.
- Include writing samples, particularly published clips (if you have any) that are appropriate to the publication, topic, and writing style you believe the publication is looking for. If you don't have any published clips, though, don't point that out.
- Give credentials that show your writing qualifications, especially about this subject.
- Name other publications, if any, that have published your work.
- Name any sources you have for your article.
- Your letter should show why you are the best person to write this article for them. But don't sound arrogant.
- End your letter by saying that you look forward to hearing from him, and telling him to contact you for any questions.
What Not To Do in Your Query:
- Don't say who has rejected you before.
- Don't tell the editor how long and hard you have been working.
- Don't say that the article still needs work.
- Don't request advice, comments, or criticism.
- Don't talk about how awesome it would be to be published.
- Don't include unrelated information about yourself.
- Don't discuss price, payment, or copyright information.
- Don't write too much or fail to get to the point quickly enough.
- Don't present ideas for several different articles in the same letter.
- Don't send inappropriate or unrelated samples.
Well, that's as far as I can take you in this journey. Once you've sweated and polished and cried and revised and FINALLY sent your query letter, you're done, right?
Ha, ha, ha.
Unless your goal was to send one query letter to one magazine with the hope of getting one article published, you're not done. If you want to be a writer, you have more than one topic in your head that you can send to more than one magazine.
I hope you've found this guide helpful in your freelance writing endeavors. Please leave comments and suggestions for what else you would like to see in a guide such as this.