Writing for magazines can be a rewarding and even lucrative endeavor. Breaking into magazine writing requires some initiative and a lot of patience, but it is not an impossible task. If you have something you'd like to share with readers, here are some tips for starting your writing career.
- Find your niche. Everyone is an expert in something. When organizing yourself to begin writing for magazines, consider the old adage "write what you know." In other words, take into consideration what knowledge you have gained from your skills, background, and experiences. Also consider what you really like and want to write about. Find your niche as a writer (or niches, if you have more than one area of expertise) and then begin to formulate article ideas related to that niche. For example, one woman I know spent years teaching religion. When she went to write for magazines for the first time, it was no surprise she was successful selling articles about religious education. She knew her subject and was able to write intelligently about it. Writing what you know is the best way to begin. Not only will editors be much more interested in your work if you can prove you know what you're talking about, but having a base of knowledge from which to work will make your task easier and your articles better.
- Find your market. Once you know what you want to write about, you need to figure out who wants articles on that subject. Who's buying parenting articles? Tons of publications. Who's buying articles on building little ships in glass bottles? Probably just a few magazines. Know who wants what you have to offer. A good place to cruise for markets is among the many lists on AbsoluteWrite or WritersMarket. Take down contact information on the magazines that serve your niche so you can look into what, specifically, they may want.
- Query magazines. Once you know who wants to buy articles like the ones you are ready to write, you need to find out what these magazines want specifically. Are they looking for 500 words or 10,000 words? Do they want personal stories, researched material, academic findings? One magazine may have a folksy approach to parenting articles, for example, while another may want articles about new trends or articles by PhDs only. To find out if a magazine is the right market for you, do a preliminary check of their magazine or website (they're going to tell you to read a sample of their work anyhow, so might as well get it over with now). Then, if you feel like you're in the right ballpark, query the magazine for what's called "writer's guidelines." These are the specific do's and don'ts for would-be contributors. They include information on appropriate style, word count, and submission process. Some guidelines will ask you to go ahead and send a final article, others will ask you to query--again--with your article idea, giving you specifics they want included in your query letter (your expertise, your idea, your projected word count, etc.).
One note: NEVER just send an article to a magazine without first seeing what they do and don't accept. It just wastes your time when you don't learn how to write to the magazine's guidelines.
- Research, outline, write, revise, submit. Once you get the okay from the publication to submit your work, you reach the hard part--but also the rewarding part--you have to actually write the article. To do so, follow the usual writing "process." Spend time brainstorming your idea fully to get to the best possible material. Do any research needed, check facts, double check them, cite sources as applicable. Then, do one of the best writing strategies--outline and organize your ideas. Don't rush to draft. A little time spent planning your article--especially a long article--will save you a lot of time and aggravation when it comes time to actually drafting. Once you have all the pieces in a general order, go ahead and write. But be prepared to spend some serious time re-writing, too. After all, you are trying to publish an article, which means you want to put your best work forward. Best work and first draft are usually mutually exclusive things.
- As you write, stay within the publication's guidelines. Once you have the guidelines and the OK from the publication to send an article, make sure you do everything according to what their guidelines require. Word count is important and usually strictly adhered to by publications. Requirements about small things like submission format (by hard copy? by attachment?) are also important. To be considered a professional, submit a professional article in a professional manner.
- Communicate as needed and required with the editor. If you're in a situation where you have a question about your article and you can speak to the editor or editorial assistant, be sure to ask for whatever clarification you need. Also, if your editor has questions for you, be sure to contact him in a timely and professional manner. Good communication and professional behavior can help get you that second assignment. In fact, one thing to communicate about with your editor is that next article you would like to write for him. When you have a contact, don't hesitate to query him about a follow-up piece. The worst he can say is "No, thanks."
Now that you know how to write magazine articles, go out there and get published!