The Most Obvious (But Overlooked) Secret to Getting Published in a Magazine

Getting Published in a Magazine
Photo credit: Henry Bush (Creative Commons)

Before you write your first book, you should publish at least a dozen magazine articles. Maybe more.

Until you cut your teeth on a few shorter pieces, you’re probably not ready for the challenge of writing an entire book. So how do you get started?

Believe it or not, the hardest part of getting published in a magazine isn’t the writing. It’s getting noticed.

The problem

A lot of freelance writers make a big mistake. They come up with a writing topic that would make for a good article for a magazine or website. And then, they spend way too much time on the idea without ever getting feedback.

They waste hours or even days writing the piece. Then, they try to find someone to publish it. And they fail miserably. 

This is backwards thinking. It assumes you know your audience better than the publisher does. (Even if you do, this attitude won’t get you very far.) It’s better to start with a few loose ideas and contact the publisher before moving forward with the piece.

The whole point is just to get on their radar. Which is the most difficult part. If you can do that (and be taken seriously), you’re in.

Relationship and conversation are more important than good ideas and great writing. At least, at first.

The solution

Instead of cold-pitching your ideas to publishers, do something better: Build a relationship.

But before you do that, do your homework. Study the publisher’s guidelines. Read sample pitches, if they’re available. Email friends or colleagues who have gotten their work published with them. Find out what works.

Then, try it out. You may only get one shot at this. Better make it count.

The process

  1. Present your ideas in a way that is a clear “win” for the publication. It’s not about you wanting to get published; it’s about how you can serve the publisher. Show them that.
  2. Explain how your piece will be relevant to their readership. Talk about why your voice is uniquely suited to reach their readers, how it will further the vision of the publication, etc. In other words, do a little bit of selling (they’re thinking, “What’s in it for me?”)
  3. Offer samples of other pieces you’ve done. Have something to show them — anything. Just don’t show up empty-handed. This is how they know you’re not wasting their time. (I often send editors a link to my portfolio.)
  4. Be courteous and to the point. Say “please” and “thank you.” Include a signature with contact info. Use short paragraphs. Cut out any unnecessary words. Act like a professional.

This works for magazine, trade publications, and even websites. And it can all be done via email.

The epiphany

To be honest, this process kind of surprised me. I thought the process of getting published in a magazine would’ve been more glamorous or complicated. Maybe including a handful of phone calls and legal debates with a few martinis thrown in for good measure.

As it turns out, content is not king. Relationship is. If you want to get published, start making connections with publishers, so that when the ideas come, they’ll actually pay attention to your work. When that happens, you won’t have to worry about pitching your work anymore. You’ll just be emailing an old friend.

By the way, this “secret” applies to book publishing, too. Having the right connections (with the right content) is essential. The good news is you can start small — with a magazine article or guest post on a friend’s blog — and build from there. Good luck.

What’s been your experience with getting publishing in magazines?

*Photo credit: Henry Bush (Creative Commons)