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)

59 thoughts on “The Most Obvious (But Overlooked) Secret to Getting Published in a Magazine

  1. Relationship is key! I’m working on my first Ebook and needed a sponsor to underwrite the launch costs. I approached a company that I already had a relationship with through my blog. (I write about faith, motherhood, and homeschooling at Even though the project is a little outside their niche, they were excited to support me because they knew me and trusted me.

    1. I’d never thought about having a sponsor for an ebook… I love that you did that! I probably could have had a much better initial launch with my books if I’d had extra funds to create the design and such!

    1. Adrian, find a magazine you enjoy and do some digging.  I discovered More magazine, which I’ve subscribed to since it began, has a great section on their website for subscribers to write stories and submit them.  I’ve had a few published on their website and have an email relationship with one of their editors.  This is the kind of relationship I think Jeff is talking about.  
      Find a publication you can honestly contribute to and work it.

      1. great advice. my MO is to ask someone I know who’s been published there before. they can tell you how it really works (it’s not always how the publisher says on their website’s guidelines).

    2. Find a publication you like that you would like to write for (preferably one that you’ve read before). Do some research, find an email address, and introduce yourself. (It’s best if someone can introduce you, but emailing them is a great start.) If you need more of a step-by-step, buy my eBook while it’s on sale:

  2. Great tips and straight ideas here Jeff, I am currently building my own personal website to hopefully build up relationships down the line, thanks for a great read and helpful advice.

  3. I’m assuming that the link to your portfolio doesn’t work because you just wanted to give an example, but I would really love it if you could share a post or two about creating an online writing portfolio…? I’ve been wanting to create one but I’m not sure where to start, or anything about formatting, etc. This was a great post! 

    1. hey bethany, no, it was a mistake. sorry about that. it’s fixed now. check it out. i actually need to update it. it could be a LOT better. typically, i link to this OR (even better), I share a few links to articles I’ve written for publications that are similar to the one i’m pitching.

      1. That looks great! Have you ever made a print portfolio for job interviews or anything? The job I have is one that I had while in college that transitioned into full time, so I never needed to make a portfolio. Moving forward, I’d like to be able to create both an online portfolio and print portfolio, but I’m not sure if both are necessary? Feel free to email me if you’d rather discuss it outside of the comments. 

        1. Not really. My wife made a scrapbook for me but I really haven’t interfaces with anyone who didn’t do digital. This is the most convenient. My friend in PR says all media are required to accept pitches via email.

  4. Great advice for first-time article writers, thanks Jeff, I’ll keep this in mind to share with authors looking to publish in magazines. 

    I would also add don’t be afraid to follow up. Authors I work with are usually surprised when an editor hasn’t responded within a day or a week, but a more realistic timeline is probably 3-8 weeks, depending on the publication. Sometimes they will say in the writing guidelines when to follow up, but don’t be afraid to try! The worst that can happen is that you get a “no” or never hear back, and then you can try something else. 

      1. Yes, different magazines might call it differently, but basically writing/submission guidelines. If they don’t spell it out anywhere, study the publication for cues and examples.

    1. Hi Stephanie, I just got my first article published in National Geographic Assignment Blog and it has had universal rave reviews. I’m keen to start writing for major mags and finding someone who could be my literary publicist/agent. Could it be you? Maybe we could explore this possibility either via e-mail or phone – or call 415-683-8701. I would be pleased to hear from you. Thanks. Michael Banks

  5. Great post, after finding your manifesto I have steadily begun to write for me again after sinking in to the habit of writing for an audience. Much better for the soul and thank you for your insight. This is a great way to get into publishing and it is all about getting a relationship going, ideas and articles come second. I find if I can’t get twenty headlines out of a subject then I won’t pursue it. Keep posting, great site.

  6. I sold one magazine article a few years before I sold my first book, but the magazine went under before their first issue came out.  I did cash their $25 check though before it bounced!  

  7. Thanks for the interview with Don, today. Lots of great answers and I appreciate you taking the time to address our questions.

    Looks like I have some research to do for this next task (this post). Thanks for the advice!

  8. I see other people mentioned this- the portfolio link isn’t working.  I tried it at 11:40 MST.

    Good luck!

  9. Thank you 🙂 it is refreshing to hear that good old fasioned manners and communication could actually be the key.  I have had a small sucess with two small publications in magazines yet I still yearn (as do we all) for the huuuuge break that shall mean I can be like ‘Angela Lansbury’ and sit at my type writer in a rose filled garden.

  10. Sold. $2.99 is the magic price point for me. I’m guessing that about 30% of the book will be genuinely, specifically useful to me, but that’s still great value. Looking forward to digging through, and will be watching your site. Cheers.

  11. I had my 16 year old daughter read this from the picture of the typewriter and when she was done she scrolled to the top of your blog , saw your picture and said, “Oh my gosh, is he my age?” hahaha GREAT article Jeff. I’d say being more systematic about this process, or even press releases for TV & radio pitches is a good plan for me.

  12. Thanks for the tips Jeff, straightforward advice is always helpful!  Also, great to see the transcript will be coming from your interview with Don McAllister – as a non-USAer, I always appreciate transcripts or recordings of interviews as I’m rarely awake for the live versions that tend to appear at midnight onwards my time!

  13. I just recently was made aware of this sire and I love it!  I just ordered your two e-books and am looking forward to putting them into action!  To everyone else on here “Good Luck”!

  14. Sage advice, Jeff, however I wonder if I might be the squeaky wheel for a moment. 

    Posing an idea to an editor as a means of getting on the radar is an excellent idea. As someone who wears both hats on a daily basis, I can see the sound logic behind this idea, but I also see a couple concerns. “What if my idea is stolen?” 

    There’s also a question of the overwhelming prevalence of marketing/PR spin in the greater media environment these days. Perhaps I’m alone in this mindset, but I’d rather keep my integrity and write what needs written than be paid to write thinly veiled sales copy.

    Your thoughts? I guess each of us ultimately has to make the decision for ourselves, but I thought it was worth mentioning. Is the goal to be paid to write – whatever pays – or to write that which must be written? 

    1. Ideally, both. But the truth is you have to earn the right to be heard. You have to pay your dues. And sometimes what must be written is not always your idea. Editors have good ideas, too. (But I hear you — sometimes you have to put your foot down when it comes to values. I totally get that.) Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

  15. What if the only thing you have to show them is your own blog?  I’ve yet to publish anything in print or online, with the exception of my blog.  Most of the magazines (print or online) require one to show previously published work.  Thoughts?

  16. I agree, relationship is the answer.  For three years I have been writing for the hospitality industry and have been published in several different magazines fairly regularly. 

    As first it was difficult to get their attention but over time I have built relationships with staff members and other contributing writers.  It really is like sending an email to a friend at this point.

    As usual, Jeff is spot on!

  17. The question I have, is how do you find the jobs? Where do you go to find the open freelance positions?

  18. Please listen to those of your species with whom we have had contact!

    Your species can hear and read, but doesn’t know how to listen and learn! Many attempts have been made to guide your species. Messages have been sent out to world leaders, religious organization and news services utilizing members of your species, but get only automated responses. It’s as if your species really doesn’t care! Many times throughout your species history, we have tried to help you help yourselves, but few of your species have listened Showing the species in the universe that you aren”t ready to join with the goodness in the universe and save yourselves. Your species is nearing the point of no return. Please change your ways, less we lose another species we thought could finally join us to help keep the evil that exists in the universe subdued.

    All species of the universe develop to the point where they try to explain their existence. Your species is no different. A supernatural entity or group of supernatural entities. Your species exists. This is a reality. Good and evil exists throughout the universe, another reality. All species must deal with this. Eventually good can subdue this evil, but too many species have ended up destroying their worlds and had to start over, yet fail numerous times. A pattern we see now happening in your world and to your species. Some of your species are born connected to the “goodness” in the universe. Search them out! Weapons of war are not the answer. These people are! Unite in goodness and save your species or stay your present course and destroy your species. The choice is yours!

    Larex Yerenove & Sapele Elstin

    A Message for Earth

    People of Earth, your species is on the verge of destroying itself! You may have an intelligence that allows you to make weapons of mass destruction, but you are sorely limited in the area of using “COMMON SENSE”! Overcome your animal drives and start using your intelligence to save yourself from destruction! All the nations of earth should listen to this message. We could interfere, but we won’t. We leave your fate in your hands! Try not to prove that you are the dumbest species on your planet!

    Larex Yerenove & Sapele Elstin

    To all the worlds Political and Religious Leaders

    Our species and others in the universe are a little bit ticked off (a term on your world) at all of you!!! We adamantly tell you all, stop sitting on your brains, take your earplugs (or wax) out of your ears so you can hear, and open your eyes so that you can see what you are all doing to your species on your world! You are willing to take your world and your species to the brink of total destruction! Major world leaders who want to conquer the small countries that border them, other world leaders who want to spread their form of government to cultures where it just won’t work, and religious leaders supporting radicals who believe all others religions are wrong. It is obvious that good and evil exists in your world and on our and other worlds! There are too many people being killed by religious followers in the name of some god, who may or may not exist. Almost all the nations of your world have been through many wars. Though most wars end, there is no real winner. Too many of your species on all sides have died! Why does your species not see what history shows you?! Will you ever learn?! Now, with all your weapons, your world becomes a smaller place. And with the evil of some and/or blindness of others in power (political and religious), you just may destroy your species and your world.
    So, please, please, please wake up and work things out with the other nations of the world! Killing does no one any good. Let you put wars aside. There is only one hope and that is to remember you are part of the human species and stop being the “inhuman species”. Put the world ahead of your nations and work together to solve all the ills of your world. You can do this!! The question is whether your species will.

    Larex Yerenove & Sapele Elstin
    Saeed, Thanks for translating these and sending them to your friends. If you could e-mail them back to Sapele it would be appreciated. ED

    “There is no “God”!

    If there were a god, why would a god allow all the atrocities that have occurred, from the start of time, to continue to this day?! Your species imagination has come up with many stories to explain your existence. You have worshiped the sun, volcanoes, wind, moon, water, Roman and Greek gods and finally one god. Even with the belief in one god, you still can’t agree who that one god is! You kill and destroy each other in the name of your god. The leaders of these religions live in luxury while their followers suffer and die on their behalf. You’ve had all the various religions try to convert the world peacefully or by force. Christians don’t get along with each other; Muslims don’t get along with each other. And the list goes on and on and on! Religion, as envisioned by man, was supposed to bring peace to your world. Instead, all you see is death and destruction befalling your world!! Religions are brainwashing their followers to do their bidding. Feeding on the hopes and dreams of men and women. A Ponzi-like scheme, where you invest your life for a rewarding afterlife, that may or may not exist! We don’t have all the answers, but we do have ideas that are based on facts. Facts, that you can all see, that exist in your world. There are two basic facts. The first is that there is “Good” in your world and the second is that there is “Evil”. We believe that species are all born with good and evil within them. As you grow and experience life, things occur that cause one or the other to control your lives! It’s just that simple! We would like to see all the good people of your species, join together to suppress the evil that exists. It really isn’t as complicated as all your various religions, that have existed or exist now, have made it out to be. The many religious writings that clerics are trained to interpret for their followers. That is to interpret for a fee. The bottom line of most religions is the money they want to get from their followers, even those who can’t really afford to give. It is as simple as everyone using what is known as “COMMON SENSE”! Everyone can see that “Good and evil” exists. No complicated books to follow that were written by men. It is just “COMMON SENSE”. Some say that it can’t be that simple! We simply say, “Why not?”!
    We have asked, any god that exists, to guide us to write only the truth. We aren’t sure if we have been guided or not. If not, it is the truth as our species see it.

    Larex Yerenove & Sapele Elstin

    “ You say your god wants you to “What”?

    Just a few thoughts about rules you say your god tells you to follow. For beginners, he made Adam and Eve, and there was no need for clothes. Since then, he tells women how to dress. Could it really be that the men wrote the holy books as a way to keep their women totally covered, because the men can’t control themselves and don’t trust other men? He even gives grooming rules for men and women. Women and men, in some religions, must have long hair. In some, a man is supposed to have a beard. A hat or head covering can also be required for the men and women. When and why you can engage in lovemaking. There has been the sacrificing of animals and people to appease a god. Giving you directions on how to wash yourself. Doing it from the hands up or the elbows down? Wearing make‐up or not. What you can eat and from whom you can buy it. No pork, or no meats at all. When and how long you have to fast. Whether you can or can’t drink alcoholic beverages. He gives directions on how to worship him. How many times a day, what day of the week and how many days a week to worship him. He tells you who can be a cleric in a religion. He’s even told you the percentage of your earnings to give to the church/temple/mosque or synagogue. You also get told how to take care of your and your children’s bodies. Males and/or females must be circumcised in some cases. The prayers to say or the meditative state you need to reach. What weapon you must have on your person. When and who you can kill in defense of your religion. How you’ll be rewarded in the afterlife for doing so.Come on! If there is a god, why would he care how you’re dressed, wore your hair, what you ate or drank, when or why you entered into lovemaking, how and when you worship him as well as the prayers you should say, to circumcise or not, the weapons to carry and who and when he wants you to kill and last but not least, how much you should tithe! Come on! All of this appears to come from a male point of view. Using the idea of a god, as a way to control others. A way for them to make money, much like a Ponzi scheme does. Why would a god need you to worship him or have money? You should quit following and use your ability to think? Connect to the power of the good in the world and use “common sense” to decide what pathyou want your life to follow!

    Larex Yerenove & Sapele Elstin

    May the goodness in the universe bring you peace and joy: and protect you and your family!

    Larex Yerenove & Sapele Elstin

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