Too many writers begin their publishing journey the wrong way. They try to start big. They want a book contract, a speaking tour, and all-around international fame and notoriety.
The best way to do that? Write for magazines.
Over the years, I've written for a lot of different magazines and websites, some of which paid really well and some that didn't. Regardless, I'm grateful. It's how I got my start. And it's made me the writer I am today.
Why write for magazines?
Writing for magazines is a great way to learn a lot about how publishing works, what it's like to have your content edited, and how to hone your craft.
To be sure, there is no formula for getting published, but reading stories of what other writers have been through will help you glean things that may be relevant for your own writing.
For example, take this article by author and editor, Terry Whalin. It explains the ins and outs of magazine publishing, including the painful parts, like pitching your work and getting rejected. Here's an excerpt about this very important part of the process:
Every writer meets with rejection and projects which are never published.
In fact, I have files of material which has circulated and never been published.
I caution you that rejection and unpublished articles is a part of the writer's life and the road to consistent publication.
Another helpful article is Gary Bell's “Eight Tips for Getting Published in Magazines.” Bottom line? Build relationships with magazines. That's key.
Like so many things in life, getting published isn't about what you know as much as it is about who you know.
Once you prove yourself to a publication and have a relationship with an editor, it's much easier to come back the second and third time to get published.
So how do I do it?
Writing an article for a magazine isn't easy, if you've never done it before. If you're looking for an easy shortcut other than just doing the work, you won't find one. This is challenging stuff.
That said, here is how you can get your work published in a magazine, if you're willing to do the work:
Step 1: Start with a topic
Think of an idea that is original, interesting, and compelling.
Try to do some free-writing or mind-mapping to flesh it out on paper.
Focus on what you know, on what you have a unique perspective on.
Step 2: Make a list
Do some research. Take note of a few publications you'd like to pitch. Make sure you have a good variety. This will increase your chances of getting published with one of them.
I usually pick a few smaller and larger publications when I do this. I vary the list to improve my chances.
Step 3: Write a query letter
Query letters are short, formal letters that you send to to the editor to consider you for publishing. If the magazine has more than one editor, send it to the person who accepts pitches for your particular topic.
Address him or her by name, include the date, and pitch the idea in a short outline form.
It's also a good idea to provide some sample work that you've done (in the form of links, preferably, if you have published anything online).
If appropriate, try including more than one idea in the letter. This will increase the likelihood of getting a response.
If you need help writing one, try this tutorial: How to Write a Query Letter
Step 4: Wait
This is important: Give the magazine adequate time to respond.
If they have a policy for pitching articles, read it. Most likely, it will be something like this: “If you don't hear back from us in [X amount of time], you can trust that we weren't able to use your piece.”
Wait a week or so before following up. If you don't hear back within a few weeks to a month, send a letter to the publication, telling them you're moving on with the idea. When in doubt, ask permission to follow up. For example, if I'm wanting a quick response on a piece, I may say:
If I don't hear back from you in a week or so, would it be all right for me to follow up?
If they say yes, then you never have to feel awkward about sending a follow-up.
Step 5: Follow up
If they do respond to your pitch, they will tell you one of the following:
a) They don't like the idea.
b) They want you to tweak the idea.
c) They want to publish the idea.
Oftentimes, I go back and forth with a publication before we land on a good idea.
Once you land on a good idea, they may ask for outline.
Once you've agreed on a deadline, then it's time to start writing. The hardest part is done. Now, all you have to do is write the article. And next time, you probably won't have to go through this process.
The more you do this sort of thing, the easier it gets, especially as magazines and editors begin to know and trust you.
For more tips and tricks, check out the Freelance Writers' Guide to Getting Published. It has a great list of resources that will help you.
Do you have any questions or tips for getting published in magazines?