How to Get Published in a Magazine

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.

Get Published in a Magazine
Photo credit: John Martinez Pavliga (Creative Commons)

But that’s not how this thing works. You have to start small. This is a blessing in disguise, actually, as you are probably not that good when you are just beginning. You need time to practice.

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I caution you that rejection and unpublished articles is a part of the writer’s life and the road to consistent publication.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?

67 thoughts on “How to Get Published in a Magazine

  1. Jeff,

    Thank you for this amazing piece of information. Dude, seriously, I’ve already put it on my to-do list. 

    Thanks for your heart, in wanting to help writers out.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience here. I think starting small is the best thing you can do, although I would add that writers shouldn’t be intimidated or feel like they can’t query a certain publication just because they’re “beginners.” It’s true that a lot of of magazine writers have some experience or credentials under their belt, but I have also read some amazingly compelling and creative articles by “new” writers just telling their story or talking about what they love. 

    Also…you may very well be pitching, but don’t use the word “pitch” in your emails to editors! 

  3. very helpful!  I’ve been thinking about branching out into guest posting and submitting to magazines lately, actually, so this is timely.  Thanks, Jeff 🙂

  4. Amen, Jeff! Iam on the staff of the Write-to-Publish Conference and this is one of the main points we stress to new writers who believe they are ready to write a book and they have no publishing experience.

  5. Thanks for this Jeff! I’ve been wanting to do look into some more serious free-lance writing and this is really helpful information, especially as someone who doesn’t have any kind of professional writing training. 

  6. Jeff, I appreciate you sharing this sound advice. I agree that once you’re in with a magazine or journal, they will be open to future ideas. These relationships, for me, have lasted through the years. And often, the magazine will call YOU. Instead of the other way around. As long as we can deliver what they need, we’ll have a connection to readers. Blessings.

  7. Jeff, starting small has been my mantra too.  I actually took an online course about getting started with magazines to get the experience in publishing that you referenced.  However, I felt like that wasn’t small enough of a start; I started blogging instead.  I think blogging for a while has built up my confidence enough to be ready to take my ideas to a publisher.  This post was a timely reminder to take it to the next step.  Thank You!

  8. Jeff, do you have any thoughts about how to best leverage magazine articles to promote the other things you’re doing: books, blogs, etc.? Or is this about gaining experience and a little income with little to no bearing on your other projects?

    1. Loren, in today’s age of online blogs and magazines, you can use it to direct people to your blog/website, but it’s mostly about name recognition, experience, and exposure. Plus, there is a lot of legitimacy that still comes with being published in magazines.

  9. wow – I feel overwhelmed with what direction to take.  I am realizing how difficult this journey is going to be. Thanks for always posting what I need to read.  Its like you are reading my mind.  I am feeling a tad discouraged today. 🙁

    1. My darkest days on the writing journey have also lent impetus to my brightest. Discouragement (I’m not that good, I don’t have what it takes, maybe I’m just not made out to be a writer) haunts us all.

      I would say the most important question to get you through the dark, disgusting days is not–Do I have what it takes?–but do I love what I’m doing?

      I haven’t heard or read Jeff’s Jon Acuff interview yet but I read Jon’s book “Quitter.” He does a good job of chipping away at the dreamworld we create while encouraging the genuine dream we want to pursue.

      If you love writing, persevere.

  10. One of the important pieces of research is to know the magazine(s) you approach.  Who is their audience?  What type of material do they usually publish?  What is their purpose/mission.  Etc.  You don’t want to waste time approaching a publication that wouldn’t be interested in your idea.  

    1. And that information can be easily accessed through the magazine’s website (at least typically). To not know who the editor is or the content of the magazine plants a red flag firmly at the top of your article or query. At least, that’s what rumor has it.

  11. Great advice! Am I correct in assuming it is a bad idea to send a magazine something that you put on your blog already? Or is it ok to do something similar as you aren’t copying and pasting?

  12. For a person who sees you as just coming on the scene (only because you and your blog really didn’t exist until I discovered you), I appreciate your addressing an area overlooked in the writing world–magazines and other writing venues beyond a published book. I’m enrolled in the Christian Writers Guild “Apprentice” course which, lesson-by-lesson, exposes you to the vast writing world.

    One lesson any writer has to learn is the art of hitting the “send/publish” button, whether it’s an article for a blog or a query to an editor. Actually, it’s not so much an art as a decision. You decide to face rejection (somewhat akin to standing in the batter’s box, facing a power pitcher, and taking a swing) and, on occasion, you connect with an editor or an audience.

    I’d second your advice about cultivating a relationship with an editor or a magazine. My only published pieces have all come through personal (and in my case face-to-face) relationships with editors.

  13. Always love reading your posts. So practical and well laid-out. Been wanting to get stories and books published for a while and I think starting small with magazines is a brilliant way to get going. Thanks for the advice!

  14. Thanks for the great advice. I can’t wait to put it into practice.

    I’ve thought that when you’re new to the scene it’s better to present a fully-developed work in order to show what you’ve got. But looks like I could be wrong.

    Is there any time where you would suggest sending a full article over a query letter with an outline?

  15. Excellent tips!! I got my start publishing in local newspapers and it was the best experience ever. 🙂 I learned so much about deadlines and writing tightly and interestingly – such good training. I’ve done some magazine work and am doing more now than I ever have and really like it. 🙂

  16. Agreed. All three book deals flowed out of my building relationships with editors for magazines and other work-for-hire contracts. 

  17. Great tools and encouragement! I’ve wanted to do freelance work for a while and haven’t taken the time to prepare myself and go for it. I’m working on my first query this week though! Question: Is it kosher to re-purpose an old blog post for a magazine article?

    1. Beck, I think I already answered this in another comment, but bottom line is this: It all depends on the publication. If you DO repurpose, just be clear and up-front about it. Make sure they’re cool with it (some are).

  18. Hey Jeff,

    We just read this in our COM 370 class at UNA. Very helpful stuff for us young folk. Also a few girls in the class said you were cute. I did not; I’m a guy, so no hard feelings.



  19. I really like this post, Jeff.  I read it awhile ago and it has stuck in my mind as I’ve considered possible topics for magazine publication and possible magazines that I could even pitch to.

    Here’s a question…does an article have to be a completely original piece?  Meaning, if it’s something I’ve written on my blog or guest posted on someone else’s blog, am I still able to pitch that as an idea or is that a no no?  If it is okay, do I need to tell them upfront that it has appeared on my blog or another blog in my name?

      1. No, I didn’t.  But, in reading again 12 months later, I think you could easily take an idea from a post and expound on it for a magazine article.  What do you think?

        1. I would think so, especially if it was on your blog and you received a lot of feedback on it.

          I would think it’s similar to guest posting and saving what you guest posted, then posting it on your blog later on/submitting it for a guest post elsewhere. I’ve seen people do that, and it gets it out there.

          So I would think it would be okay.

  20. Hi Jeff, this information is reassuring as i begin to write my first query letter. My question is, can i send a query letter to several magazines at once for the same article? what if more than one want the article?


  21. I started writing blog on management concepts but not find any way to pitch the print media in India and abroad. My concept is unique and awesome but its hard to get the recognition.

  22. I think the capacity and quality of the article is first needed. What you put out quite practical and logical. Thanks for sharing.

  23. Hei Jeff,
    Hi am Sasi from India,To start off,am a writer,so far i’ve published my articles in notion press and in some of the local magazines,but i’d like to start my career in a worlds greatest magazine like Maxim and Cosmo,could you please help me with that??

    Thanks in advance

    1. Hello, can i have your email? Even i am from india and i want to get published no matter if ot is from small magzine but something progressive i wish to do. Can you help me?

  24. Very helpful. I actually just started formally blogging about 2 weeks ago, and have been asked to blog for a national cancer magazine and website and have NO idea what I am doing or what to ask. I definitely didn’t plan for this, nor do I know how common this is. Either way, great info you shared to start me off! any advice is welcome!

  25. I have sort of a stupid question: do I need to blog just in order to send out a single article to e magazines and periodicals? I have no idea on how to get started. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks!

  26. Hi Jeff, thanks for that useful article, I am a 19 years old writer from Kurdistan-Iraq, as a kid I a had published some of my work in local magazines. But now I have a bigger dream to publish my work internationally, but have no idea where to start?

  27. Thanks for sharing this Jeff! We at BolteRaho are providing a platform for budding writers to publish their articles to thousands of our viewers online. Get in touch with us on our website to get your article published!

  28. What if you have already written the article? Do you just send it or do you need a letter to accompany the article? Thanks so much, in advance!

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