Much of my work is corporate, but I do reserve a slice of time for magazine writing. I’ve always loved magazines, since I was a kid reading Highlights, and later peeking at Cosmopolitan. When colleagues learn that I freelance for magazines, they invariably ask, “How do I break into magazines?” I could write a book to answer that question (indeed, others have), but here’s the short reply.
1. Read magazines.
2. Pick one magazine you’d like to write for. How much is written by staff, how much by freelancers? (Check the masthead.)
3. Study the last 12 issues. What kinds of articles do they run? What’s the typical writing style? Who reads this publication?
4. Choose a topic you’re familiar with. Now is not the time to explore unknown territory! Do some preliminary research.
5. Decide on the angle your story will take. It’s not enough to write generally about “marketing” or “parenting.” You need a very specific angle, such as, “Sales letters that sing” or “Picking the child care that’s right for you.”
6. Compose a query letter to the appropriate editor (again, check the masthead or the writer’s guidelines for the magazine; look online for guidelines).
7. Write the first paragraph of your query in the style you’d use for the article. Continue by explaining how you’d write the piece and why you’re qualified to do so.
8. Send the query letter with samples of your work. Yes, it’s a catch-22 if you’ve never written for a magazine before. Do you have some other samples that show your style? An article in a local paper or corporate publication? By the way, some magazines still prefer snail mail; again, check their guidelines.
9. If the editor says yes, be sure you get a written contract that sets out the word count, deadline, fee, and when payment is made (on acceptance or on publication).
10. If the editor says no, don’t give up. Pick another magazine and start again. Check out the Writer’s Market for a directory of magazines.
This is a simplified list, but perhaps it’s enough to help you decide whether you’re ready to make the leap into magazines.