Dashing off magazine articles for high pay is one of the fantasies many people have about freelance writers. Others imagine interviewing famous and/or glamorous people, again for magazines that pay a dollar a word or more.
It’s not always or even often that way. Here are the real FAQs of magazine writing:
Is it hard to write for magazines?
The short answer is yes. Writing, at least writing well, is hard work. You’ll have to work at generating ideas, you’ll have to work at your writing and you’ll have to work at marketing – usually queries for magazines. Renegade Writer has an excellent article called the Top 5 Query Mistakes Freelance Writers Make. It can be worth it, but don’t fool yourself that it’s easy.
How much competition will I face?
A lot. The magazine industry is in almost as much upheaval as newspapers are. Circulation is down in print consumer magazines and, at least at the moment (November 2020) so are advertising revenues. Trade magazines are harder to quantify but there’s no real reason to think they are fairing any better. So yes, there is a lot of competition by writers for a slot in print magazines.
Magazines you typically see on newsstands are the toughest to crack just because they are the one’s writers always think about. Less obvious consumer magazines and trade magazines are easier targets.
Can I make a living writing for magazines?
In theory you can, but in truth it’s unlikely. And it won’t be possible until you build your portfolio. Start where you are and write and query like mad, but well. Don’t be afraid to submit to the top paying markets, but don’t be surprised if you’re rejected. Don’t quit your day job until you’re pretty certain you’ll be able to earn your way.
What kind of articles do magazines want?
Every magazine is different. Even the magazines you see at the supermarket that seem similar have subtly different requirements. Writer’s Market gives you a good selection of both trade and consumer magazines with descriptions of what they want. I can’t spend five minutes in that book without coming up with a short handful of ideas. Most magazines have websites which often include guidelines for writers although you may have to poke around to find them.
If you write well and study the magazines you want to write for carefully you dramatically increase your chances. Editors always talk about how few writers actually follow the guidelines.
Study the magazines you want to write for. Read them closely, and pay attention to the ads. Advertisers spend huge amounts of money to target readers which can help the savvy writer understand that magazines market.
Should I submit the article or send a query?
Either can work. New writers may have more success sending the completed article on spec because the editor will quickly be able to tell if it’s a fit or not. Queries, on the other hand, if well written, can land you an assignment or at least the invitation to submit which is a real advantage. Queries can be more efficient and allow the editor to help shape the article if they are intrigued. Like so many things in freelance writing there’s no single answer.
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