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The Writing For Magazines FAQ

FAQs for WritersDashing 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.

What else would you like to know about magazine writing?


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{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Another thing I’ve picked-up on is that some magazines suddenly come back to you months after you suggested some ideas and commission a piece you thought was dead in the water. So if you are submitting to various magazines in the same field, it can be good to hold off before sending the same ideas to different titles – you never know when they are going to say yes and you can burn bridges by saying “Oh sorry, I just sold that to one of your competitors”.

  • You’re more than welcome Tess.

  • Hi Anne,

    Another brilliant post! Thanks for sharing your insight on the topic of writing for magazines. Much of what you said was very true. I wanted to add that once you get accepted by a smaller magazine, very often the magazine editor or director will come back to you for more articles and stories if you do a superb job for them – or at least this has been my experience.

  • Sure it happens once in a great while. I’d rather spend time writing than worrying about someone stealing my ideas. And yes, as freelancers we can always write for someone else.

  • I wondered how long before someone brought that up.

    The thing is there are unscrupulous people out there. Luckily, not many, but they do exist. The editor in that situation was kidding herself – if she’d taken from any online version of a print mega-magazine, she’d have been inundated with legal teams and copyright infringement articles.

    I believe, though I’m not 100 percent certain, that the notion of “public domain” versus “copyright” has been sorted for online venues already, so she was violating copyright law.

    Anne, you’re completely correct – ideas are not copyrightable. Frankly, very few editors would steal ideas as there are few really new ones, but again, it does happen. I’m pretty sure in one case it happened to me, but that just means you have great ideas. If you suspect it, cross that market off your list and go elsewhere with your ideas.

    Do you concur, Anne?
    Lori recently posted..Boredom and CreativityMy Profile

  • Yes, I’m sort of familiar with the Cook’s Source issue… I think ww.suite101.com/content/cooks-source-gets-pounded-online-for-copyright-violation-a304678 does a better job describing it. I was shocked when I heard a couple of week’s ago that the editor considered anything on the web public domain… that’s just nuts. But that’s not really your question since you ask about editors stealing a writer’s ideas… in the Cook’s Source as I understand it, the article in question was simply copied with the editor then defending herself with the nonsense about the web being public domain.

    When it comes to ideas, ideas cannot be copyrighted. It can seem an editor is stealing an idea, and in fact I’m sure it happens once in a while… after all how many ways can you cook an onion or a potato?

    Assuming you’re a writer I’d suggest you keep writing and not worry about idea stealing – wholesale copying is something else and a definite no no.

  • Omar

    What are your thought about Editors stealing writer’s ideas? Anne are you familiar with the Cook’s Source fiasco. http://bit.ly/cFujF7

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