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How To Get Started In Magazine Writing – Ask Anne

writing for trade magazinesHi Anne,

How can a freelance writer get her foot in the door when it comes to working for magazines? Should I submit a full article or opinion piece?

Cheryl P in comments

Hi Cheryl,

One reason it seems so difficult to break into magazine writing is that editors truly have little time and, if the magazine is at all well known, a ton of over the transom, unsolicited articles, most of dubious or worse value. While a good query can be an editor’s dream, that works best when the freelance writer already has some credits.

Editors are like most of us – they need reassurance. 

Probably the best way to give them that reassurance is to submit the whole article on spec, as we in the trade say.

Actually on spec which means on speculation, and over the transom are pretty synonymous.

If they like the piece you’ll be paid their standard rate, if they don’t sometimes they’ll tell you why. Once in a great while you’ll be asked to rewrite it.

This is particularly true of opinion pieces. I can tell you that I’m a screaming liberal, which I am – but that doesn’t tell you how I’d handle a specific topic. Far better to show how you’d write it by writing it.

That’s also true if you’re a new writer with no or few credits and even, sometimes, if you’re experienced but moving into a totally different field. For example, if you’ve got credits in academia and want to write for consumer magazines or trade magazines, submit on spec to show that you can write for the general public – a whole different voice than you use in academia.

Check Writer’s Market and the magazine’s website for instructions on how to submit, and follow them exactly. Let us know how it all works out.

If you’ve got a question about freelance writing, ask it in comments or via email and I’ll do my best to answer it here.


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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Hi Anne

    I am a freelance writer and have been asked to write a biography for a retired professor in South Africa, where I live. I have deep knowledge of his subject area and have done similar work. He says he will recompenses me well, and he is not poor! But I have to go back to him with a suggested fee and I can’t find any guidelines. I would be so grateful if you could give me any pointers, or suggest a source.
    many thanks
    best regards
    Hilary Bassett

    • Suggested fee for what… is he paying you to write the bio? Is it an article? A book? Writer’s Market has a list of fees but it’s based in the US… might be a place to start.

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