How to Break Into Magazine Writing

magazine writing

One of the hardest parts of becoming a freelance writer is getting your first assignment. How do you find the right magazine for your story idea? And once you do, how to you get the magazine to give you an assignment?

We recently hosted a Twitter Q&A with freelance writer Lisa Iannucci (@virgintraveler), who shared tips on writing for both consumer and trade magazines, including how to find assignments, how to create better relationships with your editors, and more.

Lisa has written many articles for consumer and trade publications. On the consumer side, she has written for Weight Watchers, Muscle & Fitness, Parenting, Shape, ePregnancy, SkyGuide Go (American Express), American Health, USA Weekend,  Parenting, New York Magazine, among others. She has also written for the trade market as a regular contributor to New England Condominium, The Cooperator, Business Travel News, DDIFO (a Dunkin’ Donuts trade journal); Sports Travel and more.

She is also the founder of The Virgin Traveler, a travel blog for those who always wanted to travel and are finally getting the chance, and co-host of “Sports Palooza Radio”. A member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, she has written, contributed to, and ghostwritten 14 other books.

What’s the most important thing someone should know about writing for consumer publications?

Come up with a fresh idea. So much has been done before. What new twist can you give it – new research, new anecdotes? Say you want to write about diets. What new research is there? Is there a new weight-loss procedure?

Shameless plug: And you can use ProfNet to find that information!

I’ll second that shameless plug. I use ProfNet all the time to network and find sources and something new for my articles.

What makes writing for trade publications different than writing for consumer publications?

To write for consumers, you have a broader audience, but to write for trades it’s a specific niche that deals with one topic. Example of consumer magazines, Woman’s Day, Time, Sports Illustrated. Examples of trades are Creative Screenwriting or Birdwatching magazine.

Do you have to be an expert on that niche in order to write for trade pubs?

Not necessarily. I don’t own a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise, but I write for one of their trades. It depends on the magazine. If it’s very technical or medical, then you should come to the table with some knowledge of the subject matter. Also, some magazines require a specific background to write for them, while others don’t. Read the articles and see who the writers are.

Which do you prefer, consumer or trade pubs?

Honestly, I love my trades. I’ll write for both, but with trades, the editorial process is easier/faster. Less hands. Many consumer magazines have “committees” of editors. One article can take months (even more than a year) to go from idea to print. On the flip side, some consumer magazines pay very well if you break in. But for me, trades are steadier work/pay. When I started, I saw my name in consumer magazine lights. When one story took a year to see in print, I rethought that.

If you’re just starting out and have no connections, what’s the best way to go about getting an assignment?

Find out the editor/contact and write to them telling them you are looking for freelance work. You can also start with pitching a magazine an idea and why you should write it. Learn how to write a query letter (there are books). If you want to write for a medical journal and you’re a nurse, say it. If you want to write for a bird magazine and it’s your hobby, say that.

The best advice on landing an assignment is “write about what you know.” Start there and then find magazines where you can do that.

How does someone go about finding a trade pub to pitch? How do they know which magazines even exist?

Writer’s Market is a great place to start, but you can ask associations what their trade magazines are; they’ll know. Also, I’ve Googled “real estate trade pubs,” for example, so you can search it with the industry you are looking for. To find out if they exist, do the old fashioned thing – call. Some are just websites now, but you can still write for them.

Once you’ve identified a publication, how do you find out the correct person to pitch?

Years ago, it used to be easy – you’d call and get a contact name/number. Now, many magazines use generic editorial emails. Look at their masthead or on their website and start there. Find the editor’s name/email. If they have a phone number, call.

You want to see who the editors are and then target the right one. For example, if you’re pitching a fitness story, you want a health editor, not the main editor. If they just have one editor, you’ll just pitch him/her, so it depends. Keep in mind that one editor may handle multiple magazines, so impress them and they may use you again for other assignments.

What should your very first pitch contain? Do you have to have the article already written out?

No, don’t write it yet. A query letter should intrigue them about the idea. Make the first paragraph riveting so they want more. Then tell them why you as the writer. Do you have experience? Contacts? Sell it!

Writing is more marketing than you think. If they like it, they’ll contact you for more info or an assignment. They will tell you details, etc., so don’t write it yet.

What’s the difference in pay between consumer pubs and trade pubs? Does one pay better than the other?

Yes and no. You might make more money with consumer magazines per article, depending on the magazine, but if it takes months to finish the article, go through edits and get paid, well? If you’re writing a lot, fine, but for me, trades often pay faster with less edits, so since this is my business, I make more with trades. Other writers might say differently. It depends on your own career as you go. At one time, I made more with consumer magazines. Now it’s different for me.

Whether you’re just starting out or are a veteran writer, ProfNet can help you find the experts you need. Just submit a query telling us what you’re looking for, your deadline, and how you want to be contacted, and we’ll send it to the appropriate experts in our network. Send a query to get started.

Maria Perez is Director of Online Community Relations and connects journalists with subject matter experts on ProfNet. To read more from Maria, check out her ProfNet Connect blog.

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