Freelance writers can decide between submitting a finished article or a query letter to an editor. These days most editors prefer a one-page query letter, usually emailed. But before you pitch any article, you must know what magazines publish your topic.

How to Find Relevant Publications

Before I write an article on a familiar or unfamiliar topic, I first explore potential publications that publish such topics. I do this in a few ways:

  1. I search online for relevant magazines.
  2. I visit the magazine’s website and browse through its content.
  3. I review the magazine’s writer’s guidelines.
  4. I review the magazine’s editorial calendar. An editorial calendar will tell you what the editor plans to publish in the coming months.
  5. I review how much the magazine pays and what “rights” it buys. This can help you eliminate magazines that don’t match or exceed your pay rate or which purchase “All Rights” to an article (without the rights ever reverting back to you).
  6. I judge the level of competition. The chance of a new writer selling a first article to a widely-distributed national magazine that pays $1.00 per word is probably 0.01%. A new writer should aim for regional, local or trade magazines that welcome new writers and pay decent rates.

Additional Research Methods

Sometimes I support my research by going out in the field. What this means, literally, is that I visit my local library (it’s right down the street where I live) and my local bookstore to survey the types of magazines in the subject area I’ve written about. At my
local bookstore, I can visit the magazine rack where magazine titles are fanned out across different tiers and pinpoint magazines that might publish my topic.

Alternatively, you can visit Amazon.com’s magazine subscription category and search for relevant magazines. Although Amazon.com will not list all relevant magazines that are published in the U.S., it will aid you in finding the most popular magazines.

Google is another option. For example, to search for travel magazines, you can enter the search term “travel magazines,” and Google will usually list the most popular travel magazines. If you want to find travel trade magazines, you simply add the keyword
“trade” to the search phrase.

Finally, I use a directory called “Writer’s Market“. This paperback compendium of] magazine markets profiles hundreds of editors and publishers who accept submissions from freelance writers. Each profile lets you know what the editor wants, what they pay, how to submit, and whom to contact.

I use the online edition of Writer’s Market and FreelanceWriting.com’s Writer’s Guidelines Database to search for additional publications that publish articles on topics that I’ve already written about so that I can potentially re-sell a previously published
article.

Two Categories of Magazines

Freelance writers can tap into two potentially lucrative magazine markets: trade magazines and general-interest magazines.

Trade magazines are publications aimed at specific industries from insurance to construction to teaching or just about any other field. Because publishers distribute trade magazines directly to subscribers, they are less visible but often pay better than other types of magazines. You can research trade magazines at your library, online, or in “Writer’s Market.”

The other market that I follow is general-interest magazines. These magazines are mailed to consumers, sold at the newsstand, read online via mobile apps or digital content delivery, or distributed regionally or locally. For example, when I write a travel article, I try to look beyond travel-specific or travel-trade magazines to other “general interest” magazines that publish travel-related and lifestyle articles.

How to Study the Magazine

As I uncover new markets, I study each magazine thoroughly so I have a better chance at selling an article.

  1. I study the magazine’s tone. Is the tone formal or informal? Is it conversational, or serious? Is it technical or expressive?
  2. I study the magazine’s audience and readership. Who reads this magazine, and why? Why are readers eager to pay for a subscription? They must know they will get some value and benefit from each issue. What is that value and benefit which readers seek?
  3. I study the magazine’s advertisers. A magazine with more advertisers usually pays higher freelance rates. Plus, the type of businesses that advertise their services or products can tell you a lot about the magazine’s readers.
  4. I study the magazine’s writers and what they write and how they write. An editor has decided to publish these writers. Why?
  5. I study what the magazine has already published. You do not want to pitch articles that the magazine has recently covered or topics that are overdone.
  6. I study the magazine’s frequency. A monthly or bi-weekly magazine needs more articles. A quarterly or bi-monthly magazine needs less. Pretty obvious.
  7. I study the magazine’s thickness. What is the ratio between content and advertisements? How many pages are devoted to articles? This will help you judge how much content an editor buys.

All of these elements help me write a more focused query letter to address the needs of the editor.

Following the Writer’s Guidelines

Magazines provide their own “writer’s guidelines” to tell writers what the editor wants and doesn’t want; what type of articles and departments are open to freelance writers; typical word length; response times; and how to submit material.

Follow the magazine’s guidelines exactly. Editors receive hundreds of submissions monthly. Laziness on your part will likely result in a rejection. I type my query letter or finished article in 12-point Times New Roman or Courier New and double-space. I put my name and contact information in the upper left-hand corner. I like to use 1.5″ inch margins. A magazine’s guidelines will tell you if the editor prefers query letters or finished manuscripts.

Pitching an Article to an Editor

I generally make a list of potential markets based on pay and response. As long as magazines do not ask for exclusivity, I email a number of queries at once. I double-check the writer’s guidelines for each magazine to see what information I should include in a query letter. I address each editor by full name and title, and keep my query letters as short as possible.

If you’re using an email sending platform to deliver a batch of query letters, make sure to personalize your emails by using dynamic content features. This will help increase the odds of your pitch getting read and approved.

Generally, a query letter contains four paragraphs that sell your article and convince the editor to publish your article.

  • In the first paragraph, I hook the editor, usually with a short passage from my article.
  • In the second paragraph, I support my hook by discussing a solution or solutions to the problem.
  • In the third paragraph, I tell the editor why my article will interest readers.
  • In the fourth paragraph, I tell the editor my credentials and why I am the best writer to write on the topic. For example, if I had written an article about Apple’s newest iPad and I have a background in designing mobile applications, I would mention that fact.

Here is an infographic that shows the components of a query letter.

The hook

I mentioned that I “hook” the editor in the first paragraph. This is important in every query letter. It is your first chance and first impression to sell your article. You can “hook” the editor in numerous ways, depending on your article. For example, if I say I want to write an article on childhood obesity in America, that doesn’t sound unique or interesting.

However, what if I say I want to write about the emotional stress that obese children face because of constant bullying at school? Here I am more specific. I have tied together two popular, timely topics to make my article more appealing. In my hook, I tell the editor about this national problem and how my article will address this concern and offer solutions to the magazine’s readers. That’s a more interesting approach.

However, what if I say I want to write about the emotional stress that obese children face because of constant bullying at school? Here I am more specific. I have tied together two popular, timely topics to make my article more appealing. In my hook, I tell the editor about this national problem and how my article will address this concern and offer solutions to the magazine’s readers. That’s a more interesting approach.

Market Yourself and Your Writing

Writers aren’t salespeople, nor do they want to be. Writers just want to write. Unfortunately, a freelance writer has no choice but to act as his or her own marketer and sales person. With solid research, a convincing query letter, backed up by persistence and motivation, I am able to sell most of the writing that I do. So can you.

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