Wonder how to start writing for magazines? Here’s my story:
I still recall, back in 1988 when my son was a toddler, the moment I heard that anybody who put their mind to it could write for magazines. Even me? It was quite a revelation – for some reason, I’d thought all magazines were staff written. Or at least written by famous writers. What an eye-opener the truth was! I picked up magazines on newsstands with a fresh eye.
Of course, my next question was, “How?”
How do you know what content magazine editors want? How do you approach them in a professional way? How would I learn to write well enough? And of course: What do they pay?”
I read market listings in the Writer’s Market (updated annually, usually available in library reference areas, but also available from Writers Digest Books). What a marvel! I found — under each magazine title — what editor to contact, best contact method, and pay rates: 10 cents to a dollar a word, depending on publication and author experience. (Sorry to say, rates haven’t changed much in two decades. But they still pay better than free blog posts, right?) Some publications give clues about content they need most.
The Writer’s Market is a great tool for finding publications currently purchasing articles. Listings include editors’ names, contact info, themes, and pay rates for articles. The Kindle version may be a good start for you, but if you want to keep up with updates to listings, I recommend the book+online edition. Bear in mind the WM is written the year before publication, so do check to be sure info is current. It helps to visit a publication’s website to verify their current writer’s guidelines.
Still I wondered: although anyone could submit, what were my chances of publication? Some writer’s guidelines tell you your odds of getting in if you are a newbie or mention short sections in their magazines that are most open to less experienced writers.
I was excited to learn that you usually don’t usually submit an article – you submit a query (article proposal), then write the article after you get a contract for it, with a deadline date and expected word count.
Some magazines pay on publication (which could be up to a year after you send in your finished article, but is often four months or so). Others pay after the editors have accepted your article. A few, if they decide not to use your article after all, pay a “kill fee” giving your rights back. (It’s a merciful death, at least with a consolation prize. And not really a death at all, because you can sell first rights to the article again.)
I tried my hand first at a personal experience story about an answered prayer, and submitted it to Power for Living. I still remember the day I pushed my son in his stroller to the post office in our tiny town, opened up our PO box, and in it was a check! For a whopping $100! I was so thrilled, I jumped up and down screeching. My son shouted “Yay!” too, although he had no idea what had gotten Mommy so excited.
I wrote more queries. Bombed out a few times. Overshot to big publications with a lot of competition. Got some standard, generic, rejection slips. Ouch. THAT wasn’t fun.
But I think I handled it better than most, because I’d run a different kind of business for the previous dozen years. As a crafts-person, I had created and sold a thousand of my off-loom weavings, to art galleries and via art shows. I’d learned not everyone had the same tastes, and that was OK. So I tried to look at my writing as a product, not an extension of my personality. A product I could improve on, but might not fit every publication or season or theme.
Here’s one analogy: some customers loved my weavings, but ordered colors and designs different from my samples. I figured some magazines might like my writing style, but prefer a different topic or treatment of the topic, or the timing might not be right.
So I pressed on.
I kept hearing from writing sources to “write what you know”. To me, that included what I had learned or was in the process of learning from others. One frustration for me at that time was that my toddler son was outgrowing his clothes WAY too rapidly (within months). I realized it was due to the styles I’d chosen or had been given as gifts. So I informally interviewed other moms to figure out what styles a child could wear for the longest periods of time. I fired off a query to Baby Talk, telling them what I was researching and how I’d present the results. I just figured that if I as a mom had questions, so might other moms.
I was right! And ecstatic when a contract arrived in the mail, offering me a nice per-word rate and a deadline. I had an idea for a second article at the same time, and Baby Talk decided to run them together, in the same issue. The day that glossy magazine arrived in the mail, with my articles illustrated and my own byline, I was over the moon!
I’m a bit sad to say I miss those moments when I danced with excitement on having articles accepted. I must be getting a bit jaded now that I’ve been honored to have 100+ articles sold over the years. I opened an envelope recently with a check for $1100 from one magazine, and shame on me, I just breathed “Whew.” I was just glad it had arrived in time to pay off a bill. I did not dance in the least.
So excuse me. I need to take a moment to relive that moment. To think about how hard it still can be to make those sales, and …
JUMP FOR JOY!
Have you had a recent success in writing for magazines that made you burst with excitement? Tell us about it in a comment, below! Give some hope to all those new freelancers looking forward to the day they can dance at the mailbox.
[Image courtesy of stockimages/freedigitalphotos.net]