Freelance magazine writing can be one of the most rewarding careers available to a freelance writer. Successful magazine writers are articulate, have a wide variety of interests, and know how to research a topic. Many freelance magazine writers write for various magazines, not just one, and like to write on diverse topics and sell their articles to a variety of magazines and media outlets.
The key to writing for magazines and selling what you write is knowing your market. Most magazines focus on a fairly narrow range of content. One magazine might deal with the finer points of horse grooming. Another magazine might focus on the ins and outs of toy robot collection. And yet another might cover the beauties and travel opportunities available in Bali.
This degree of specialization means that magazine editors usually have a specific idea of what articles they're seeking, sometimes even down to a specific writing style or voice. Since magazines typically cater to a "niche" audience of educated readers, you'll need to write well-written and interesting articles; your articles will have to feel new to an established audience. If you're writing for a parasailing magazine, then submitting a 500-word article about the basics of parasailing just won't do.
You have two options to write salable articles. The first is to become deeply involved with the activities or topics which the magazine covers. If you're planning to write and sell travel articles about Germany, take at least one trip to Germany. If you're planning to write and sell articles about cat care, spend a few days with a cat yourself (or find a knowledgeable, cat-owning friend who's willing to give you some good, real-life information).
Writing magazine articles is a form of journalism, and often adheres to the same standards of quality and truthfulness. Would you trust a news article about declining air and water standards in a nearby town if you could tell the writer had never set foot in that town? Of course not.
Unfortunately, most of us don't have time to take on an entirely new hobby. That's why the second way is usually the best option: write about what you know. We're all complicated people. We all have stories to tell. We enjoy hobbies and activities that fascinate us. We can easily uncover material for a hundred or more articles. So think about what you can write about, and what interests you. It seems hard at first, but once you sit down and start thinking about it, the article ideas will flow. Once you have your article ideas and have written articles about what you know, start looking around for magazines that might be willing to buy them. Chances are good there's a magazine covering your interests or hobbies.
How do you find suitable magazines, and how do you ask if editors are interested? There are many ways to find appropriate publishing venues for your articles. For one, you could go to your local bookstore and search the magazine racks. If you have an independent bookstore in your area, so much the better: you may find some titles that don't circulate at the larger chains. You can also take advantage of Writer's Market, which list pertinent information about hundreds of magazines, including typical rates and what editors seek.
Once you've picked your magazine, send the editor a query letter about your article. This should be short and sweet, briefly stating who you are, your previous publication history (editors like to work with proven successes--wouldn't you?), and your article topic. The length, topic and addressee of your query letter will depend on the magazine; you can usually find information on submissions policies in the "credits" section or on the magazine's website.
Send off your query letter and wait. Be prepared, as well, for rejection. There are many reasons editors won't take an article, and few of them have to do with your skills as a writer. If you get a rejection letter, just take a few minutes to mourn before starting on your next article. The hardest sale to make is always your first sale; keep up a steady stream of good, well-marketed work, and the sale will come. When it does, pat yourself on the back; you're on your way to freelancing as a magazine writer!
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