ith some perseverance and know-how, seeing your article in a magazine can be a reality. There are five basic steps to getting your work published; and by following these steps, you will increase your success rate and your byline count.
1. Know the Reader
It is important to remember that publishing magazines is a business. Magazines have a specific client or type of reader they are targeting. The more you know about that reader, the better chance you will have of getting an assignment.
You should know the average age, income, hobbies, education level, and family status of the readers. So, where do you find this information? The key is in the advertising. Whether you read the print version of the magazine or the online version, there are always ads.
Start paying attention to the ads. How old are the people in the ads? What are the products they are selling? Can you tell the income level? If all you do is flip through a magazine looking at the ads, by the time you get to the end, you should have a pretty good idea who is reading the magazine.
“Magazines have a specific client or type of reader they are targeting. The more you know about that reader, the better chance you will have of getting an assignment.”
Companies put a lot of money into advertising and will not invest in full-page ads without first knowing whom they are targeting. I recently saw an ad from a cosmetic company that was promoting its line of moisturizers to reduce wrinkles. The ad was in Ladies Home Journal, where the median age of the reader is 55. This ad would not fare well in Girls Life, where the average age of the reader is 14.
So once you realize this, you will see that pitching an article to Ladies Home Journal about traveling with young children is not a good fit for this magazine. Regardless of how brilliant your query is, they are not going to disregard the needs of their loyal readers.
Besides flipping through a magazine or scrolling through the online ads, another great and easy way to find this information is in the media kit or the advertising link, typically found at the very bottom of the publication’s online home page.
Here is a link to the Ladies Home Journal advertisers’ page. They list all the demographic information, and they also have an editorial calendar, which provides the themes and focuses for upcoming issues, allowing you to focus your query to a specific issue.
2. Know the Magazine
Once you understand who reads the magazine, you should pay attention to who writes the magazine and to the layout. Editors are more open to writers who understand and are familiar with their publication and their readers. Here is something to try with print magazines that will open your eyes to the publication.
To find out who writes for the magazine, find the masthead. This is the page in the front of the magazine that lists the editors and contributing writers. Tear out the masthead, so you have it as a reference. Now go through the magazine, page by page and make a note by each article with a byline as to who wrote the piece. Was it an editor? A contributing editor? If you can’t find their names on the masthead, then they are freelance writers. A contributing editor is typically not on staff but writes frequently for the magazine.
Once you go through the whole magazine, you will have a better idea how many of the articles and which type are usually written by staff or by freelancers. By knowing this, you can direct your query to the areas of the publication that are more open to freelance writers.
“Once you go through the whole magazine, you will have a better idea how many of the articles and which type are usually written by staff or by freelancers.”
Go through the magazine again, and pay attention to the length of articles and the various departments. How many feature stories are there? Is there a back page essay? Are there short, department pieces in the front? If there are a lot of shorter, front-of-the-book pieces, this might be a great place to break into the magazine.
If you do these exercises with a couple issues, you will have an even better idea of where your potential article will fit.
3. Know the Style
Just like each writer has her own voice, so does a magazine. If you took an article out of The New Yorker, Family Circle, and Men’s Health, do you think you would be able to identify which publication it came out of? Probably, because each magazine has its own style—the amount of quotes used, the length of the article, the number of facts, and the overall tone (conversational, academic, first person, and so on).
Below are the opening paragraphs of feature articles from two different outdoor magazines. The first is Outside Magazine, and the second is the National Wildlife Magazine. Read over each selection, and pay attention to the style by looking at the use of quotes, the point of view (first person, third person), the descriptions, and the overall tone of the article.
OUTSIDE MAGAZINE (October 1, 2009 issue)
By Thayer Walker
OF THE WORLD'S 36 SPECIES OF WILD CATS, none has a more powerful bite than the jaguar. Its skull, wide like a cinder block and wrapped with muscle, is engineered to crush. Its snout, short and compact, generates enough leverage to crack a tortoise shell like an egg.
With these tools, the jaguar has perfected a devastating method of dispatch: the cranium crunch. Wrapping its jaws around its prey's head—in some cases nearly as large as its own—the cat drives its two-inch canines through more than half an inch of bone to puncture the brain. On other occasions, a jaguar pierces the skull through the ear canal, leaving no visible entry wound.
Until recently, the mechanics of a jaguar's bite were little more to me than an academic abstraction. That changed quickly when I visited a Bolivian animal-rescue organization called Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi (CIWY). CIWY rescues wild animals like monkeys, birds, pumas, and jaguars from Bolivia's black market; the animals might come from abusive situations or well-intentioned people who simply can't care for them. One of CIWY's goals is to rehabilitate the animals and, when possible, to release some of them within the park. But that's not done with the big cats, in part because of the potentially severe consequences of a mishap.
NATIONAL WILDLIFE MAGAZINE (August 2009 issue)
Good News Numbers
By Jessica Snyder Sachs
WHEN FEDERAL SCIENTISTS reported last fall that the northwest Montana population of grizzlies was more than twice as large as experts had previously thought, the news was hailed by conservationists. “The results show that we can turn species toward recovery when we put money, attention and habitat protections in place,” says John Kostyack, NWF executive director of wildlife conservation and global warming. “It’s an endangered species success story.”
Make that one of several recent success stories, all of them involving dramatically increased populations of rare species. Some involved surprise discoveries of hidden populations. Others, like the grizzly’s, confirmed—and even surpassed—hopes that recovery plans were working. On the following pages are some wildlife numbers worth celebrating.
Grizzly bears: FIRST RELIABLE CENSUS
Several years ago, Kate Kendall oversaw the fermenting of 2,200 gallons of rotting fish and cow blood for bear lure. “You can imagine the fun we had opening up those barrels a year later,” says the U.S. Geological Survey biologist. That would have been the summer of 2004, when Kendall deployed 230 field workers to construct more than 2,500 bear hair traps across 7.8 million acres of rugged wilderness in northwest Montana.
Did you notice how the first one painted the scene with vivid descriptions and imagery? The second one wove in quotes and facts. The jaguar article had a more conversational tone and moved into first person, whereas the grizzly bear article presented more information and used a third person point of view.
Since they are both nature related publications, their submission guidelines might be similar; but the magazines themselves each have a distinct style and tone. A first person feature about a recent experience watching elk in Rocky Mountain Park and the overpopulation of elk in the area would clearly not work for National Wildlife Magazine, but it would be a good fit for Outside Magazine.
4. Know the Submission Guidelines
Magazines all have writer submission guidelines sharing the types of articles they are looking for, the length of the articles, pay scale, editor names, and how to submit your idea. It is important to read over the guidelines carefully and follow their directions.
To find potential freelance markets, you can get a directory that includes many of the markets accepting work from freelance writers. The most common directory is Writer's Market, but there is also the Best of the Magazine Markets.
You can also find the information online by going directly to the publication website. It is not always easy to find though. Typically, you will find the guidelines by going to the “About Us” or the “Contact Us” sections.
“By knowing the reader, the magazine, the style and the guidelines, you are ready to compose your query—a one page sales pitch used to entice an editor to assign the article to you.”
5. Know How to Write an Effective Query Letter
By knowing the reader, the magazine, the style, and the guidelines, you are ready to compose your query—a one page sales pitch used to entice an editor to assign the article to you. The letter should be professional and written in a style and tone similar to the article you are pitching.
Salutation (Dear Mr. Smith)
Find out whom the correct editor is to send your query to. You should be able to find this information online. If not, make a quick phone call to the publishing company and ask, “Who would I direct a travel query to?” Ask for spelling and the editor’s e-mail. Unless you know the editor, use a formal salutation with Mr., Mrs., or Ms. If you are not sure if the editor is a man or woman, put his or her full name.
The opening hook is about one to three sentences in length. You have about ten seconds to catch the attention of an editor. Because of this, the opening hook needs to lure the editor in right away.
Here is one that is too vague:
Colorado Wineries are popping up all over Colorado.
This one is a little too vague and is called the “so what” factor. If you read the opening lines of your query and get the urge to say, “So what?”, then rewrite it to be more appealing.
Here is an example of one that worked:
Nestled beneath the backdrop of the Colorado Rockies is an industry that is beginning to bloom. Through hard work and perseverance, thirty-seven Colorado wineries are making a name for themselves.
This one gives more detail and helps set the stage for the rest of the query.
What is the article about?
This is the bulk of your query, and it will focus on the main points of the article. What topics will you cover? Are there experts you will be interviewing?
Example: Back in 1968, Gerald Ivancie opened the first winery in Colorado. Since then, the number of wineries continues to grow. In the past decade, the numbers have gone from five to thirty-seven. Ten of the wineries are located on the western slope in Colorado’s Grand Valley, eleven are on the front range, and the rest are located throughout Colorado.
Colorado is home to the highest producing vineyard in the world. The high altitude, substantial temperature fluctuations, and low precipitation have enabled wine makers to create award-winning products.
For the distinguished traveler and wine connoisseur, Colorado’s wine country offers an enticing destination. The personalized attention given during tours and tastings is refreshing. For the avid wine drinker, the hundreds of award- winning wines from this area will be appreciated.
What you are proposing?
Here you will include the specifics of the article: word count, department where you think it will fit, and possible experts you are going to interview.
Example: I am proposing an approximately 1,500 word article for your Travel Colorado department, highlighting eight different wineries along the Front Range and in Grand Junction. I have arranged interviews with various winery owners and will provide updated information for your readers.
What will the reader get from it?
Share the purpose of your article. Will your article inform, educate, inspire, or entertain?
Example: This article will inform your readers about this growing Colorado industry and provide them with the necessary information to embark on their own journey to Colorado’s wine country.
This is not the place to be shy. You need to convince the editor that you are the perfect person to write this article. If you do not have any published clips, then really expand more on your experiences that relate to your article. If you are pitching a parenting article and you have six kids, mention that. It clearly positions you as an expert in the parenting field.
Example: For the past ten years, I have been the wine buyer for a liquor store in Denver. I am passionate about wine and want to share that with others through this article.
Sending the query
Most magazines accept queries by e-mail now. When sending a query via e-mail, include your information in the body of the e-mail. To ensure your formatting stays the same, do not cut and paste from Microsoft Word. Convert your document to a .txt file first, or cut and paste it into your Notepad; and then cut and paste it into your e-mail. Make sure your contact information is at the bottom of the e-mail.
Put something noticeable in the subject line. QUERY: Colorado Wineries Making Their Mark in the Industry
By following all the steps in this article, you will be ready to set off on a magazine-writing journey, equipped with the necessary tools and confidence to find success.
Kerrie Flanagan is the director of Northern Colorado Writers (NCW) and a freelance writer with over 130 articles published in national and regional publications. The 6th annual NWC conference is March 11-12, 2011 in Fort Collins, Colorado.
To learn more about Kerrie and NCW, visit: http://www.NorthernColoradoWriters.com
Enjoyed this article? Check out more from Kerrie on WOW!:
Feng Shui for Writers: How to Create the Space You Love
Writing a Strong Story: Beginnings, Middles, and Ends
From Book to Big Screen: Interview with Screenwriter Robin Swicord
How to Pitch a Literary Agent at a Writers' Conference