From pitching a query letter to submitting your invoice to the editor, these tips on how to write a magazine article will give you the inside scoop on freelance writing.
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I learned how to be a freelance writer by reading books such as The Art and Craft of Feature Writing: Based on The Wall Street Journal Guide by William E. Blundell. I gleaned a writing tip or two from websites about writing magazine articles, but books were far and away more helpful. Books are less distracting, and I believe the information “sticks” better.
The other thing that helped me succeed as a freelance writer was pitching query letters, and learning from my mistakes. These tips for writing magazine articles are mostly from my successes – but I probably learned more from the mistakes I made! The key is to move on quickly after making a mistake in your career, and only look back when you want to help other writers avoid making the same mistakes you did.
How to Write a Magazine Article
Pitch a query letter. When you’re an established freelance writer, editors will email you assignments without you having to pitch an idea! I love when this happens – except when I’m asked to write about stuff I have no interest in, such as fashion or parenting. I’ve never turned down an article assignment, but I’ve been tempted to! In How to Write Query Letters for Magazine Articles, you’ll learn how to pitch a query letter. That’s your first step towards writing a magazine article.
Decide if you want to simultaneously submit query letters. When I first started freelancing, I was nervous about pitching the same article idea to more than one editor. Now, I don’t hesitate. Writing is a business, and I’m a professional. I can’t afford to sit on a good article idea for weeks or even months! When I wrote Should Writers Submit Multiple Query Letters to Magazines?, I was on the fence. Now I am 100% sold on the idea of pitching to multiple editors.
Get the assignment – and acknowledge the editor’s email. O happy day, when the editor emails you with a writing contract! Awesome. When you get the assignment, email the editor immediately. You want to be as professional as possible, and you don’t need to tell her that you’re still reading books and blog posts about how to write a magazine article.
Read the assignment sheet very, very carefully. I’ve been writing for alive magazine since 2009. I love working with those editors! They don’t push me as hard as the Reader’s Digest editor did – she was brutally good for my writing skills – but they’re so kind and easy to work with. Every time they send me an assignment, they also send their submission guidelines. I more or less know their rules by heart, but I re-read them every time I get an assignment. I follow their instructions to a T.
Interview experts. The best tip on writing a magazine article is to actually interview sources. Don’t rely on the internet or books for your information. It’s old news, and people can read books. Find experts to talk to. I always conduct my interviews by email because it’s fast, reliable, and … fast. I use HARO (Help a Reporter Out) to find experts to interview.
Let your experts’ “testimony” shape your article. I never start writing a magazine article until I’ve received all the emails from experts, containing their answers to my interview questions. Then, I let their quotations shape the article. An expert will write anywhere from 500 to 1,500 words in response to my interview questions, and I’ll use about 100 of those words in a direct quotation. Of course I attribute them fully!
Follow the editor’s instructions for writing magazine articles to a T. This is such an important tip on how to write a magazine article! (And that’s such an awkward sentence, but I’m hoping to rise in the search results, so when freelancers search for “how to write a magazine article”, they find me). If the editor asks you to write 1,000 words, then make sure you do not write 999 or 1,001. Write exactly what they ask for.
Give yourself at least five business days to write your article. The enemy of good writing is not editing your work. This tip on how to write a magazine article is important, because you want your writing to be tight, concise, brief. Precise. I always give myself two business days to edit my articles before I submit them.
Create an invoice for the editor, to email with your article. If you haven’t sent an invoice yet, here’s a sample invoice for freelance writers. Keep track of every invoice you sent, and expect to wait for at least two weeks to get paid. Sometimes it takes two months. Don’t freak out.
Keep an eye on the magazine’s website. This is one tip on how to write a magazine article that I never do: stay in touch with the magazine’s website. You’ll get article ideas from readers, and you’ll learn what direction the magazine is going in. If the magazine published something particularly good, email the editor a “two thumbs up.”
What have I missed, fellow scribes? Tell me your tips for writing magazine articles!