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Freelance Writing > How to Pitch a Column Idea to Reader’s Digest

How to Pitch a Column Idea to Reader’s Digest

Want to write your own column for Reader’s Digest? Here’s the idea I pitched to the editor, and why I turned down their offer of a regular column.

Shortly after starting my freelance writing career, I got my first article published in Reader’s Digest. It was awesome! I wrote an article about going green on Valentine’s Day.

Getting that article published went so well, in fact, I wrote many more articles for both the print and online version of Reader’s Digest. (If you’re interested in writing romantic articles, read 8 Creative Valentine’s Day Article Ideas for Writers).

I had a brilliant idea for a regular series for the print edition of Reader’s Digest…and then I ruined my career writing for that magazine. If you’re a freelance writer, you know that a successful career involves more than just finding and writing fantastic magazine articles.

Here, I’ll share how I ruined my career as a regular columnist for one of my favorite magazines (yes, Reader’s Digest). And, I’ll link to two articles on how to get published in Reader’s Digest, in case you’re interested in writing for one of the most well-loved, popular magazines in North America.

The worst part is that my Reader’s Digest editor improved my writing skills more than any other editor, publisher, or literary agent. So far, anyway – I’m still a month away from submitting my first manuscript to my first publishing house for my first book. Editing that book (Growing Forward When You Can’t Grow Back) with an editor at a publishing house may elevate my writing skills to dizzying new levels. A writer can only dream…

My Experience Writing for Reader’s Digest

Learn from my experience, fellow scribes. Don’t do what I did; don’t listen to your treacherous heart!

My column idea: “Odd Jobs”

After I’d written several articles for Reader’s Digest, I came up with a regular monthly column idea: Odd Jobs in Canada. I’d interview people in unique occupations, such as ocular painter or odor sniffer. Wouldn’t that be a fascinating regular article for Reader’s Digestmagazine? Readers would learn what the odd job was, education required, duties, etc.

My Reader’s Digest editor loved the idea. I also pitched the column idea to a few other newspapers and magazines — but I didn’t tell the editors that I was simultaneously submitting my column idea. This was one of my mistakes, but it wasn’t the reason I didn’t continue getting my articles published in Reader’s Digest.

The other Reader’s Digest’s editors liked my Odd Jobs column idea, too. But they weren’t willing to commit to a year’s worth of articles. And, they didn’t want to pay $500 per article. Their terms were $300 (or perhaps $350) per article, 600 words each, and only three articles to start. They wanted to see how the readers liked the column.

Guess how I responded? I turned down the contract. That was probably one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made in my freelance writing career. I cheated myself out of solid writing clips, more experience writing for Reader’s Digest, and an interesting assignment of interviewing at least three people with odd jobs. It’s hard to come up with fantastic article ideas to write about, and I blew it.

I haven’t pitched an article idea or written for Reader’s Digest since then. I’m 100% sure they’d hire me as a freelance writer again — there was definitely no hard feelings on their part! It wasn’t an acrimonious parting. But it was a mistake on my part, and I feel like it ruined my writing career with Reader’s Digest.

4 Tips for Pitching Columns to Magazines Like Reader’s Digest

If I can’t be an excellent example of how to start a successful writing career with Reader’s Digest, at least I can be a good warning!

1. Be humble

I got greedy. I didn’t think $300 per article was enough money. I thought finding sources, scheduling interviews, interviewing, writing, and editing each Odd Jobs article would take at least five hours. At least. Not to mention editing the article — my Reader’s Digest editor and I would do a line-by-line edit with every article I wrote. This was amazing for my writing skills, but time-consuming. And humbling. Evidently not humbling enough.

Now, looking back, I know I was right about the fact that writing each Odd Jobs article for Reader’s Digest could take six hours. But as a new freelance writer — with barely two years’ writing experience — did I really deserve to earn more than $50 per hour?

That’s why I say I “ruined my writing career” with Reader’s Digest. Not because they wouldn’t assign me another article or even a column, but because I was greedy. I sabotaged myself.

2. Be willing to start slow and low

Don’t walk away from low-paying writing assignments from big national well-loved magazines like Reader’s Digest. This is another version of my “be humble” tip: be willing to put extra time and effort into your magazine articles and columns at the beginning of your freelance writing career. Don’t ruin or sabotage your future by thinking you deserve more.

When I turned down that writing contract with Reader’s Digest, I made a mistake. It didn’t ruin my writing career — I’m exaggerating its importance! But, I did rob myself of the opportunity to learn, grow, and blossom into a writer.

3. Establish a good relationship with the editors

The reason the Reader’s Digest editors were willing to give me a three-article, three-month trial contract was because I had a good relationship with one editor. My main editor, with whom I’d written almost a dozen articles with. I really, really liked her — and she might still be editing Reader’s Digest articles today!

pitching column to readers digest

My editor wasn’t the only decision-maker at Reader’s Digest…but she was my champion. She fought for my column, and even tried to increase my per-article earnings. But alas, magazines don’t eagerly part with their money.

I learned so much from that editor, in fact, I have no doubt I’ll be thanking her if I ever win a book award. In 10 Writing Tips From a Reader’s Digest Editor, I share what I learned on how to write for Reader’s Digest.

4. Keep pitching article ideas

Are you hoping to start a freelance writing career, or write articles for Reader’s Digest, or be a published author? Yay, you have a dream! And dreams are good, and beautiful. Dreams are gifts from God. Hold on to your dream of starting a writing career! Don’t let fear, insecurity, or doubt ruin your plans to be a writer. Don’t sabotage yourself or ruin your writing career, like I did.

I’m not distressed or disheartened about my “ruined” writing career with Reader’s Digest. I trust God. I know He is working all things together for my good, and I rest in the peace and freedom of accepting the flow of life. Including bad decisions, freak accidents, and my own treacherous little heart.

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If you’re hoping to write an article for Reader’s Digest, read my Sample of a Successful Query Letter to Reader’s Digest.

What do you think, fellow scribes? Tell me a story of how you ruined your writing career, or burned a bridge with a magazine editor, or fired your literary agent. 

May you find hope, joy, and success in your writing career. May you experience just enough challenges to keep you on your toes, and just enough success to keep your hope alive.


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3 thoughts on “How to Pitch a Column Idea to Reader’s Digest”

  1. I was in Nantucket reading the helpful tips… one about the tennis ball on the mailbox was great. How do I submit such a short piece? Tried poking around site but couldn’t find. Ed Dugan

  2. This was so encouraging to read. I found myself smiling as I read this.
    Thank you very much for being true to yourself as a writer and honing in on your own style of writing it is so appreciated.

    1. Thank you, Keierra! It took me a long time to hone in on my own writing style – especially when writing for a popular magazine like Reader’s Digest. But the more I write, the easier it gets 🙂