The beginning of your writing career sets the foundation for your future, so the sooner you implement these tips for for print magazines, the more successful you’ll be as a freelance writer! Some of these feature writing tips and hints for pitching to editors are directly from editors (thanks Reader’s Digest!)…and others are from my own experience as a full-time freelance writer.

Before the tips, a quip:

“Usually, when people get to the end of a chapter, they close the book and go to sleep,” says bestselling author Sidney Sheldon. “I deliberately write a book so when the reader gets to the end of the chapter, he or she must turn one more page. When people tell me I’ve kept them up all night, I feel like I’ve succeeded.”

Whether you’re writing the next bestselling novel, an article for your favorite magazine, or an email to your mom – the secret to good writing is to keep people reading. For help with that — and many other aspects of writing — read The ASJA Guide to Freelance Writing: A Professional Guide to the Business, for Nonfiction Writers of All Experience Levels. And, here are six tips for successful writers…

Write for Print Magazines – Tips for Beginning Your Writing Career

1. Be as clear as possible in your query letter — and the article. The magazine editors at Health and Reader’s Digest have sent my articles back with questions such as “Why does this happen?” and “What’s an example of that happening?” and “Can you explain this better? I get it, but I want it to be clear for the readers.” To improve your magazine article, explain how and why something works. Be specific — but not wordy — when you write.

2. Measure each sentence. I don’t mean “vary your sentence length” (which is a key writing tip). By “measure each sentence”, I’m referring to the value of each sentence. Does every sentence in your paragraph offer something new to the reader? Does each sentence provide a little more clarity, explanation, insight? (see, that last sentence was redundant, and if I were editing myself, I’d take it right out). To improve your writing, you need to edit ruthlessly.

3. Include compelling, relevant anecdotes. Readers and magazine editors love stories! If you’re including them in your feature article or pitch letter, make sure the anecdotes are both relevant and compelling. They should illustrate your point — not confuse or irritate the reader.

4. Show you have access to sources. This tip for beginning writers comes directly from my favorite editor at Reader’s Digest. Actually, it’s more of a pitching tip: “Editors look to see that writers have access to sources – ones that are willing to talk,” she said. “Which usually means you have to talk to a few people up front to get enough info to structure your pitch and make sure your article will work the way you’re presenting it.” To see what she means, check out this example of a successful query letter to Reader’s Digest.

5. Do your background research before you query a magazine editor. Before you pitch an idea to an editor, make sure you can actually write the article! When I started my writing career, I disliked “wasting’ time on researching articles until I had an assignment (and contract) from a magazine. But I’ve learned that doing background research protects writers and shows both them and the editor that the article is write-able. This saves both freelancers and editors time and energy.

6. Welcome editorial input. This tip for successful writers is one of my favorites, because many writers squirm when their pieces are fiddled with. Me, I don’t care…and I’ve learned that the more a magazine editor pokes at my piece before publishing it, the better my article gets (usually). The editor’s clarifications, questions, comments, revisions can all make you a better writer (Caveat: this only works if the editor asks you to edit the article. If the editor simply makes changes and publishes it without involving you, then you haven’t learned much as a writer!).

If you have any questions or thoughts about writing for print magazines or beginning your writing career, please comment below…

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7 thoughts on “Write for Print Magazines – Tips for Beginning Your Writing Career”

  1. I have 22 years in the industry, and I found this article to be quite accurate. I came to it looking for a link to send to a writer who needs a little guidance. The publication I currently work for is always looking for freelancers, especially if they take these tips to heart.

  2. Thanks, Lisa, I appreciate your input! Nice to have friends in cyberspace 🙂
    .-= Laurie PK´s last blog post ..New Suite101 Writers – How to Stay Motivated to Keep Writing =-.

  3. Stewart,

    If you had done your research, you would know that Laurie, is indeed, a prolific and published writer. She is also a full-time freelance writer which means she makes enough money to support herself. That’s a sign of success and a real writing pro. in my book!

    Here is the link to her published Print Articles–> and one for her published Online Articles to Woman’s Day, Reader’s Digest, etc. just for a start.

    As any successful writer will tell you, and Laurie admits it in the above article, research is key. It gives you confidence in writing the article and shows your editor you can be resourceful and know what you’re talking about. I sense you should take this advice to heart. 🙂

    Laurie, I admire how you can successfully detach yourself from your freelance work in order for the editor to bring out its best with your collaboration. I think that is, sometimes, one of the most difficult things to do for writers. They don’t want one word changed. That is a valuable lesson to learn and I appreciate you reiterating it. Thanks for all the tips!
    .-= Lisa (lablady)´s last blog post ..Making The Shift =-.

  4. You’re right; I should just pack up and go home.

    Just kidding! 🙂 If you asked for my magazine writing experience, I’d be happy to supply it. And, I think there are many real writing pros who offer their advice. You just need to do a little digging to find them.
    .-= Laurie PK´s last blog post ..Blog Partnerships – Things to Consider Before Co-Blogging =-.

  5. For the life of me, why is it always little-published freelancers, such as yourself, who write these how-to-write columns? I would take your advice more seriously if you had the credits with numerous major magazines to back up your advice. Can’t we get a real writing pro to offer his or her hard-won advice? No offense, but you don’t (yet) have the resume to be advising others.

  6. How exciting for you, Courtney! Good luck writing that article — I hope you knock their socks off.

    But I don’t think this is your one and only shot, my friend. This is one of many, many chances you’ll have as a freelance writer or columnist. Take a deep breath, realize that if this writing job doesn’t come through — then there WILL be others.

    Just two seconds ago, I got an email from a Canadian newspaper with a question about a recent pitch I sent. I can’t actually answer his question, unfortunately….but this isn’t my last chance to break into this newspaper!

    So, don’t let the stress get to you. Pretend you have all the writing opportunities in the world, that the journalism world is your oyster, and that this magazine would be lucky to have you.

    Let that confidence and energy infiltrate your writing….and shake off that negative, stressful, “this is my only chance!” energy. It’s harmful. Toxic. Icky.

    Keep me posted — I’d love to hear how you’re doing 🙂


    Laurie PK’s last blog post..How to Make Money Blogging for Writers

  7. Thanks for this article. I’m a budding freelance writer who still has that “new college grad smell”. I’ve been looking for places to stretch my writing legs and put my journalism degree to good use … but it’s been hard to get just that one shot I so desperately need to break into the business. However, my luck drastically changed today when the editor of our city’s local magazine offered me my chance … my ONE chance. I have a week to write a 350 word article about a brand-new, off-beat local clothing store. I’m confident in my writing ability when I’m aimlessing cranking out emails or gabbing on my blog, but given the stress that this is my only chance to infiltrate the magazine, I can’t help but feel intimidated by the task. I’m taking your tips to heart and hoping they will help me along the way.