Writing for magazines is a snap when you tap into the right freelance writing brains! I attended a “how to get published for new writers” workshop, and even though I’ve been freelancing full-time for almost four years, I learned a lot from experienced freelance magazine writer Daniel Wood.
The background: The BC Association of Magazine Writers hosts an annual “Writers Craft Fair” at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. I’ve attended as a blogging panelist for two years now; this was the first time I heard Daniel Wood speak. He’s an uber successful freelance writer in Canada, and teaches regular magazine writing classes at Simon Fraser University.
Wood has been freelancing for magazines as well as writing books and teaching creative nonfiction writing since dinosaurs roamed Alberta. His “how to get published for new writers” session was teeming with freelancing tips that I couldn’t wait to share here on Successful Writers!
Before the tips, a quip:
“There is no shortage of information, but there is a shortage of stories. ~ Carol Shields (another great Canadian writer).
Wood hooked us by emphasizing the importance of storytelling. It is crucial. If you struggle to unearth the story nugget in your general idea — or if you can’t come up with feature article ideas — you’ll find helpful hints in Writing for Magazines: A Beginner’s Guide — it’s a great resource for new writers. And, here are Woods’ magazine writing tips…
Writing for Magazines – How to Get Published for New Writers
1. Remember that stories give shape to the chaos of information. “New freelance writers don’t realize they need to take the time to find the story in the idea,” says Wood. “Readers want to have a story told to them – writers need to bring the reader into the story.”
2. Look for narrow, focused article ideas. The more narrow and focused your story idea is, the more dramatic your article will be. Ideally, focused articles have three or four substantial characters. Your readers will care more about a few characters because they have time to meet and learn about them. Wood says, “An unfocused story idea is a recipe for writer’s block.”
3. Deconstruct a newspaper for story ideas. Wood isn’t an online newspaper kinda guy – he recommends cutting out possible article ideas from your print newspaper and filing them in your ideas folder. Browse when you need inspiration or ideas.
4. Organize your magazine markets, story ideas, and sources in file folders. Wood has file folders for magazine markets, files for general story ideas, files for specific story ideas, and files for specific magazines. This is one of the most oft-seen tips for getting published for new writers – and but I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t created file folders yet.
5. Look for an idea that contains three specific elements. One: interesting, compelling people in your article. Two: your sources need to be involved in a conflict: various opinions, ideas, or forces that bump together (a story arc or story line). Three: your article idea must be timely.
6. Find the best magazine for your story or article idea. This is where the analytical left side of your brain kicks in: who is the ideal market for your story? When you’re writing for magazines, you need to focus on your readers — which include the magazine editors and publishers.
7. Analyze the magazine’s media kit or advertising media package. Learn about the readers of the magazine: demographics, income, age, geographical location, etc. Peruse the editorial calendar to learn what type of articles to pitch when. Read the writers’ guidelines.
8. Send out four or five ideas in one proposal. New writers increase the odds of getting published by sending four or five story ideas along with a cover letter. This proposal package shows the editor you can write. Remember to identify the sections you’re pitching in your query letter (i.e., front of the book, feature article ideas, back of the book — see the next magazine writing tip for details).
9. Understand the magazine structure. New writers should pitch to the front of the book section, and eventually graduate to feature articles. Part of getting published for new writers is knowing that 95% of writing opportunities are in the front of the book. Those articles are small, focused, and don’t require narrative, interviews, or extensive edits. They’re also trendy, newsy, appropriate for the particular month. These articles warm readers up and draw them into the rest of the magazine. Also, new writers should pitch article ideas for the service section at the back of the magazine. This section highlights products that people can acquire and is perfect for short product-related ideas.
10. Send specific story proposals to specific magazines. If one article pitch fails, reconfigure it and send it to a different publication with a different slant. Don’t take rejection personally — you’ll get more “no thank you’s” than “yes I’ll email your article assignment right away’s.”
11. Remember that a great story idea can trump experience. New magazine writers with compelling, timely ideas will win feature article assignments! So, don’t think you need years of experience when you’re writing for magazines…new writers can and do get articles published in national magazines.
12. Find an anecdote – your hook – that the editor can’t resist. How does your proposal catch the editor’s attention? Make sure your proposals are appropriate to the audience, focused, clear, and gripping. Include an anecdote to hook the editor — ask your source for a compelling story. Show the editor that you can write – that’s what your hook is all about.
Even though 97% of story or article proposals go into the wastebasket, you can be in the 3-5% of freelance writers that get article assignments! You just need to think of freelance writing as your career, and put the necessary time and effort in.