Many people come to my magazine writing workshops with perfectly good articles they’ve written, distressed that they haven’t been able to get them published. They’re surprised when I suggest they may have gone about it the wrong way. Rather than writing an article and then trying to sell it, try to sell it before you write it!
In other words, get to know your market before you start writing. Pick a magazine that you would like to write for, then tailor your article to suit it.
The magazine market
When I say ‘magazine’, by the way, I mean both print and electronic publications. Don’t overlook the flourishing ezine market! We can break the magazine/ezine market up into three broad segments.
These are the ones we buy in shops or by subscription, and the ones we’re most familiar with. They come in an astonishing array, from the mass market giants to the highly specialised niche publications. Generally speaking, the mass market is harder for new writers to crack. It’s often easier to start with a smaller circulation, special interest magazine, such as one on fishing, gardening, cars etc. If your interests match those of the readers’, you’re half way there.
Some magazines are sold directly to schools, although members of the public can often buy them by subscription. The material is fun as well as educational and contains stories, activities and puzzles. Some are produced by private publishing companies, some by government departments (e.g the Department of Education here in New South Wales). If you have kids at school, ask them to check it out. Otherwise, find a friendly teacher or school librarian!
Custom / client
Many companies publish magazines for their customers and clients. Generally, they don’t charge for the magazine, rather it is a way of promoting their business. Some of the articles are on matters that might interest the readers. Some are ‘advertorials’ – a mix between an advertisement and an article. Although they read like standard articles, they feature the company’s product or business in some way. To write for them, contact the publisher, not the company itself. If you can get your foot in the door, you’re likely to get lots of ongoing work. When I first started writing full-time, I wrote hundreds of articles for this market. The money helped keep me going in the painfully long gaps between book royalty payments.
Finding the right magazine
The best magazine to write for is the one that you most like to read. Look for publications that match your interests, hobbies, or skills. Browse through bookstores and newsagents, look at libraries, and hop online.
Consider buying a writers’ market guide. Or, if you prefer, you can subscribe to one online. These provide detailed information on markets, including what the publishers are looking for. They also include writing tips and advice. Some even give you an idea of how much each magazine pays for articles.
Australians can check out the Australian Writers Marketplace produced by the Queensland Writers’ Centre and its online version: www.awmonline.com.au. The American-based Writers Market http://www.writersmarket.com/ is also a great resource. Now that we are so globally connected, don’t feel restricted by your location. Expand your reach.
What’s the next step?
You’ve found a magazine you’d like to write for – so now read it! Get a feel for the style of the magazine. Pay close attention to the length of the articles, the depth of information provided, and the tone in which they’re written. Do they use subheadings, bullet points and breakout boxes, or are the articles more flowing? If possible, grab some back issues of the magazine and look at those, too. Basically, get to know it as well as you can, before you even think about writing your own article!