Kerrie Flanagan, author of the brand-new, comprehensive Guide to Magazine Article Writing, shares her best tips for writing for magazines. To learn more, check out her book, and don't miss Kerrie's session Build Your Author Platform Through Magazine Articles at the Writer's Digest Annual Conference, August 10-12, 2018.
Writing for magazines is a lot like catching a fish. It requires the right bait, understanding the conditions, finesse with timing and most of all, persistence. When it all comes together, the time and effort are worth it when you net the big one.
Use the Best Fly: Pitch the Perfect Idea
In order to catch a fish, you need some knowledge about what they are biting on. I have been fly fishing for about five years now and I have my favorite go-to flies, like the juju midge and the blue-winged olive, but I can’t use these all the time. Sometimes conditions call for the two-bit hooker. Different bodies of water and different seasons call for different flies.
The process of writing for magazines is similar. Using the right bait, which in this case is an article idea, is the difference between a no and a yes. My idea needs to be specific and have an angle that makes it unique enough to catch an editor’s attention. If I want to write for a parenting magazine I need to think about the current market and what concerns, issues and challenges parents are facing. Something like, finding the right preschool for your child might work, but if I can narrow that idea down even more to, 5 tips to finding the right preschool for your painfully shy child, it has a better chance of luring an editor.
Study the Conditions: Find the Right Magazine
Before I don my waders and step into a river or lake, I research the current conditions so I can have a more successful day on the water. To do this, I visit my favorite, local fly shop or check the fishing reports online. Then I can make my plan accordingly and increase my chances of catching fish.
This idea of doing your research in order to improve your results is also true for magazine writing. If you want to get an assignment, you have to find the right publication by finding out more about the reader and the types of articles in the magazine. Then you'll have a better idea about what waters to cast your ideas into.
- Search for potential magazines in Writer's Market (the print version or online) or at New Pages, www.newpages.com.
- Make a trip to your local bookstore or newsstand to read through magazines.
- Visit the various magazines website and read their articles.
- Look up their media kits and guidelines online.
Media kits contain a pool of information. These are designed so that advertisers can understand the readership and decide if it's worth spending their marketing dollars with that magazine. But this information is also helpful to writers. The kit is usually found at the bottom of the publication’s website by clicking on "advertising" or "advertise with us."
Let’s say I find the Denver-based magazine 5280 in Writer’s Market. I am interested in writing a piece about the four best Denver neighborhoods in which to rent your first apartment, and this publication looks like a great fit. To make sure I go the website and find the writer’s guidelines first. Initially, the idea still looks like it might work. Then I go to the media kit. Within a couple minutes, I can see this pitch might not be best for this magazine. People who are renting their first apartments tend to be in their 20s, and the median age for the magazine readership is 49. Plus, 86 percent of their readers own their own home. This idea isn't ideal for 5280, so I need to move on to a different stream.
Cast Your Line: Get the Idea Out There
Now I am ready to get my line wet. I have my fly tied on, and I've found the perfect spot. The chill seeps through my waders as I step into the water. I make a few false casts in the air before I drop the fly on the water.
In magazine writing, this is the point at which you're ready to create a great query. Start with an amazing hook, which entices the editor to read more and get to the heart of your pitch, which includes what you plan to cover in your article. End with a strong bio explaining why you are the perfect person to write the piece. Because you did your homework, your chances are good you will get a nibble.
Be Persistent: Writing for Magazines Takes Patience and Perseverance
To say fishing takes persistence is an understatement, especially when you're first getting started. I learned how to cast before stepping into any water, but it took time to get my rhythm down. On my very first trip out, it took four hours to catch my first fish on a fly rod. This beast of around eight inches wasn’t anything spectacular, but I was proud of myself for hanging in there and catching it. Now, since I know what I am doing, I catch more and bigger fish.
To be successful with magazine writing, you have to keep casting ideas out there and not give up. My very first published piece was a one-paragraph craft idea in Better Homes & Gardens. As I continued to learn more and improve my skills, the yeses became more frequent and the assignments bigger.
Landing the Big One
The hard work and extra time spent on research up front and refining your writing skills is worth it when you get to see your name in print…
… or catch a fish like this.
Kerrie Flanagan will be speaking at the Writer's Digest Conference, August 10-12, 2018. Register today to learn more from Kerrie and dozens of other exceptional speakers.