A Beginner’s Guide to Getting Published in Magazines
Almost every writer’s dream is to one day get published in magazines. There is something so satisfying and rewarding about seeing your name tied to a piece of work that will be viewed by thousands of people. Unfortunately, getting published in magazines is not a walk in the park. While you may have your own blog, be a contributor to online content sites, and have a long list of clippings from your college newspaper, getting published in magazines is one of the more difficult areas to break into in the freelance writing world.
This five-step guide to getting published in magazines breaks down the basics of the process to help set you up for success; the rest, of course, is up to you.
A Beginner’s Guide to Getting Published in Magazines
Step 1. Research
The first step to getting published in magazines is doing your homework. What kind of magazines do you want to be published in? Do you want to write for kids? Do you want to write sci-fi? Do you want to specialize in tech? There are infinite magazine genres out there — from mags aimed at a cat-loving audience to mags all about pants — which means that there are infinite opportunities for you to get your work published. It is up to you then, to decide outright your niche, genre, target demographic, and the like. Knowing these things will make the researching phase easier, as it will help you narrow down your scope.
You need to “read the room,” so to speak. Know and understand the industry. Know and understand your niche or target audience. Know and understand the different magazines that fit within that niche or target audience.
Google can be your best friend when it comes to research. Search “popular X-type magazines” and start soaking up the information. You are bound to find lists upon lists of magazines, no matter which genre. From there, start filtering through the results and make a list of the magazines that appeal to you.
Once you have a list of potential magazines in your sights, it is time to dig a little deeper.
Step 2. Read the Submission Guidelines
Spend time with your target magazine. Read it cover to cover, familiarize yourself with the types of content they publish and ensure that whatever you are hoping to pitch would actually fit into the publication.
Almost every magazine — print or online — that accepts article submissions will have a set of “Submission Guidelines” for writers to review. If you do not see anything in the actual print mag, find their website. With everything being digitized nowadays, it is likely that a magazine (while in print form) will only accept electronic submissions.
It is important to note that not all publications accept submissions from writers unless they are established, represented authors, so before you get too far into the process, ensure your magazine target is open to pitches and submissions.
Read submission guidelines very, very carefully. Many magazines have extremely strict rules. If you fail to adhere to those guidelines, not only do you risk wasting the editors’ time, but you could also harm your reputation as a writer; editors may blacklist you from submitting future pieces if they feel like you do not take their guidelines seriously. You definitely do not want to jeopardize a potential opportunity just because you were a careless reader.
Step 3. Write Your Piece
Here is where the real work begins. You need to actually write the piece that you will pitch and/or submit. Ideally, if you have made it this far, you probably already have your story and angle; that is, you know what you want to write about, you have a unique perspective in which to write it from, and you have all the necessary information, facts, and resources in place to get it done. Now is the time to write.
However, there is some discrepancy about whether you should write your piece before pitching/querying the magazine you hope to get published in.
Let’s examine the pros and cons of writing your piece before pitching…
- If you write your piece before pitching, it will be a lot easier to write your query letter as you will be writing it about a completed work and can easily pull in some of the most exciting lines and quotes to use as a hook in your pitch.
- Some publications will allow you to attach a completed draft of your piece WITH your pitch or query.
- If you are lucky enough to get the green light after pitch, the hard work is already done; you have a completed draft to send in right away for editing. This is a major PRO if the piece is a timely one.
- The process of writing is never absolute. While you may set out to write one thing, you may discover half way through that the real story is something else entirely. It is best to discover this before promising something else to an editor that you cannot deliver.
- Writing a query letter or pitch may be more difficult if you have not actually written the piece yet.
- If you write your piece before pitching, it may sting a little more if your pitch is not accepted — especially if it catered to the particular magazine you were pitching it to (which it more than likely should).
- If your pitch or query is not accepted, so as not to have wasted your time, finding a new suitable publication for your work may be more difficult and may require re-writing.
- While your query may get accepted, the editor might ask you to attack the piece from a different angle than you pitched — this would again mean re-writing on your part.
The decision is ultimately up to you — though to make it a little easier for you, be sure to check the “Submission Guidelines” to first see if they even allow completed draft submissions.
Step 4. Write a Query Letter
You have found your magazine, you have done your research, and you have (maybe) written your piece. Now what? The writing part is not over yet. One of the most important steps to getting published in magazines is writing an impressive query letter.
Think of submitting to a magazine as applying for a job; your query or pitch letter is like a cover letter — except more interesting to read. A query letter is essentially what gets your foot in the door. Editors receive countless submissions each day. They want to read every single one, but in order to filter out submissions, they will glance at the writers’ queries first. A query letter is a way for you to make a great first impression. If you are able to craft a solid letter, then you may be at a slight advantage over other writers submitting to the same publication.
There are countless resources available online for writing a query letter, but there are some basic guidelines for the process. Your query should include a hook, a general overview of the piece you have written (or are proposing to write) — including an explanation of why it would be a good fit for the magazine and its audience —, and a short paragraph about you and why you are the right person to write this piece. Finally, always thank the editor for reading your submission. As mentioned before, these editors can receive hundreds of submissions each day, and it is their job to scour through them to find a worthy piece. The least you can do is thank them for taking the time to acknowledge your work.
Step 5. Submit and Wait
After you have quadruple-checked your work for any spelling or grammatical errors, it is time to submit!
Some publications will send an automated email saying that the submission has been received, while others will have an editor reach out to you to let you know they have seen your piece come through. If you do not hear anything back, it is okay to follow up after 2-4 weeks, unless the guidelines explicitly state otherwise — again, read these guidelines carefully.
Many magazines receive so many submissions that they simply do not have time to get back to every single person. In this case, you will have to wait patiently until they respond.
Dealing with Rejection
Getting published in magazines is not easy, so do not feel bad if you get a rejection notice. This is all part of being a writer. There are countless authors who have faced rejection after rejection before finding success. If your submission is turned away, try not to take it as a complete loss.
It is possible your work simply did not fit into the magazine’s calendar or content schedule. Or maybe there was a similar submission from a more interesting angle. The worst-case scenario is that your work simply did not meet the quality bar of the magazine’s standard. Does that mean you should throw it out and never write again? Absolutely not! You must use it as a learning experience! Find out what you did wrong and use that information to turn yourself into a better writer. In this case, editors may offer notes on why your article was not accepted. These are gifts — treat them as such and use them to grow and improve as a writer.
There is no secret, fool-proof formula for getting published in magazines. The tips above can only get you so far. It is up to you to write an article worthy of publishing, and in order to do that, you must constantly hone your craft. The more magazines you submit to, the more practice you will get. And who knows; you might just luck out and find yourself getting published in magazines in the near future!
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