My Top Ten Lessons I’ve Learned about Magazine Writing

As a features editor for two photography trade magazines, I field my share of queries.  Not as many as top consumer magazines, but enough for me to learn a few things when I pitch.  I’ve been steadily pitching magazines for four years now.  I’ve landed articles with Every Day with Rachael Ray, VegNews, Bust, Audrey.  And there’s dozens of magazines that have turned me down: the pitch wasn’t right, the magazine stopped taking freelance writers, had another similar story, etc.

I wanted to share my top 10 lessons I’ve learned as an editor and freelance writer.  While some may say print magazines are dying (RIP Gourmet, Cookie, Domino, Adorn), there are tons of great mags still out there!  

1. Rejection is part of the game.
Out of the 10 pitches I write, I’d say about two pitches garner real interest and maybe will land me an article.  But I never stop pitching and querying editors who I have been in touch with.  And whatever critique you get, learn from it.  I pitched Body ‘n Soul with a generic idea and the editor called me out on it.  And I haven’t done it since.

2. Read the magazine you’re pitching.  At least 3 issues.
I dislike when a photographer pitches me a story idea and has clearly never read the magazine.  Read the magazine, dissect it, get its voice, then pitch the editor.  Don’t cold call me with a generic, “I’d like to write for you.”  Tell me what you want to write and where it fits in the magazine.  I especially like when photographers say “Hey, I really loved this story you guys did.  It helped me learn more about my craft.”  This tells me you have passion and interest in the magazine.  

3. Don’t email the editor and call every week.
I’m busy.  I have 30 emails flagged, 2 print publications to edit, and one online newsletter to pull together every month, besides meetings, etc.  Calling me every week to check in about your query isn’t suggested.  Give me some time, and I swear I’ll get back to you.  

4.  Every contact is a good contact.
I keep an Excel spreadsheet with my pitches in it: who I’ve pitched, when I pitched, when to follow up, and their comments.  Editors move and change magazines so having my sheet helps me know where they were before and how to approach them.  For example, “We worked together on a story when you were at ‘X’ magazine.” 

5. Proofread, proofread, proofread.
Nothing is worse than reading a query littered with typos or worse — the wrong name of the magazine.  This shows me that you as a writer will put little thought or care into your final work. 

6. Manners matter.
After an article of mine is published, I always email the editor with positive comments.  “Love the layout.”  “Great work.”  When I get those emails as an editor, it makes all the time spent polishing a piece for publication worth it. 

7.  Sum up your personal essay in a sentence.
If you want to write a personal essay for a women’s magazine, read them and study them.  Each magazine has a different audience and a different language.  Note the length, the language, the style, and what the essay is telling you.  If you can sum up your personal essay in a cohesive sentence, you’re on your way.

8. Cut, then cut some more.
I spend most of my work day editing and cutting profiles.  Sometimes writers turn in a 3,000 word article for a 1,500 word space.  I’ve learned that art directors love more space to play and magazines look better when not weighed down with lengthy articles (of course that depends on the magazine).  Less is always more.  When I edit, I sit down with a pencil and trim and move paragraphs around.  I put it down, and work on something else, then go back and tackle it.

9. Read your work out loud.
After I polish a piece and before I send it to an editor, I like to read it out loud to myself.  That’s when I can see what is not working and what is.  Sometimes your eyes will glaze over a section that seems fine but then when you read it out loud, it sounds terrible.  

10. You gotta love magazines.
It’s a tough industry.  Tons of rejection, economy woes, and slimmer magazine packages.  But I love magazines.  I have loved them since I got my first issues of YM, Seventeen, and Sassy.  I have several subscriptions to my favorites and I read them as soon as I can.  I love sitting down and reading them cover to cover.  You gotta love it or don’t do it.

4 Comments on “My Top Ten Lessons I’ve Learned about Magazine Writing

    • Thanks Susan! I’ve learned a lot from you. Especially when you tell me, “Can we cut more words?” Writers don’t think like that but they need to when writing for magazines.

  1. These are great tips, and not just for magazine writers. Most of these would also apply to comic books, TV, and even movies. Basic civility and knowing the media you’re pitching to go a long way, but too many folks forget that. Great posting!

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