Introduction to Magazine Writing

Quite a few people email me about how to break into magazine writing or how to get published in a magazine. So instead of answering each email individually, I thought it was better to write a blog post and let everyone share in the information. And if you’ve written for magazines, please add your comments below! As a magazine editor and writer, here are my best tips for breaking through to magazines.

How I broke in. I started by taking an online class through the Woodhull Institute and then Mediabistro.com. I knew nothing so I spent money learning from instructors who had actually written for major national publications. After my first online class with Kristin Kemp, I sold my very first article to Bust magazine about young women becoming nuns. Learn from people who know more than you.

What I’ve learned. It’s a tough business but I love it. I’ve loved magazines since my first issue of Sassy, YM, and Seventeen arrived in my mailbox. So love it first because the passion for the written word in a glossy format will get you through the not-so-great times like when an editor never gets back to you, your pitch gets rejected, or every word of yours is rewritten.

Subscribe to your favorite magazines. How can you ever expect to write for the magazines you like if you never read them? So pick out a few you absolutely love and subscribe to them. My current subscriptions: VegNews, Real Simple, Bust, New York, Entertainment Weekly, Time, and Every Day with Rachael Ray. I’ve written for three of those publications. If you can’t subscribe, go to your local library and sit down with some issues.

Networking. Editors work with writers they trust and know. Introduce yourself over email with a GREAT pitch. Ask your friends if they know of any editors they can introduce you to over email. Go to a Mediabistro Media Party and meet editors. Get on LinkedIn and connect with editors.

Read at least 3 back issues and take notes. Editors LOVE it when you know their publication. Like how they write their headlines. What’s featured on their cover. Do they write snarky like Esquire or have a more service-orientated focus like Real Simple? Sit down with past issues and take as many notes as you can about the words they use, the types of articles they feature, and who is their average reader. I can’t stress this enough. Nothing is more annoying than a pitch that is clearly not a fit for the magazine.

Bounce your pitches off other people. Don’t live in a bubble that your writing is perfect. Talk to other writers. Even try to write your pitch in a sentence and tell a friend about it. Get ideas from friends you trust. Every idea can be improved or tweaked. When I pitch ideas as a staff editor, my fellow editors always give me new angles to the story I’ve pitched. P.S. Are you wondering what a pitch is? It’s a few paragraphs of the story you want to sell.

Intern at a magazine. Boy, I wish I did this while I lived in New York City and went to NYU. I instead figured it out and started as an editorial assistant at 28. If I could go back and do it all over again, I would intern at my favorite mags and try to get a byline anywhere. VegNews has a fantastic internship program opened to anyone interested (you don’t have to be in college to apply). The application/interview process is very selective but it’s a great way to get your foot in the door.

One last misconception that I want to clear up.
Magazine writing, while short and exciting, is not any easier than screenwriting, novels, playwriting, or fiction. It’s hard work, my friends. Try writing a short, pithy paragraph in 50 words. Tough. Rejection is constant. And everyone will tell you that magazines are a dead format. So write for magazines because you love it. You live for it. The passion will get you much farther.

If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them in the comments section. Thanks! Happy magazine reading!

6 Comments on “Introduction to Magazine Writing

  1. As always, great advice.

    By the way, I never received that Rachel Ray magazine in the mail. Maybe you got the wrong address?

    Thanks!

  2. Great post…and very true! And I guess those of us who are still out there writing for mags and pitching stories truly love it…because yes, everyone tells you the medium is dead 🙂 I hold out hope!

  3. Hi,

    I just purchased a publication franchise in the Houston area. The publication focuses on a specific community in the Houston area. I am about to launch our first issue, and have to introduce myself to the readers, as well as write up a brief note on our first issue which is a Food and Dining guide. Any suggestions?

    • Hi Juan:
      Congrats on the publication! Sounds like a great magazine. My suggestions for your introduction/editor’s note is to first read other magazines you like and read their editor’s notes. Find your favorites. What do you like about their editor’s note? What do you find engaging? What do you NOT like? Also, when writing to your readers, treat them like your friends. Write as if you were telling your best friend, hey you really gotta check this out. No one likes to be sold. People like advice and feeling like they can really get something out of what you’re offering. Who doesn’t love food and dining? That’s a great first issue. Check out the local and regional magazines in your area and the bigger magazines covering lifestyle and see what they are doing right. Then take your own spin on it.
      I hope that helps!

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