If you’ve always dreamed of seeing your name in lights, or at least a byline in a magazine, but have no idea where to begin, this post is for you.
Some folks just start writing stories and sending them to editors, hoping for a bite. But that is putting the cart before the horse. Magazines don’t accept already-written stories.
Others email editors expressing interest in writing for them but offer no ideas for stories. While this might work for a small startup publication, it’s probably a long shot.
If you want to break into the magazine industry, you need to have your ducks in a row before you begin communicating with editors. Let me rabbit trail a bit.
I hate using a GPS app on my phone when traveling in unfamiliar territory. I write for a regional publication two hours from my home and I frequently have to travel there. I’m not familiar with this city and every stinking time I’ve gone there I get lost. It’s not because I can’t follow the directions the nice lady is speaking to me over my phone, it’s because I might want to deviate to do something like run in a drug store. The problem is so bad that last week I called the Chamber of Commerce for this city and ordered a paper map. You see, I do better with the big picture.
I want to be able to see what is around me. I cannot do that with a GPS app. I need to see what’s ahead way before the nice lady speaks it and I need to see where I’ve come from.
The writing industry is similar. If you do not know what is down the road, you might slam into a brick wall. It won’t be your fault because you didn’t have the big picture. You might also keep going in the same direction when you need to go around the round-about again and get off on another tangent.
Let me give you the roadmap to breaking into print publications.
How do I become a freelance writer?
There are several steps to get you onto the freeway of freelance writing. Follow them in order and I promise that merging into the heavy traffic will be much less scary. Also, when you read these steps, you might want to over-think them. Don’t do that. Just do it. Just get started. You can always change your answers later. Your writing career will evolve over time. So relax and just get going.
Pick a potential client
If you want to break into magazine writing as fast as possible, submit something to the magazine on your coffee table or in the rack in your bathroom.
The number one mistake beginners make is submitting to publications they don’t read. If you read the magazine, you know who their target audience is—you. You are in that reader’s mind. You also have an idea of what types of stories that publication prints.
For instance, if you’re a regular reader of AARP Magazine, you know they would never print a story on how to deal with your toddler’s night terrors, right? I know that is an exaggeration, but you get the point.
Every publication has a personality and a voice. If you already read the magazine you know if they like how-to articles, list articles, recipes, essays, or celebrity profiles.
For more help with this step, read “How to Define A Publication’s Audience.”
Decide what you are going to write about
This step pretty much goes hand-in-hand with the previous one. Obviously, if you are going to submit to Parents Magazine, you are going to write about parenting topics and if you are going to submit to Hobby Farms you are going to write about farming topics.
Folks often choke up choosing a niche. But like I said, you don’t have to make a life-long commitment. Just pick something to start off with. You may decide to change later and that is okay. If you need help choosing a niche, try The Idea Fountain: 5 days to 30 story ideas. The steps I walk you through in there will help you choose areas from your life experience to write about.
Build a website
Hey, don’t freak out. You do not have to have a computer science degree to build your own website. I’ve built my own sites several times over with no formal training. But if you’re still intimidated, there are several platforms to get you started that are very user-friendly. The point is to have some piece of online real estate that highlights a few things about you:
- A short bio,
- What you write, and
- What you’ve already written.
If you haven’t had anything published yet, that’s okay. Just start with the other two things.
Why do you need a website? Because when an editor gets your query letter the first thing he is going to do is look for you online. No online presence tells the editor you are a hobbyist. I explain more about it in “Does a Freelance Writer Need a Website?”
If you need some help with this try one of these places:
Finally, write a killer query letter
There is a science to writing query letters. You can’t just write to the editor and say something like, “Hey, I want to write about the best flea treatments for dogs.” No, no, no. That is not going to cut it. And believe me, that editor won’t even take the time to send you a rejection. He’ll just click the little trash can icon in the corner and it’s bye-bye birdie for you.
To learn to write a query letter, start with “How to Write a Query Letter that Sells.” In that post is a link to download my free 8-page tip sheet on writing query letters. Download it. I give samples and lots of advice in that paper. Then, once you have your query letter written, send it to me and I’ll look it over.
Yes, you heard me right. This month only, I am reviewing query letters and giving feedback free of charge. To submit your query letter, click the button below.
There you go. Four easy, peasy steps to become a freelance writer. Of course, once you get the assignment you have to write the thing. So stay tuned for “Four easy steps to writing a magazine article.”