By Harriet Michael
When I was a little girl, I loved fishing with my dad. We lived in Nigeria then, so we didn’t have access to many of the fun things people in America had. We didn’t even have swimming pools without traveling at least an hour’s drive from my home. But we had a man-made water reservoir where I could fish. I learned to cast my line out into murky waters, wait in anticipation to feel that tug on my line and then try and reel it in without letting the fish get away.
Maybe that’s why I like freelance writing. I cast pieces—articles, devotions, short stories—out into the murky waters of cyberspace and wait hopefully. Sometimes I feel that tug and sometimes I even reel in a great catch in the form of a contract for a submitted piece.
Of all the publications for which I write, magazines are among my favorite. I get to write on topics of interest to me because I choose the type of magazine I wish to submit to, they pay (some better than others) so I have a flow of cash coming in all year long, and they help build my platform because they are viewed by people I otherwise would not be able to reach.
Here are some tips for anyone hoping to break into the magazine-writing market:
- Search engines are your best friends. You can find any magazine you think you might like to write for by searching that magazine’s name and the words, “writers’ guidelines.” Ex: “The War Cry writers’ guidelines” You can search types of magazines this way too. Ex: “parenting magazines writers’ guidelines” or “cooking magazines writers’ guidelines” Any magazine that takes freelance submissions will show up if you search by topic.
- Read the writers’ guidelines, taking note of a few things:
a] What rights do they buy? I avoid magazines that buy all rights or exclusive rights. See the article on this blog about a writer’s rights if you do not understand this.
b] How much and when do they pay? Do they pay on acceptance of your submitted piece or when the article is published? This is merely a guide to me so I will know when to expect a payment, but both are fine.
c] What word count do they want? Stick to their requested word count to the best of your ability. Usually, it’s okay to be over or under by less than 10 words but some online submission sites will cut you off at their maximum count, so I prefer to err on the “under” side of things.
d] Do they have a theme list? Do they want a particular type of article?
- Write and submit according to the guidelines. Follow the guidelines as closely as you can … and then wait to feel that tug on your line.
A question I often get when teaching workshops on freelancing or magazine writing, is should a person write from inspiration or according to a theme requested by the magazine.
My answer: “Both.”
Writing according to the magazines’ wishes, whether that is a theme or a type of article (like a “how-to”, essay, or story) brings greater success. If they are looking for something specific and you give them what they are looking for, they are more likely to buy it. However, there have been times when something has happened in my life that I simply wanted to write down. This happens often but sometimes these pieces sit on my computer for a long time until a theme or magazine where the piece might fit pops up.
One example of this is an article I had published in a gardening magazine last spring about a humorous experience that occurred many years ago. When it happened, my youngest son was in elementary school. I laughed about what happened all day at the time, so knew I wanted to write it before I forgot, but I had nowhere to send it. When I finally found a magazine where this piece fit, my son was in college. Still, they did take it, people enjoyed reading it, and I received a check for it, even though it was more than a dozen years from the time I wrote it to the time it was published.
Writing Prompt / Exercise: Look up the writers’ guidelines for a magazine that you enjoy reading and begin writing an article for submission to that magazine. *Hint: Christian magazines get fewer submissions than secular ones, so the chances of getting published in them are higher.