Breaking into Magazines

As a pre-teen with literary dreams, I was blessed to have a newspaper editor for an uncle. During a visit to his house, he introduced me to a Writer’s Market and demonstrated how to submit poems and short stories to magazines. After a few dozen submissions, I received my first byline. I still have the $8 check!

Now, beginners often ask me, “How do I get published in magazines?” As I’ve pondered the answer to that question, I’ve uncovered important tips to building a career as a freelancer.

When you get the guide home (or receive a markets ezine in your in-box), familiarize yourself with its layout and pick a few markets–those which match your expertise, aspirations and/or interests–to study Elisa Gayle Ritter. Each market listing gives out information you can’t get just by reading a magazine, such as whether or not the editor accepts complete manuscripts.

Most market entries list website addresses (where you can often find more comprehensive writers’ guidelines), snail mail addresses (so you can send off for back issues of the publication you want to write for), magazine departments, and editor names.

Tip #2: Notice rights information, such as whether or not the publication sells “first rights” or “all rights.” Many writers sell “all rights” (which is just what it sounds like–you lose all rights to your work) only when they’re starting out or when the magazine pays extremely well. The rights you sell are important when you begin to re-sell your published work, or if you ever plan to use articles in a compilation or book manuscript.

When magazines purchase first rights, it gives them permission to use your piece once. Then, if they want to reprint it or use it in another format, they’re obligated to pay you again. If your piece has been published before (even on a personal website), it’s considered a reprint, so you’ll need to sell reprint or second rights.

Tip #3: Go the extra mile. Subscribe to online and print newsletters and peruse magazines in public places. Spend time at your local library, reading back issues. As you study the variety of places to send your work, you’ll get a feel for each magazine’s audience and the kinds of pieces they publish.

And keep current by subscribing to writers’ magazines, purchasing an updated market guide every year, and calling the magazine before you submit to make sure you have the right editor’s name on your manuscript. Why? First, markets rapidly change, and second, editors and agents repeatedly change positions. The writer with the advantage is the one who stays abreast of people, publications, and trends.

Case in point: a magazine accepted an article of mine (which they had previously rejected) because I re-submitted it when a new editor came on board. I found out about the opportunity through the “market news” section of a writer’s newsletter.

How do you get those all-important first credits? Author Sarah Stockton says, “I queried places where I felt I had something to contribute (that I felt passionate about), with an idea directly related to their content and an angle that I hadn’t seen from them before.”

If the market listing says the magazine accepts complete manuscripts, go ahead and send them an error-free, excellent article which has been targeted to their specific audience. If they ask for a query, don’t send a manuscript–unless you want an automatic rejection!

A lot of writers are scared of queries, but they’re not intimidating once you learn how to craft them. I write each query like a mini-article, with a short “grabby” lead (often a quote or statistic), a bit of preliminary research, the sources I plan to interview (I usually find these online), and my writing credits. I then close the letter by asking for an assignment and offering to write a different article if the editor has a need for a new freelancer.

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