While a great idea may be picked up, chances are that a new, unproven writer will have a hard time pitching an acceptable story idea to a top magazine that pays well. Instead, start with an online publication that doesn’t pay, or at least doesn’t pay well.
This will enable you to read the magazine and to get to know the readers. In addition, the comments at the end of each article, if comments are allowed, will give you clues about the readers.
In addition, many online magazines are not dealing with limited space, so the competition isn’t quite as fierce. You should be able to accumulate a bunch of writing credits in a short period of time which will make your queries to larger magazines stronger. Make sure your pieces are on-topic and written to address the needs of the web site’s audience.
If you stick to web sites that don’t pay, you’ll still get your name out there and begin to draw an audience of readers to your work. They will at least be able to click on a link to your web site and start reading your blog. You do have a web site, right?
UPDATE: Based on the comments of one reader who has “expunged” me from a bookmark list (Boo-Hoo!), I thought I should add some qualifiers and a little clarity here:
- I’m talking about someone’s first few queries here, not a whole career. I think new writers have a lot to gain by developing their craft on some low-stakes sites before taking a crack at the big boys. Besides, an editor at a web site that pays little or no money may even write back and offer feedback on a rejected article. Most editors at magazines will delete queries they don’t like.
- And speaking of these sites, the commenter referred to them as “bottom-feeders,” but I think that’s a sweeping generalization. There are LOTS of bottom-feeder web sites that don’t pay out there. And I agree, they should be avoided. I only contribute to sites that connect me with readers, develop my skill at writing for my audience, and build my resume. I also only send articles to the non-paying sites that line up with my values.
- Lots of serious, professional writers, who know their worth and their craft, post content on sites that don’t pay. That isn’t all they do, and they often recycle previous pieces, but the occasional, carefully chosen free site can be an asset.
- Lastly, the key word in this post if “start.” Having faced a room of wide-eyed writers who fear rejection more than a nuclear holocaust, I can assure you that just getting something published anywhere regardless of pay is a huge first step. I also encourage them to quickly begin querying other magazines that do pay, but even so, these magazines will encourage them to break in with short fillers rather than long features. I mean, that’s what most editors say in Writer’s Digest, right? Just because someone starts small does not mean he/she has given up on the craft of writing or one day writing a feature piece.