10 Lessons from a Year of Magazine Writing

A year ago I started sending magazine queries to editors on a regular basis. Just the other day I looked over some old queries from last August and September. Man, they were awful.

I should have just followed up my query with a plea to not even read them.

You could say I’ve learned something over the past year, especially since my number of accepted and published articles has significantly increased over the past three months. Here are some lessons that may help you as you query magazine editors:

  1. Brevity. Lead your query with two sentences—three maximum. Check a Writer’s Market for sample letters.
  2. Ask about theme lists before querying. If the guidelines are not listed online, e-mail about them too. Make your first contact with an editor a positive one.
  3. Scan the magazine and read a bit of it to get an idea of the tone and the departments. Most editors say, “Read several editions of our magazine.” Most published freelancers say, “Yeah, whatever.”
  4. Query often. Get so many queries out there that you practically lose track of them.
  5. “No” is not the same as a ban from sending future queries. Try something else.
  6. Feedback in a rejection letter is a good sign. Send another query within two weeks.
  7. Focus on practical, how-to articles in the beginning. Ask yourself, “What do readers of this magazine need to know about?” “What are the problems they’re trying to solve?”
  8. Don’t pitch 3,000 word feature articles right off the bat. Query short, 200-500 word pieces.
  9. Proof read query letters 3 times, with an hour break in between your second and third reading.
  10. Work from small to large. Aim for smaller magazines with less circulation and lower pay before shooting for the big guys. You have a lot to learn if you’re starting off. When you do shoot for the big guys, write on spec. It will eventually pay off, but you need to work your way up.

As with any tips in writing, these are not hard and fast rules. The rules of writing are made to be broken. However, these ten lessons are often on my mind as I send out queries to magazines. Good luck!

2 thoughts on “10 Lessons from a Year of Magazine Writing

  1. Very helpful tips, Ed. I’m about to start pitching magazines, so I’m glad to come across these.


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