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!

Five Things I Learned about Writing for Magazines: #2 Read the Magazines You Want to Query

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If you’ve accumulated some writing credits, you’re ready to begin planning out your queries to magazines that do pay well. Don’t forget about the non-paying, high quality magazines (for example, there’s Patrol and Next-Wave in my own Christian market). They have their place in building your marketing platform if you hope to sell books or to accumulate writing credits. However, you can now broaden your scope.

I’ve heard many editors say that you need to read their magazine before sending them a query. While that makes sense, the typical writer doesn’t have time to pour over the past twelve issues for fifteen different magazines. However, most writers should be able to read at least four or five editions (if not more) of four or five magazines, especially when some of them are available online. Choose wisely as you begin, and then add to your inventory of magazines you read regularly as you query more of them.

Still, the question remains, Why? Does it really make that big of a difference if the guidelines are listed online?

In a word, yes.

Besides simply knowing what a magazine is looking for topically, reading a magazine clues you in on the kinds of stories the magazine accepts, the angle most writers take, and the expectations of readers. For example, after reading about six issues of a regional magazine I began to think of solid story ideas that one editor purchased right away.

When you’ve read a magazine the query ideas will come faster and you’ll write better queries that appeal to editors. Perhaps you could hammer out a decent query after a few hours of staring at the guidelines, but investing a similar amount of time in reading the magazine will result in better queries that are far more likely to be accepted.