Magazine Writing Tips for New Freelance Writers: Identify a Topic, Angle, and Market

This post is the first in a three-part series that offers magazine writing tips for freelancers new to writing for magazines. This first post covers identifying an article idea and a magazine market. The second post covers writing a query letter, and the third post covers writing the article once you have a contract.

Magazines are available for every possible topic and interest, and with a little know-how and persistence you can write for them. Let’s start with the basics of writing for magazines:

  1. Think about something that you love doing, something you’re enthusiastic about, or something that’s new and exciting to you. It could be anything, such as computers, fitness, parenting, fly fishing, German Shepherds, or travel. Make a list of topics. Choose one topic to focus on as you read this series of articles.
  2. Find a magazine (or several) that caters to an audience that’s interested in your chosen topic.
  3. Read the magazine cover-to-cover. Read everything, including the Letters To The Editor and the ads, including the classifieds. If you’re not interested enough in the topic to read every word in the magazine, with great attention, then find another topic. Why is reading a magazine important? One, you must know enough that you can come up with something new the readers of the magazine will want to read. Two, your interest in the topic will come through in your writing and appeal to editors, who will be turned off if they sense your lack of interest.
  4. Develop an angles for your topic and start sending queries (article proposals) to the magazine, at the rate of about one a month. The second article in this series covers writing query letters.

Tip One: Understand That Magazines Are Run By People Who Need To Keep Their Jobs
Many writers underestimate themselves. They’re much better writers than they think they are. Problems arise because writers don’t know enough about the people to whom they want to sell their work.

The staff people at magazines have busy schedules with constant deadlines. They must satisfy advertisers and readers. If the staff can’t attract enough readers to woo advertisers, the magazine folds. So the staff at any magazine is busy and tense. As a writer, it’s your job to make the staff’s work easier. It’s up to you to learn as much as you can about the magazine and making appropriate pitches.

Writing a magazine article involves a lot. You need a topic, an angle, research and information, and a structure that lets you present information in a way that the readers can get the most from it. New writers tend to get so wrapped up in the writing process that they forget the people in the office at the magazine. The editor and the rest of the magazine staff are your access to readers: You must please the staff first because you can’t get readers, or get paid, any other way.

Tip Two: Offer Something New

What do you know that no one else knows and that would interest the magazine’s readers?

No magazine is going to publish something that’s appeared in every other magazine. You don’t have to find a brand-new topic, which is rare. Most magazines cover an established territory they’ve mapped out for themselves.

So “something new” means a fresh angle on a topic, some new information, or your unique experiences with something that interests readers, and so on. To know what would be new, you need to read the magazine that you’re trying to sell to and feel in tune with it. You must come up with an article idea that will work for the editors.

Tip Three: Read a Copy Of the Magazine—And Enjoy It

I’ve already hammered on this point, but here it is again, because it’s vital. If you need help finding magazines on a topic, Writer’s Market is a great resource.

Can you ever write for a magazine you haven’t read? Probably, but if you aim to write for magazines you read, much of your research is done in the course of your normal reading. You’ll do additional research and interviews of course, but you already know the style of writing the magazines expects.

Plus, if you read the magazine, and mention material you’ve read in the magazine, you immediately boost your credibility with the editor. For example, let’s say you’re offering an article to Zen Cooking (a fictitious magazine). Start your query letter by briefly mentioning something you’ve read in the magazine that ties in with your proposal.

Next Steps

In the second post of this series, you’ll work on writing a query letter (article proposal). Right now, I want you to find a topic and a magazine (or several) that you enjoy reading that covers the topic.

  1. List five topics that interest you. Now choose one topic, and find a magazine that covers that topic.
  2. Read the magazine. Could you see yourself writing for this magazine?
  3. Make a list of articles in the magazine. Read each article several times and analyze the writing style.
  4. Brainstorm new and fresh angles on your chosen topic that might fit into your target magazine.
  5. When you’re ready, go to writing a selling query letter.