This post addresses question 1 in the Magazine Writing Basics blog series.
(Questions 1 and 2 were also already posted on the static page, Magazine Writing Basics, which also offers an overview of this series. However, that content seems not to have entered the subscription feed.)
This post reveals 12 common steps to publication. REMEMBER that each step will be covered in much more detail in other posts and articles! This offers simple answers, just to give you the overall picture, and to let you know where you are headed in your new nonfiction writing journey.
Q. “Can you help me understand how the industry works?”
Most magazines buy writing from freelance writers, in addition to having their own in-house writers. A freelance writer is self-employed and paid per article. Each article you write is a stand-alone product, with its own contract, even if you sell many articles to the same magazine. Here’s how the process generally works . . .
1: Come up with an article idea.
2: Give that idea a creative new slant: a fresh angle, beyond basic topic and theme.
3: Decide what formats and article types to use for that article. (Options include, but are not limited to: self-help, how-to, personal experience, humor, investigative, Q & A and list articles.)
4: Find a magazine with readers who need or want that information. Locate editor contact information and submission requirements.
5: Create and send a query, a one-page pitch to an editor to have them request your article, OR a complete manuscript, properly formatted and sent ONLY when requested.
6: Receive a contract, sign, and return it. Pay attention to payment terms, deadlines, and rights you are selling.
7: Write the article, and work with the editor assigned to you to refine it.
8: Receive payment, either on acceptance of the final version of that article, or on publication (not recommended). Spend your first article check on something memorable.
9: Receive your copy of the article in print, called a clip. Jump up and down and scream with excitement. If a version exists online, share that link with others.
Next, I recommend that you:
10: Resell the same article to other, noncompeting magazines that buy reprints (usually low circulation publications).
11: Pitch a new idea to the magazine you already sold to. This eliminates Step 4. Also, more sales to one magazine will drastically cut down on time spent on Steps 5 and 7, as you become more familiar with editorial needs.
12: Create new articles for other magazines, to build your freelance resume and add variety to your freelance writing life.
TIP: You can write for one magazine or for many different ones at the same time. To stay in good graces, honor magazines you write for by not selling similar material to magazines that directly compete against them.
Remember that this is a simplified list of steps to give you a basic overview of the industry.
For each step, there is loads to learn, of course! Don’t worry: I’ll be offering you entire articles or links to other resources that provide advanced how-to on each one of these steps.
But unless you are clear on these basic steps to publication, it is too easy to short-circuit the process.
For example, many writers take a basic article idea and send a query (article proposal) without first giving much thought to slant or article format, or appropriate article length. They neglect to do any research to learn editorial and reader needs. Then they pop that query in the mail and wait. . . and wait. . . and when they finally receive a rejection letter they are unsure about what exactly went wrong. This can be a colossal waste of time and energy and is often avoidable.
You, on the other hand, will clearly understand the basics before you query, vastly increasing your odds of success.
Your journey has only just begun!
Happy Writing and Submitting,
Laurie Winslow Sargent