Magazine Writing AdviceMagazine, Writing, Advice
ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated
2013

How to Query Editors with Magazine Article Ideas


Any trip to the local Books-a-Million or Barnes and Noble will prove just how many magazines there are in circulation. Add to this the increasing number of free publications that are regional-based and you'll see the number of opportunities there are available for freelance writers to get their name out there and start building a portfolio of published work. Many of these magazines work with a small, full-time staff of copyeditors and interns, while hiring writers on a freelance basis; and most are willing to pay anywhere from $75 to $150 for a feature-length article.

If you have begun the process of querying magazine editors with article ideas, one of the best ways to do so is to query with an article that you have already written and that hasn't been published elsewhere. This article should be the epitome of the type of article that the magazine's readership would be interested in reading and should reflect your best work as a journalist or commentator in order to "get your foot in the door" of working on a consistent basis with that particular magazine.

So what's the perfect article for a first-time query?

A first-time query to a magazine for which you would like to write should reflect the style and topic that the readers of that magazine have come to expect. Of course, the only way to know this is to pick up a copy of that particular magazine over the span of a few months and see what type of feature articles are typically run by the editor. This is the best way to know what type of writing attracts the attention of the editor and what the readers of that particular publication expect.

Let's say, for example, that you are interested in travel writing and are querying a regional travel magazine that focuses on travel in the "Deep South" portion of the United States. You look through the magazine for several months and find that the feature articles are generally about specific places in the South that are prime tourist destinations, such as Charleston, West Virginia and Atlanta, Georgia. Knowing that the magazine doesn't want to repeat features it has already published, and using the information you have gleaned from reading the articles from the past several months, you decide to write an article about historical music destinations within the "Deep South," particularly Memphis, Tennessee ("The home of the Blues and Rock-n-Roll") and Nashville, Tennessee ("The home of Country Music").

Once you decide on this topic, it's best to look back through the past year of issues to see if the magazine has featured another article based on the same idea. It's usually easy to do this—especially if the magazine has online issues or archives. If you find that the topic is indeed one that hasn't been written about lately in that particular publication, but still a topic that would be of obvious interest to the magazine's readership, then consider it a green light to start researching and writing about that particular topic.

But will I be working for free?

This is a question that plagues many freelancers, especially when they are first getting started. If you spend all that time researching a magazine's readership and past publications, in addition to the time spent researching and writing about the topic—what if the editor still turns it down?

This is a very real concern and a situation that you should expect to happen more than once or twice. However, there are two ways to look at this to avoid seeing it as a problem, per se. First, you should realize that this effort on the front end is a way of showing your ability to this particular editor and will not be the typical way of conducting business with him or her in the future if your article is published. Most editors will continue to send assignments to freelance writers with whom they have worked with in the past, after the proverbial ice is broken with that first publishing effort.

Second, keep in mind that even if this particular magazine or editor chooses not to publish your article after it is finished, there are plenty of other magazines out there that connect with readers looking for information about your topic. You now have a fully written and polished piece that is available to any editor who likes it, so all you have to do is locate other publications that might be competitors with the one you initially contacted and query those editors with the same article. Eventually, if your article is well-written, an editor will pick it up—and that's one more magazine for which you've managed to "get your foot in the door" as an established freelance writer.

An editor likes my work—now what?

Once you come across an editor that likes your style of writing and topic choice, when the article runs and everything is said and done, send a quick email to let him or her know how much you appreciate the opportunity. Within this email, be sure to state that you are available for any freelance writing assignments that he or she might have in the future and that you would appreciate it if the magazine would keep you in mind for future work. The likelihood is high that the editor will contact you again in the near future to give you an assignment, particularly if the magazine uses freelancers often.

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