Writing for Magazines
By Eric Hammer
Writing for magazines is one of those things that every writer
dreams of being able to do but few actually manage to accomplish
it. That's because, while magazine writing can be an extremely
lucrative way to make a living, the fact remains that it is also
notoriously hard to break into the business. The problem is that
editors tend to only want to work with those who have already
been published, however getting published to begin with is really
hard if you've never been published to begin with (it's the classic
chicken or egg question).
However, for all that it's difficult to break into writing
for magazines, it can be a very rewarding experience as it's
completely unlike web writing or even writing for most newspapers
(it's more akin to writing a feature for a newspaper, but more
on that in a moment). In essence, you'll spend weeks and even
months researching a story, tracking down leads and talking to
professionals in various fields. You'll also have a tight deadline,
however your work may not appear for at least six months after
you submit it initially.
How Much Can You Make?
It's impossible to quantify numbers for those writing for
magazines as different magazines have such varied pay rates.
Most professional level magazines however will pay at least 25
cents per word and many offer as much as $1 per word or more.
On the other hand, when you're just starting out, you may well
end up earning nothing at all for your work since you're looking
for those initial publication credits.
Ways to Make More | Related Opportunities
Remember that writing for magazines isn't like writing for
the web. Even if you've written for sites like Demand Studios
or Suite 101 before (and actually, especially if you've written
for such sites), you do not necessarily have the skills required
to do this job.
You need to learn how to run an interview for example. Interviews
should ideally be run on a face to face basis rather than on
the phone (it reads a lot better to write "asked about the
spiraling deficit at his agency and the possibility of the nonprofit
closing its doors, Mr. Smith has a haunted look in his eyes as
he says "it's a real possibility." As opposed to simply
quoting what he said on the phone without the added narrative).
It's also important to learn not to stick to a script for
an interview. Obviously you want to have questions available
to ask your interviewee so that you can get the ball rolling,
however you also need to be flexible enough to change things
up and to play off of what someone says. So for example, if you
were interviewing someone who tried out for a spot on Glee and
they mention that they never really wanted to be a singer and
dancer but always dreamed of being on the football team, you
don't simply move on to your next question about their inspiration
for singing and dancing - you ask them what changed their minds
and made them choose to become a singer and dancer instead.
It's also important to learn how to craft a story. Unlike
most web writing, professional magazine writing typically starts
by telling the story of a particular person rather than providing
an opening sentence with the traditional who, what, where when
why and how.
Remember as well that writing for magazines means breaking
into the industry. Therefore, you should not expect (or even
want) to do a feature article as your first piece of professional
writing. Ideally, you should aim for a "front of book"
piece. These are the short articles of about 500 words or less
which you find toward the front of a magazine. The advantage
of these kinds of pieces is that you only need to interview one
or two people in order to do such articles, as opposed to a feature
piece which could easily require interviewing dozens of people.
Qualifications / Requirements
While there are no formal or licensing requirements for writing
for magazines, you'll generally need to get some publishing credits,
preferably fresh ones in order to get additional credits. The
best way to do this is to look for smaller market magazines or
newspapers where you may report on something for free or for
very little money. The key is to have a portfolio of clips to
show to potential editors.
Start by reading more about writing for magazines. Consider
purchasing a few good books on the subject (an example is listed
below in the resources section). Then, look for a small market
magazine or trade magazine where you can pitch them a story.
Often, these kinds of magazines are more willing to take a chance
on a brand new writer since they're not getting the thousands
of pitches that come to something like The New Yorker.
Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer, by
Jenna Glatzer (Nomad Press, 2004) - Highly recommended book on
how to make money writing for magazines and newspapers. It goes
through all the basics of how this is done and answers many questions
Write Forums - Devoted to writing in general, there are a
number of professionals who are involved in writing for magazines
who hang out here and who can help you to learn what you need
to know to break into the industry.