The World of Freelance Writing
The world of freelance writing is a harsh one. But getting published isn't impossible, and it isn't even as scary as you might think. This article has some tips on how to get published in a magazine, taking you step-by-step through the publication process, from thinking of possible topics to sending off your letter to the editor/publisher.
Table of Contents
- Preliminary Work: Research
- Topic Selection
- Magazine Selection
- Magazine Analysis
- The Writing Process
- The Query Letter
To succeed in freelance writing, first you have to figure out what you know and what you can learn. "Research" doesn't just mean researching facts and figures. It also means mining your mind for ideas.
How do you brainstorm best? Do you draw little doodles to come up with ideas? Do you make lists in straight lines with color coding? Do you write notes all over a piece of paper in phrases unintelligible to any but yourself? Maybe you record yourself digitally. However you brainstorm, just try to get down your ideas. Don't censor yourself.
Once you've finished picking your own brain, it's time to research what's going on outside your head. It means going to your favorite blogs and websites and seeing what people are talking about. You may have a ton of knowledge on a particular topic, but if no one is really interested in that topic, then it might not be the best idea to write about with the intent of publication. If you want to write just for yourself, go nuts! But you have to keep in mind that writing isn't just about what you're interested in. The way to get published is by writing about what people want to read. So, that's what the second part of your preliminary research is about.
Once you've completed your initial freelancer research, it's time to come up with a topic that you can write about. Start general; for example, you could begin with the heading of "Living Green." This is a popular topic right now.
Of course, there are about 2,505,357 potential articles that could fall under the heading of "Living Green." Before you start looking for magazines to publish your work, you need to hone your topic to get more specific. Are you going to write about recycling? conserving energy? saving the rainforest?
Then, once you've decided on your subtopic, you should slice it down even further. Say that you are going to write about conserving energy. What angle are you going to use? What questions are you going to answer? Perhaps you can go back to the detail questions you learned in elementary school: a complete article answers the Five Ws, who, what, where, when, why, and how.
- Who: Are you going to interview someone? Who is the target audience? What point of view are you going to take? (first person, third person, etc.)
- What: What is the meat of this article? What's it about?
- Where: Are you focusing on a specific city, state, country? Do you need to do any background research about the area?
- When: Are you writing about something that happened in the past? Are you writing to describe the current state of things or to say what should happen in the future?
- Why: What is the purpose of your article? Are you trying to inform? persuade? merely entertain?
- How: How are you going to present the information? Are you going to write a list? Will you write from personal experience? What will be the tone of the article: satirical, angry, matter-of-fact?
A smart freelance writer finds a magazine that's exactly right for that topic. Go to the bookstore, the library, Amazon, just to see what magazines are out there. You may think you know all the magazines that have to do with a specific topic, but think again. There are hundreds of thousands of magazines in print, from national to local, not to mention magazines that exist online. Do a Google search on your topic and add the word "magazine" and see what comes up.
One of the best resources for finding magazines to publish your work is Writer's Market, an anthology of magazine listings, book publishers, and agents. See my article on Writer's Market to read more about what it is and how to use it: Writer's Market: A Freelance Writer's Best Resource for Submitting Your Writing.
Find markets to get published
At this point, let's assume you've chosen a magazine or three that seem right for the topic that you've narrowed down for yourself. As much as I adore Writer's Market, you can't rely on it to tell you everything about a magazine. You have to read it for yourself to see if it's truly right for the type of article you want to write.
If you want to get published in that magazine, you had better read it, at least one issue, preferably several issues. Depending on the popularity of the magazine, you may be able to buy a copy at a bookstore or newsstand, but if the magazine you've chosen is less well-known, you will probably have to go online and order a copy or back issue directly from the publishing company.
Many magazine readers are passive, not actively engaged in what they read. When a freelance writing hopeful reads a magazine, she needs to be 100% present in the reading experience. You can't just read; you need to analyze. Analyze for style, topics, article length, target audience. As you can see already, I love lists, so what the heck, let's make an analysis list:
- Style and tone. Does the magazine tend to publish academic writing, informal style, sarcastic pieces? Do the pieces address the reader directly or use the first person?
- Topics. What topics are generally covered in the magazine? Health, fitness, eco-friendliness?
- Article length. Does the magazine tend to use long, in depth pieces or short, to-the-point clips?
- Target Audience. Who reads this magazine? Think about the audience's economic status, gender, interests, ethnicity, religion, age, and personality. Hint: Look at the ads, too. What kind of person are the ads targeting?
- Writers. Who writes for this magazine? If there are bios, read the bios. If not, see if you recognize any famous names. Or if the editors are the ones writing the pieces, which tends to happen in small-time magazines.
- Editors. This isn't so much an analysis as a resource for when you sit down to write your query letter. You need to know the names of the editors.
- Layout and sections. Take note of how the articles are organized in the magazine. Do pictures always accompany them? Are there lots of sidebars? What are the sections that would best fit the article you want to write?
If you discover that the magazine you've analyzed doesn't really fit the topic you want to write about, repeat the magazine selection and analysis process with other magazines. Because you won't get published if your article doesn't fit the magazine that you submit it to.
The Writing Process
You already know how to write. You probably have your own process of writing. But for the aspiring freelance writer, the best piece of advice I can give is this:
Write your article first. Don't try to submit your query letter and then write the article later.
The reason for this is that you want to be specific in your query letter as to EXACTLY what your article is about. I know that I've found that my original plan for a piece of writing was far different than the actual piece. Writing often takes on a life of its own. You don't want to promise an editor something in a query letter and then not be able to deliver if you receive that wonderful acceptance in your mailbox.
Help with writing query letters
The Query Letter
If you want to have a shot at getting published in your desired magazine, you need to learn how to write a query letter. A good one. Like a resumé or cover letter, this is your one shot at getting the editor of the magazine to give you a second glance. Re-read, re-read, revise. Query letters should include the following information.
Include the Basics:
- The date
- The name of the appropriate editor. Use his full name, no Mr., Mrs., etc., unless it's Dr. or other professional title.
- Formal salutation
- Include your name, address, email address, and phone number in the letterhead or at the bottom of the letter.
- Single-space paragraphs; double-space between paragraphs.
- The paper should look clean and professional.
- If mailed, include Self Addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE).
- Make sure your query letter does not go over one page in length. If sending an email query, type it first in Microsoft Word to make sure it's not too long.
In the Body of the Letter:
- Your idea should be presented at the beginning of your letter.
- The opening of your letter should grab the editor's attention.
- Inform the editor exactly what you intend to include in your article.
- Give a proposed article length. Round to the nearest 100 words for an article under 2000 words and to nearest 500 for longer articles. The length should be appropriate for that publication. You should know this from your magazine analysis.
- Identify which section of the magazine you believe your article fits best. Again, you should know this from your analysis.
- Include writing samples, particularly published clips (if you have any) that are appropriate to the publication, topic, and writing style you believe the publication is looking for. If you don't have any published clips, though, don't point that out.
- Give credentials that show your writing qualifications, especially about this subject.
- Name other publications, if any, that have published your work.
- Name any sources you have for your article.
- Your letter should show why you are the best person to write this article for them. But don't sound arrogant.
- End your letter by saying that you look forward to hearing from him, and telling him to contact you for any questions.
What Not To Do in Your Query:
- Don't say who has rejected you before.
- Don't tell the editor how long and hard you have been working.
- Don't say that the article still needs work.
- Don't request advice, comments, or criticism.
- Don't talk about how awesome it would be to be published.
- Don't include unrelated information about yourself.
- Don't discuss price, payment, or copyright information.
- Don't write too much or fail to get to the point quickly enough.
- Don't present ideas for several different articles in the same letter.
- Don't send inappropriate or unrelated samples.
Well, that's as far as I can take you in this journey. Once you've sweated and polished and cried and revised and FINALLY sent your query letter, you're done, right?
Ha, ha, ha.
Unless your goal was to send one query letter to one magazine with the hope of getting one article published, you're not done. If you want to be a writer, you have more than one topic in your head that you can send to more than one magazine.
I hope you've found this guide helpful in your freelance writing endeavors. Please leave comments and suggestions for what else you would like to see in a guide such as this.
Kelley Marks from Sacramento, California on April 30, 2017:
Thanks for the tips! Wish me luck on writing articles for magazines - I could sure use the extra income, couldn't we all?...
Michelle Scoggins from Fresno, CA on June 22, 2014:
Very useful and detailed article. Really demonstrated the work that goes into writing for magazines and exceptionally helpful was the "what not to do" area. Voted up.
Mark Lees on September 10, 2013:
Good advice and practices I should follow to get published more regularly, no doubt about that
collegedad from The Upper Peninsula on March 02, 2013:
I know several writers who would benefit from your insights. Voted up, useful, and passed along. Thanks!
L.L. Woodard from Oklahoma City on March 02, 2013:
Lots of guidance and insightful information here for how to get published in a magazine. I love the lists; they make the process straightforward.
Great hub; voted up and Shared.
Paul Richard Kuehn from Udorn City, Thailand on March 02, 2013:
This is an extremely useful, helpful, and very informative hub. Thanks for sharing your ideas. Voted up and sharing with followers.
torrilynn on March 02, 2013:
thanks for this article here on ways to get published in a magazine.
i found them interesting and very helpful.
thanks once again.
voted up and shared
newusedcarssacram from Sacramento, CA, U.S.A on February 28, 2013:
For any writer, it's very important for their work to get published. It's like a dream come true. Thanks for the valuable suggestions.
Melanie Chisnall from Cape Town, South Africa on February 28, 2013:
Wonderful article, laid out well, and full of useful information. Thank so much! :)
Cynthia B Turner from Georgia on June 04, 2012:
This was wonderfully put together. Great steps to follow. I'm glad I found this. Bookmarking.
Jim Dorsch from Alexandria, VA on March 25, 2012:
My 2 cents: be persistent and have a thick skin. Realize that many editors will reject you and use someone they've worked with who doesn't know the subject. They want predictable results, and using someone they've never worked with won't provide that. I often see magazine stories that don't provide good information. Magazines exist to sell ads. If the readers don't know a story has poor information, it doesn't matter if they still buy the magazine. A mediocre writer who is good at selling will do much better than an expert writer who isn't good at selling.
Reve from Dhaka on March 19, 2012:
This is certainly pretty useful for newbies like me. Thanks for your specific guideline for writing as a freelancer. Even though I am not sure whether I am going to write for any magazine as it will be pretty tough for me :/
Well done :)
Crystal Tatum from Georgia on March 15, 2012:
This is a very detailed and thorough hub. Voted up and useful. I have an ancient Writer's Market from my college days and need to update to a more recent version now that I'm considering doing freelance work. Thanks for the reminder about this resource and for all the great advice.
Dawn Conklin from New Jersey, USA on March 04, 2012:
Great tips here for writing and getting published! I never really thought about trying to get published in a magazine as I don't have a writing degree. I have been learning a lot by writing the last couple years, maybe I can give it a shot :)
Shasta Matova from USA on March 04, 2012:
I wanted to let you know that each week I make a list of favorites of all the hubs I read during the week, and you have been included on March 4th's list! Congratulations!
Theresa D from England, UK on March 03, 2012:
Very useful information about magazine publication. Thank you for sharing.
Shasta Matova from USA on March 03, 2012:
This is very useful information. I have always dreamed of being published in a magazine (well, more than one). Can you direct people to a website such as HubPages for samples, or do you think it would be better to send clips. What is a clip?
Abundant Old Soul from united states on January 26, 2012:
This is good stuff. Thank you. I feel less overwhelmed now. Could I get some feedback?
Dream big dreams.
Manoj Kumar Srivastava from India on August 30, 2011:
Thanks for writing an informative piece. This will go a long way in helping people,
Lots of Love,
fashion on July 24, 2011:
Great and interesting article.
slmorgan from San Francisco on July 09, 2011:
Very nice posting. The steps are easy to follow and very detailed. I like Writers Market as well,but I do like other options. Thanks!
htodd from United States on April 24, 2011:
Thanks for the Nice article ,Great Post
Jeff_McRitchie on March 07, 2011:
This is extremely helpful. It helps take the mystery out of the process. Thanks for posting it!
missymoo from Kent, UK on March 04, 2011:
Good hub with a nice step by step process. I've had quite a few articles published in magazines and I can say it does take some work, so this is useful, thanks!
bugslady8949 from The Bahamas on February 04, 2011:
you did a great job, this hub helped a lot.
deepakkumaarr on January 19, 2011:
Very helpful article
Omkar on December 23, 2010:
i hope you give similar tips in the future..this has given me much needed direction..
juliancreative from cape cod ,massachuttes on December 13, 2010:
a wonderful article,and truly helpful ,with the right facts for people.really nice.
Jon Law from Birmingham UK on June 19, 2010:
Fantastic stuff, really useful outline of the process required to submit in the real world. We proably take it for granted online, it seems much easier.
seraphim11 on June 03, 2010:
Thank you! This hub is very informative :)
Maria Giunta from Sydney, Australia on May 30, 2010:
Thanks for sharing such great info Profound, will take some of this onboard.
Petra Vlah from Los Angeles on May 27, 2010:
Well explained and very useful, a real guide for anyone interested in the process of getting published. Thank you
mpuppal on May 24, 2010:
It was a very informative article.I do submit write ups but so far have not succeeded in getting them published.
majalah on April 26, 2010:
I'm freelance copywriter and have plan to write for magazine this year. your info very useful for me. thanks
George Poe from United Kingdom on April 20, 2010:
That's really good info, thanks for sharing. Very good piece of writing.
De Greek from UK on April 12, 2010:
How kind you are to share this information :-)
Dialogue on April 05, 2010:
A very informative article. Well presented with thorough research. I enjoyed reading it. Thanks for sharing.
myownwords on March 19, 2010:
very nice peace real good info
cardiff_martian on February 25, 2010:
Nice article, thanks. I like the way you stressed that ideas don't just come out of thin air - writing isn't always easy.
SwiftlyClean from Texas on January 28, 2010:
Great tips and info.Thanks
Carolyn Augustine from Iowa on January 24, 2010:
This article was a concise but thorough review of the Magazine submission process. I agree with your advice to write the article first, then send your query letter. Most of my articles start out as a general idea and then morph into something else. Hopefully your article will inspire more writers to write for magazines!
Cindy Vine from Cape Town on November 28, 2009:
Am definitely bookmarking this page! Thanks!
Nell Rose from England on November 25, 2009:
Thanks for the information. I wasn't sure which way to do it. I will save this page for future reference. cheers Nell
Elyse Eaton on November 23, 2009:
Very informative. Thanks.
chammock on November 18, 2009:
I can say that getting published in a magazine can take you places. I wrote a technical article for a magazine and because I provided a really nice finished product that required very little editing they asked me to write more. Then they asked me to speak at their annual trade show that year. The next year they paid me nicely to teach an all day class on a technical subject. in addition to the pay, they paid for a nice room for me and my family in a resort. So if you like to write and have some expertise in a subject, don't hesitate to get it out there. This hub has some great ways to do that.
Hope Wilbanks from Virginia on November 01, 2009:
Very nice and detailed hub!
Shakespril on October 15, 2009:
i wanted to get published sooner..would you give me a hand?
i was really in this upside-down roller coaster of ideas but you have made me realize something essential..
please, help me get published..
karpouzian from Iowa on August 08, 2009:
Great information, well organized! Keep it up! :)
Ludlow from Manchester England on August 06, 2009:
Brilliant advice; I'll be coming back to this one. Thank you!
sandykidd from Boston, MA, USA on May 18, 2009:
I can't help but wonder if this process is a bit more competitive now that so many magazines have recently gone under. But they're all still valid, certainly. Good post.
AshleyVictoria from Los Angeles on March 24, 2009:
ProfoundPuns, great advice. I've bookmarked this page to come back to when I write future query letters!
MotherHubber from Southern California on March 04, 2009:
Pam, thanks so much for this article. I am just getting back in to writing, and I would like very much to do some freelance work, but am not sure how to start. I did purchase the new Writer's Market, and I have a couple of reference books. Your hub was very concise and useful. I'll be printing it and putting it in the folder with my other reference materials. Thanks!
Erick Smart on February 05, 2009:
Marisa has a great point! Make sure you can deliver or your career will be over before it begins.
Kate Swanson from Sydney on January 20, 2009:
Great tip about writing the article before you query. It's fine for seasoned writers to send out queries "on spec" and only write articles when they get a bite - they have enough experience to know they can deliver. Many newbies have heard that writers do that, and think that's the way to go - then come unstuck when they try it themselves.
If you get an offer from a magazine then fail to deliver, that magazine will never give you another chance - so don't take the risk!
Tony McGregor from South Africa on November 21, 2008:
Very useful information. Thanks a lot for it and the thought and care put into the Hub.Love and peace,
ProfoundPuns (author) from Maryland, USA on November 07, 2008:
Thanks for the compliment! I'll be sure to visit your hub.
nancydodds1 from Houston, Texas on November 06, 2008:
Its very nice and good steps you introduced. I had gone through your hub its very informative and everyone gets good information from your hub. Recently i posted a hub on Mortgage Calculator fee l free to visit it and give an advice on my hub.