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Entries in Magazines (52)

Tuesday
Nov092010

Getting To Know A Magazine

Question of the day: Do people send magazines unsolicited material? Do they look at these or do they advertise for articles on whatever they cover? 

Unless you're sending in an essay for consideration (or travel piece), you should never send in a completed article. Rather, you should fashion a well-researched pitch with an angle designated specifically for that magazine. A service piece on the latest research on depression, for example, will need a different bent for Parents vs. Self vs. More vs. Men's Health. They're not going to advertise for this, as they're inundated with pitches to begin with, many not well-researched or well-written or well-thought out. Instead, you should really familiarize yourself with the magazine your pitching. When I was really at my height of freelancing, it probably wasn't much of a coincidence that I had the highest success rate and highest enthusiasm for magazines (and assignments) of mags I actually subscribed to. I understood their voice, their story angle, their tone, and I could match my queries accordingly. If you read a magazine for long enough, you get an idea - even just as a reader - of what they're looking for.

Which isn't to say that all long-time subscribers can break in. They can't. They won't. But it sure as hell helps to know that, for example, Family Fun seeks specific activities/locations for your family, and differ from other parenting magazines in that way. (I cite FF because I remember, before I read them, that I almost DID send them a parenting query that was better suited for Parents, until I started reading the mag and realized how quickly it differed from the others.) 

This sounds like basic info, I know, but you'd be surprised how many writers don't take it to heart. READ the publications you want to pitch. SEE what they're printing and then find new, exciting angles and ideas to bring their way. That - along with good writing, a lot of hustling and yes, a touch of luck - is what will help you break in. Good luck!


Tuesday
Oct122010

The Gold Star

Question of the day: I'm a newbie (ish) freelance magazine writer and have received quite a few assignments from national magazines. I love writing them, however, this biz is pretty, well, thankless. I don't want any glittery emails back about how my women's service-y tips were groundbreaking, but my question is: how do you know if you've done a good job? How do you know what the difference is between mediocre and great when, aside from edits, there's not much feedback to go off of? Sometimes my articles go through the editing machine pretty consistent with what I turned in; sometimes they're torn up; others they're reorganized a bit. What do you think makes a successful (and desired) freelancer?

Oh, this is a great question and seems so hard to answer that I definitely wanted to open up the floor to other magazine writers to get their thoughts. I thought I knew that I'd done a good job with a few telltale signs: 1) I instinctively knew that I'd given it 100%, and that showed in both the writing and the research. These days (or maybe it's just that I wrote for the mags for so long that toward the end, I could write the pieces in my sleep), it feels like some pieces are just regurgitations of older pieces, so when I wrote (and now, when I read) an article with genuinely insightful/new research or quotes, I was always pretty proud of myself. And again, the pacing and snappiness of the writing - I think that most writers can tell when there's a good flow to the work.

That said, you're right: editing doesn't have so much to do with whether or not you've done a good job. It may simply be a magazine's protocol to edit the hell out of each and every piece, and there were plenty of times that I had pieces taken apart and put back together and thought, "Well, that must have SUCKED," but the editor just thought it was business as usual and not at all an indication of the quality of the piece. That generally happens at the magazines that edit by committee - ie. multiple editors take a crack at it. 

But what WOULD tell me that I'd done a good job - and this is both obvious and still true - is getting a repeat assignment. Toward the end of my heavy duty magazine work, I earned most of my bread and butter by having built relationships with maybe half a dozen editors who trusted me and who sent work my way time and again. THIS is the real mark of good work. They may not come back to you right away, but if you've blown their socks off, their doors will be left open for more work, even if you have to keep pitching and pitching. Another assignments proves that you couldn't have done too poor a job on the first one. :)

At least that's my take. But I bet there are 100 different answers to this question. So writers, I'd love to hear how YOU know when you've done a good job.

Monday
Sep272010

Magazine Query Expertise

Question of the day: Most magazine articles include quotes from experts, usually more than one expert. Does the writer have to get these people lined up before querying the magazine? And do the experts expect to be paid, or do they volunteer their time for the free publicity the article will give them (if published)? 

This can go either way, but I always liked to include one or two sources to demonstrate to the editor that I'd already done my initial research and that there was a certain relevance to the story idea. I don't think, however, that you need to "line them up" beforehand. What I usually did was mentions something like, "The piece would cite sources such as Dr. XYZ," so that you're not firmly locked in. If, of course, you have easy access to said source, and you know said source wouldn't mind giving you a quote - with the understanding that the piece may not sell - then sure, include it. But I wouldn't take up an expert's time (or yours), doing preliminary interviews. 

One way around this is to really stay on top of breaking research and studies. If you dig around, you can pull quotes and cite information from the studies directly, and then, once you've been assigned the piece, get a fresh quote and new info from the expert. I'm very hard-pressed to think of a time in my many years of freelancing when I haven't been able to land an M.D. or Ph.D or whatnot for an article citing their research. This is important stuff to them, so they're almost always happy to talk about it. Ditto non-fiction book authors. 

And finally, yes, there is no exchange of money, no outright promise of a great quote, but sure, there's the understanding that by speaking with you, hopefully, they'll get their name in the press and/or more coverage for their research. Do be sure not to commit to any specific quote or whatnot, as editors may change your piece in the final stages, and there are few things more uncomfortable than promising a source something, not coming through, and having to tell him or her the bad news.

Mag writers: what say you? What comes first? The query or the expert interview?

Monday
Jul122010

Making the Magazine Leap

Question of the day: How did you make the switch from magazines to books? Was it easier to find an agent via your magazine experience?

I made the switch in the most elemental way possible: I wrote a manuscript and shopped it around to agents while still juggling my freelance work. It really was that simple! I don't think there's a magic formula or anything to making this transition, though certainly, it requires discipline, as you're not getting paid to write your fiction, and without a deadline, it's very easy to let it lapse. Most magazine writers are excellent at meeting mandated deadlines, but when they're self-imposed deadlines - with no guarantee of publication - they're a lot easier to ignore.

Actually, let me rewind - it wasn't simple. That's probably not the right word to use. But in terms of overall formula, that's how it worked. The details though were a little trickier. My first manuscript took me four years to write, thanks partially to what I stated above: deadlines and motivation, but also partially thanks to the fact that I didn't know what I was doing. Once I finally completed the ms, I landed an agent but an agent who didn't end up selling the book. So I wrote another one. Which did sell. Albeit with a new agent after I parted ways with the old one. All the while, I was still freelancing at a very rapid pace to keep the checks coming and to keep my byline out there. I would work on magazine pieces in the morning - they had concrete deadlines after all, and I needed to be sure that I met them - and write fiction in the afternoons. I was crazy busy, too busy probably, but I didn't want to let that deter me: once I'd written fiction, I knew that I had to see it through. So I did. 

Again, both simple and not. I wrote a good query letter (which, yes, referenced my magazine experience) and cast a wide net in a blind agent search. I found one (after the first agent didn't work out) who I knew was right for me, and well, four books later, she still is. That's truly all I did - not much different than anyone else. Now, did my magazine experience help? It probably got my query letter read more frequently and also probably got me more requests for partials. But 100%, it did NOT land me representation. The manuscript has to stand on its own - I don't care if you have ever magazine credit known to man - without a strong manuscript, you're not going to land an agent. So again - and I've stressed this countless times here! - please be triple sure that your manuscript is ready to see the light of day.

So that's how I did it. There really isn't a secret handshake or magic formula. It's mostly about self-discipline and writing a good book. (Really! And that should come as good news to those of you who don't come from the writing world - it really is anyone's ball game.)

 
Tuesday
Jul062010

Spotlight on Your Blog

Question of the day: I don't have any clips since I worked on my college daily newspaper 15 years ago.  I started a blog a couple months ago. Should I include a link to it in query letters?  

A few years ago, my answer would have been no, that blogging was thought of as sort-of amateurish and a sure-sign that you didn't have any "real" publication clips. Now, I think the waters are murkier as an increasing number of blogs serve as legitimate outlets (albeit unpaid outlets) for writers to demonstrate their skills and their voice. In your case, I think that offering up your blog as an example of your capabilities is better than highlighting your college clips, so yes, I'd include it. Would I stress that it's your only source of "published" writing credits? No. But if you think it's a strong representation of your voice, then, yeah. (And I put "published" in quotes because much as I love blogging - AND many, many bloggers out there - I still will argue that there's a distinction, in terms of editors' perception and prestige, between someone paying you for your work and not. Like it or not. In the industry, there IS a difference.)

That said. Blogs can go many different directions, and maybe this goes without saying, but I would be 200% sure that your blog looks clean, professional, smart, savvy and has zero typos or grammatical mistakes. If you're asking your blog to be representative of the product you can deliver to your editor, you better be damn sure that it's perfect. SO many out there are downright sloppy, and again, if this is your calling card, make it sparkle.

Readers: yay or nay? Has your blog helped you gain entry into the freelance world? Or can it shoot you in the foot? In this case, since our reader doesn't have a lot of clips, how would you advise her?

Tuesday
Jun152010

Giving Away the Milk For Free

Question of the day: I queried a magazine who wrote back with guidance on their editorial calendar and asking me to submit the piece for their review without promise of acceptance. I wasn't sure if I should be excited or not! Can you explain what exactly they meant?

Yup, what they meant is that they wanted you to submit on spec. Which means that they want you to put all of the work into the piece without any promise that they'll pay you for it. In other words: all benefit them. No benefit you.

If you've been reading my blog for a few years, you'll know that way back when, I heartily discouraged writing for free. I always said that treating your writing like any other business is critical - it ensures respect and value for your work, and you'd never ask, say, a doctor to treat you and then decide if you wanted to pay him or her, or have your house painted because you thought it was kind and nice advertising for the painter. I stick to this theory, but I will say that in the age of blogging, things have changed. Plenty of people write for free now, but they do so on their own terms, and yes, there is value to this sort of work. You're furthering your brand, you're putting your voice out there, you're building your platform.

What I dislike so much about writing on spec is the imbalance of power that it creates. So much about becoming an established writer is, well, bottling some of your own power and self-worth, that it makes me crazy, c-raz-y, to think of a writer doing diligent research, composing a thoughtful piece, and then having a magazine deem it not worthy. It makes the magazine look greedy - and I don't think that this is a false assumption. I don't care if they're offering $20. You offer to pay someone something in exchange for the service he or she provides. But in asking writers to submit on spec, they're essentially taking no risk - they're amassing plenty of submissions and then can cherry pick which they prefer. 

In other words: yuck. I know that it's a competitive market and that you want so badly to get bylines and clips, but in my opinion, it's just hard to validate anything worthy about writing on spec. Again, I've rethought my stance on writing for free, but there's a difference between the two. A subtle difference but a difference all the same. (Again, I'm not endorsing that people give their work away, but with blogs, etc, it's simply a reality these days.) With one, you at least have a commitment and an endorsement of your work, with the other, you don't.

Writers, will you chime in and share your thoughts on writing on spec AND writing for free? Do you, like me, think that times have shifted? And thus, as your attitude shifted too?

Tuesday
Feb162010

There Are No Freelancing Shortcuts

Question of the day: Is it totally impossible to become a freelance writer and actually make some money at it?  I've seen some websites like "Suite101," that indicate it's a piece of cake to write a 500-word blurb, and make $100 overnight.  Is that too good to be true? 

To begin with, if something is too good to be true, it probably is. I don't know anything about Suite101, but I can tell you, in my experience, most successful freelance writers became successful by getting their feet (and hands) very dirty while establishing themselves, and that, like it or not, there are no easy shortcuts on the way to ascending the ladder of writing success. 

I've blogged about starting out in the industry before - so you might want to check out the archives - but I'll suggest once again that you start small while aiming big. When I say start small, I don't mean a quick fix for $100 (again, I'm not slandering the above website - I took a look at it, and it looks like a decent enough place to learn a few things, though I really have no information on them at all, so please don't infer this as either an endorsement OR a disparagement). I mean taking the time and care to attempt to build your clips and portfolio with decent work that can lead you to a bigger platform. These days, websites are an incredible way to do that: many of them are looking for a lot of content with a quick turn-over, and though I've been out of the freelancing trenches for a bit, in my experience, they were usually much more willing to take a chance on a greener writer than the national magazines were. Will they pay you a ton? No. But will you hopefully get a great clip to prove to a bigger market that you're indeed a writer? Definitely. 

Back when I was starting out, front-of-book pieces (the short 100-300 word blurbs in the first 1/3-1/2 of magazines) were another excellent place to get your feet wet. Editors are never, ever going to take a chance on a totally new writer by handing them a feature, but they might give you something smaller to prove your worth. These days, with so many magazines shuttering and others handing assignments to in-house editors, this venue may be even tougher to crack, but like I said - there really aren't any shortcuts in this industry, and like it or not, you'll have to put in long, hard hours (and probably years) until you're earning a steady income.

Which, of course, doesn't mean that you can't or won't. I did, and I have plenty of friends who did and who do. But freelancing has a snowball effect: you need to build momentum and keep that momentum going to really build into something great. It's okay to start small, but I wouldn't suggest trying to cut any corners - I think you'll likely only be put back at square one when those corners prove to be dead ends.

 

Tuesday
Nov102009

Finder's Keepers

Question of the day: I am a freelance writer whose byline frequently appears in magazines (SELF, Women’s Health, Fitness, etc). Lately I’ve had friends (writers and even people in other business, like PR, hoping to cross over into journalism) asking for editor’s contacts so they can pitch stories. While contacts are not difficult to come by I feel very protective of them. Have you ever had this issue come up? What do you do? Am I being selfish for not giving them the contacts?

Ooh, juicy question, and I'm sure that every writer has a different answer, but I'll give you mine. Others, please weigh in below! 

I definitely know of what you speak. When I was writing for mags frequently, this happened often, and now that I'm primarily doing fiction, I get asked for my agent's information quite often, and well, sure, it can be tricky. I think if you're being asked by folks who aren't writers, well, then that's doubly-tricky because you have no idea if these people have any clue what they're doing. As I'm sure you know, when someone uses your name, the quality of their work can reflect back on you, so of course you're hesitant to share!

That said, when I was in the thick of magazine work, I pretty readily shared my contact info because this information was so easily available for public consumption. I also always found that when I was generous with my fellow writers, there would eventually be a time when they'd help me out when I needed a favor in return. (Not that this is why I'd share, but you know, karma and all of that.) That said, again, these weren't hard-won contacts...they were google-able, and yeah, people should google first before asking because really, aren't freelance writers researchers at heart?...and if you can't even attempt to unearth the most basic of information, I'm not quite sure that you're adept at your job...but...sometimes it's easier to send a friend an email instead of plugging something into google.

HOWEVER. IF I weren't familiar with a person's track record OR if I didn't have a close relationship with the editor such that he/she might get annoyed that I'm sharing contact info, I'd actually say something like, "Here is the info but I'd rather you didn't use my name." This isn't a slight at all on the writer: in fact, I'd say that when and if YOU/I offer someone the ability to use YOUR/MY name, well, THAT'S going above and beyond. THAT is the favor, and that's more than enough, more than you owe someone. The fact that you're taking the first step is still generous. (In fact, there is nothing more disrespectful than dropping someone's name without their permission: it's is a big NO NO in our industry - so remember that just because someone was generous enough to pass you an email does not give you the right to say that she referred you. Ugh. This will INFURIATE the person should she ever find out - I've seen countless rants on writers' boards about this, FYI.)

However you choose to deal with this, I think it's fair game. Again, my instinct was to pass on a name/contact if I respected the writer's work because, well, I've long believed that there's enough work to go around, and if this writer had a great idea, well, I DIDN'T have that idea, so why shouldn't she be able to sell it? It wasn't really infringing on my ability to drum up other work. I also believe, as I noted above, that sometimes it's nice to have collaborators and know that there's someone you can turn to when it's your turn to ask for a favor. But if this doesn't work for you, I understand. I'm much more guarded with referrals to my agent because I'm not going to waste her time, and I'm not going to ask her to go out on a limb for me when I have no idea if the work will speak for itself. Again, this isn't an issue of whether or not I like or respect the writer - I have countless writer friends/contacts, but I can't refer all of them to her...I just...can't. It's not fair to anyone involved. 

So I say do what feels right for you in that specific situation. You already know that who and what you refer reflects back on you, so be judicious while also remembering that someone might cop you a much-needed favor someday too.

But I'd love to hear what others have to say. Will you weigh in below?

 

 

 

Thursday
Oct012009

Starting at the Very Beginning

...because, as Julie Andrews would say, it's a very good place to start.

Question of the day: When submitting to a magazine, do I send the completed article? And do I send it out to several places at once or wait until I hear back from one to send to another?

To answer the first question: no, no, no! :) Please, do not write up an entire article and submit it to editors, this is the mark of a newbie. Editors want to hear the strongest, most persuasive nugget as to why the yet-to-be-written article should be assigned, and then, from there, you'll write it. Why? For one, they may want to tweak your idea/your angle, but for two, every magazine has a slightly different slant, and an editor wants to be sure that an article is written just for the mag. For three, it's a waste of your time to write an entire article on the very off-chance that an editor will buy it, and for four, working with editors is a collaboration - you don't just hand them the finished product without an input on their part. Frankly, I'm sure that there are dozens of other reasons you don't submit a completed article, but you get the idea. Write up the best possible pitch - with detailed, interesting, specific research, and that's enough for now.

The exception to this rule is essays, which for the most part, are usually completed before submission, op-eds, and to the best of my knowledge (though I don't write for this genre, so I could be wrong), travel stories. Other than that, stick with a query.

Should you simultaneously submit? Well, this is tricky. When I was actively pitching magazines, I tended not to, for a few reasons. 1) I had relationships with these editors, and so, not only would they usually get back to me pretty quickly (and thus give me time to get it out to someone else if they passed), but I also didn't want to risk pissing one of them off. It wasn't worth it when I could wait a week or so to hear back. 2) Even if they took longer than a week to get back to me, most of my pitches weren't time-sensitive, so it's not as if I had real justification - other than the ants in my pants - to send it along to multiple places. If it WERE time-sensitive, I would have written that in my pitch and said I hoped to hear back asap. Then, if I didn't hear back, no one could be annoyed that I moved along to someone else. 3) Like it or not, unlike agent queries, in which multiple submissions are actually encouraged, multiple submissions are frowned upon in the mag world.

NOW, that said, if you're just starting out, would I tell you absolutely not to query to a few different places? No. The odds of two outlets assigning a piece to a newbie (to them) writer are pretty slim, to be honest, so I don't think - except in very unusual circumstances - that you'd be faced with two editors clamoring for the same piece. Additionally, a freelancer obviously always needs to look out for number one, and if getting a few clips and making a little $$$ is your primary goal, well, then, go for it. A safer route might be to pitch different angles on the same idea to non-competing mags: don't pitch XYZ to Self, Shape and Fitness, but sure, pitch it to Self and Men's Health because no one will really care if you find a way to make it unique for both of them.

Any freelancers out there want to weigh in on this tricky situation?

Monday
Sep282009

Celebrity Chasing

Question of the day: I've written several articles for local/regional magazines and I've been trying for some time now to write for national magazines. I would love to articles write about people/celebrities and get a chance to write for magazines such as Rolling Stone, Allure, etc. What advice could you give me to try to break into that market? I know it's extremely competitive and some magazines don't use freelancers. What could I do to get a chance to write for some of those magazines? If it's almost impossible, just tell me! I can take it... 

I'll be honest with you: celebrity profiling is tricky. I'm super-fortunate in that I get to do it, but if I had to tell someone whether or not to pour a lot of energy into pursuing this outlet as a money-maker for her career, I'd probably say no. Here's why: booking celebrities is a bit of a catch-22. Their publicists act as their gate-keepers (understandably), controlling who gets access, and when and why. Often times, you need to already have a relationship with said publicist to gain access, or if you don't have a relationship, you need to have proven that you have the chops to interview a big-time celeb...and how do you do that without having actually interviewed one? Furthermore, you also encounter the problem of landing an assignment without proving to your editor that you can, indeed, land the celeb in question. Publicists aren't going to give you a carte blanche to pitch their client to magazines, and magazines might not want to assign you a piece if you don't already have access.

See why this can be tricky?

That said, I've been doing celebrity interviews for many years now, and yes, I do love doing them. If you're determined to break in, I suggest that you start small: pitch an editor with whom you already have a relationship so if the publicist passes, your editor knows that it's not you, it's them. Furthermore, ensure that the celebrity in question has a project to peg to the piece. Matt Damon isn't going to grant you an interview just because you feel like interviewing him - he'll need to be promoting something. Additionally, because you'll just be trying to get a toe in the door, I'd recommend starting with less high-wattage stars. Build your clips, prove to the publicist (and editors) that you won't turn into a stammering idiot when you get your favorite star on the phone, that you can ask tricky questions and that you can put together a well-paced piece without sounding like you're writing fan fiction. 

If you've gotten the go-ahead from your editor, you email the publicist with all of the criteria you require: how long you'll need for the interview, the deadline, if you'll need a photo shoot, etc. Again, this is where relationships can really come into play. For example, I covered a lot of supporting players for a publicist - pushing them through to an editor when they might not normally have gone through, and so, when it came time for me to request a big A-list cover, I got a "yes" when a random interviewer might not have.

Like just about everything in this industry, establishing your celebrity interviewing cred takes time. It's not particularly lucrative, simply because there aren't a TON of outlets who are willing to take a chance on a new writer with something as sensitive as this - you often only have one shot to interview the celeb, and you better get it right - and even though it IS a lot of fun to chat with people whose work you admire, the logistics behind landing these interviews are often complicated. From the scheduling to the publicists to the occasional nerves. So that's sort of the nitty-gritty, honest truth behind the glam.

I love it, love it. But it's not for everyone, that's for sure. Anyone else out there interview celebrities and have anything to add/disagree/agree on?