If you missed Volume I of my Adventures In Freelance Writing, catch up here!
When I look back at my e-mails, I can see that I took a long (almost 18 month) break from pitching and writing in 2011/2012, starting back up again last January 2nd, almost as an unintentional New Year’s resolution…and what a year it’s been! I’ve been published in two major, dream-for-me magazines with six more articles submitted and ready to go to print in 2014, plus several more assignments either lined up or under discussion.
Based on my busy year, here are some more tips for writers looking to break into national markets:
Get to know/get known by editors:
- Make contact with editors (not just editors-in-chief, but others from the magazine as well) in a VERY non-stalker way. I’ve started to follow many on Twitter, and I reply occasionally and on-topic when I feel I can contribute something to the conversation. For me, this is not some sort of phony technique, as I truly am interested in their careers and who they are as people. I can’t say for sure if this has had any impact on getting assignments, but it makes me feel much more connected to the publishing world.
Do your research:
- Skip the generic submissions addresses; you want to be sending your pitches to the right person. Check the masthead and figure out who covers the department you want to pitch to (Health, Travel, Features, etc.) If you can find one person’s e-mail address, you can figure out the formula (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org).
- Send all submissions through e-mail, and include links to your writing if possible. When I pitch new editors, I send links to two or three of my articles, but I also have a whole section in my sidebar with links to my published work. Right over there.
- Actually read the publications you want to write for, cover to cover. I subscribe to every magazine I pitch, since my market at the moment is pretty narrow. At the least, read the most current issue. It looks good if you can say “this article would be a similar length and format to the piece about dental health in your October issue” – or whatever.
Be prepared for glitches and rejection (both active and passive):
- You will face rejection. You will either be ignored, or they will say “thanks but no thanks”, or if you’re lucky they’ll say “no thanks, because…”
- One editor (who had never replied to my many pitches) e-mailed back once to say she liked my idea but was busy, could she get back to me later…and I never heard back again, despite a few follow-ups.This happens.
- Here’s what I mean by glitches: I pitched an idea to a magazine and an editor liked it. It got the green light at a meeting, but a different editor didn’t realize that the idea had come from a freelancer, and assigned the story to another writer. The editor I had dealt with e-mailed me immediately, apologized, and offered me a different story right away. I suppose I could have been fired up about it, but mistakes happen and God knows I make them too. It was handled so well that I had no problem accepting it and moving forward. (Also – it wasn’t an earth-shatteringly original idea, so I didn’t feel that attached to it.) On a related note, don’t be quick to think that one of your rejected pitches has been stolen. Editors receive tons of similar ideas, which is why it’s best to be very specific with your pitch to set it apart.
- Another heartbreakingly big glitch for me: From a PR rep, I had an inkling that I would have the opportunity to interview a major celebrity, so I contacted a comparably major magazine who was interested in running it…but after literally months of back and forth with the PR person, the interview didn’t work out. While I really, really had my hopes up for that one (there may have been a tear in my eye, I’ll admit), I had to take it on the chin and keep on going.
Know what you want:
- I stopped writing for local publications, and I’ll be honest about my reason: if I only have enough moonlighting time to write an article or two a month, and I can get paid $1 a word for doing so, I can’t justify spending the same amount of time and making 12 cents a word (though I completely understand why the budgets are so different).
- A “do as I say, not as I do” gem: don’t continually refresh your Inbox. Get busy – spend time with family/friends, run errands, read (especially the publications you want to write for), and write – blog posts, more pitches, or something completely unrelated.
When you’re at home, whether on mat leave as I was when I first began, or because you’re throwing yourself in to this career working from home, it can be hard to leave it behind, and to see it as a job.
Of course I’m a major proponent of organization, and I keep track of my pitches in one document with the date, name of publication, and date of reply (if any). When there’s good news, I also track the deadline and invoicing date as well.
I keep my articles in a binder – and, yes, I know it’s the digital age, but they’re print magazines first and foremost, and I love having the tearsheets all in one place. I also realize it’s pretty cutesy, but hey, it’s just for me!
I have to mention that sometimes you do luck out with an editor who takes the time to give you feedback about your pitches. I asked one editor, who always went above and beyond with responses while working at a parenting magazine I was pitching, what her philosophy is about new writers. Her reply:
“I always like to give new writers (meaning new to the magazine I’m working at) a chance to show their stuff. I don’t mind passing along contacts and helping guide people’s careers in any way I can. I have done this for many well-known editors/writers and even some popular book authors. I believe in paying it forward. It’s always been my nature to do this. Over the years, I’ve seen young writers grow and prosper in their jobs or freelance work and have realized that it always comes back ten-fold.”
–Kerrie Lee Brown, former editor-in-chief of Oxygen magazine and executive editor at Today’s Parent
(On Twitter here)
How’s that for perspective?
I am so blessed to be able to say that I’m at the point now where I’m getting all of the writing work I want and need, considering that it’s a part-time endeavour for me. I’m hoping that through this series I can pay it forward myself and help at least one new writer looking to break into the world of freelancing!
In the next edition of my Adventures In Freelancing:
- A sample of a successful query letter
- You got the assignment: now what? (Including another mortifying personal moment)
- How I made my blog work for me
If any aspiring writers out there have any questions, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or send me an e-mail at katewinn77 at yahoo dot ca.