Sample Copies

Do you want to work smarter, not harder? Have no fear, sample copies are here.

Recently we’ve given you our take on how to write on sensitive topics and on how to conduct interviews that deal with sensitive topics. Today I’m going back to basics for a bit because, before you can write on that burning issue, you need to find a market to sell it to. (You could write your article first, but you’d just be making extra work for yourself. I don’t know about you, but my to-do list is already stretching out the door and around the corner.)

After you’ve narrowed down your list of potential publications using writer’s guidelines, you need to get sample copies from your top contenders. Ask any editor, and you’ll hear comments like this . . .

“Read the publications you want to query” – Steve Kennedy, Testimony.

“My biggest problem is that we don’t get quality submissions or even decent queries. People write in wanting us to publish personal thoughts or motivational things that are more suited to a blog. Or personal testimonies and poetry. Anyone who reads the Herald knows we rarely publish stuff like that . . . Freelancers have to read the publication they’re querying and find out what they want” –Fazal Karim, Jr., The Christian Herald.

You need sample copies, and they will make your job easier.

Yup, I can hear what you just said. How are sample copies going to save me time? They’re difficult, time consuming, and expensive to get.

(Don’t worry. I haven’t bugged your house. I’ve just had that same conversation with myself more times than I care to admit.)

Here’s how sample copies help save you time and increase your chances for publication.

Compare the Bylines with the Masthead: Writer’s guidelines will tell you what types of articles their magazine will take, but they don’t often tell you what portions of the magazine are written by staffers. You can compete with other freelancers; you can’t compete with staff writers. If a column or section is always written in-house and you pitch an idea for it, you’ve just wasted your time. And theirs. And proved you didn’t do your homework. That makes for a bad first impression.

What Is Their Actual Word Count? Their writer’s guidelines might tell you that they accept pieces of 800-1500 words in length. If you look at their sample copy and find out that they normally run pieces between 800-900 words, however, you’ve given yourself a leg up over people who’ve only read the guidelines and are pitching 1400-1500 word pieces.

Do They Use Sidebars? What Kind? When you buy a truck, don’t you love it when they throw in the mud flaps? Or wouldn’t it be great if your kid’s Christmas toy had come batteries included? If you can offer editors something extra, you move up the list ahead of someone pitching the exact same idea who’s not offering the extras. But most of the time, you won’t know if they use extras like sidebars or pictures if you don’t look at a sample copy. (And, again, if you offer a sidebar, but they never use sidebars, you look like the kid who tried to do an extra credit report for their science class that described the use of iambic pentameter in Shakespeare.)

Even if their writer’s guidelines do tell you that they like sidebars, they aren’t going to tell you what kind: Additional outside resources like books and websites? A bulleted list of tips? A paragraph of related information (for example, a “how to find a good music teacher” sidebar for an article on the importance of music education for young children)?

How Does Each Article Start and End? Writers are chameleons. Each magazine we write for has a personality that we need to mimic. Whether they want you to open with a shocking statistic, a human-interest vignette, or a nutshell outline of your article, you need to know and writer’s guidelines won’t tell you. The better your article fits their personality, the more likely you are to make a sale and the less likely you are to have to do a major rewrite if they do buy it.

What Kind of Sources Do They Use? I watched commercials today (Emma the kitten had my legs pinned down so I couldn’t reach the remote), and I noticed that many of them tried to convince you to buy their products by using experts, but each chose a different kind of expert. Testimonials from “real customers” competed with “doctor recommended” items. You’ll find that magazines also have preferences for what experts they want you to use. Some want scholarly journals and studies, others want quotes from industry professionals, some only care about people with life experience. Some want it all. And you guessed it, guidelines won’t tell you. Sample copies will.

Remember: The pen is mightier. Put it to good use.


**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

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