Magazines and newspapers get a bad rap in this writing business it seems. Good-paying magazine slots are hard to get as a freelancer, and some publications have been slammed by writers organizations in Canada for being money-grubbing copyright thieves – but money’s not the only reason to play in their sandbox.
I’ve had a fair number of conversations in the last couple of months – emerging writers asking me about how to sell their non-fiction book. Only one had any kind of viable platform, or relevant qualifications. That’s a hard sell to agents or editors. I don’t write for magazines because of the pay, though that’s a nice bonus, but I’ve learned a lot from working with those editors.
#1 Magazine and newspaper editors are more willing to give new writers a chance. It takes time, you have earn their trust and respect, but now I get assignments to write cover features. I get to interview a wide variety of people, and write about a lot of different things. I often work on a short deadline, so it’s not a project that drags out for months at a time. It’s great exposure for me, and is a quick way to build up a diverse portfolio of work.
#2 Magazine editors, the ones I’ve had the privilege of working with at any rate, are very generous to help out new writers (me included not so long ago) to get better. They are often willing to suggest how to improve your writing and create a better piece. If something’s not working, they tell me – and I appreciate that. You don’t learn by having everyone tell you that your writing is awesome all the time.
Here’s what people say to me: ‘but I have this story about my life, and everyone says it should be a book.’ Well, hard truth – unless you have a significant platform there will significant, perhaps insurmountable, obstacles to having your book published with a royalty-paying publisher.
#3 If you have a message you want to get out and reaching a large number of people is your objective – write for magazines. Now, I’ve heard that a bestselling book in the USA is 100,000 copies (5,000 copies in Canada) – that’s a lot of books to sell. In the UK it’s something like between 5,000 and 25,000 copies a week to make a bestseller. (now don’t slam me on this – I know that sales are determined weekly and can vary by season, between fiction and non-fiction, between hard cover and paperback, etc. Just stay with me – let’s agree it takes A LOT of book sales in a short time to make a bestseller.)
The Anglican Journal, for instance, has an international readership of 200,000 every month and they’re open to freelancers. That’s a lot of books. If you’ve got a message to share – which route makes more sense in terms of exposure? Magazines have slots to fill every month – they’re always looking for new content, and they archive their articles online.
#4 Magazine and newspaper credits can give you credibility with agents and editors later on. It shows that you can write, you understand what a deadline is, and you understand something about the nature of publishing.
#5 Writing for magazines and newspapers has landed me contracts with non-profits looking for freelancers who are connected with the media and are capable of placing timely articles.
#6 Editors all know one another. It’s a big exclusive club, I’m convinced. But, if you do a good job for one editor, word gets around and results in more work. ‘Oh, you worked for so and so. OK. I’ll give you a shot.’ And editors know other media people who are influencers – ‘we don’t publish that but try so and so over at x and y. Use my name.’ Invaluable connections.
What’s been your experience writing for magazines? What’s holding you back from pitching magazines and newspapers?