Publishing in Magazines

Not all writers want to publish the next big novel; some prefer to see their name on the byline of magazine articles. There are two ways to become published in magazines: Work in-house for a magazine publishing company, or work as a freelancer for a number of different magazine publications.

Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

In-house advantages

  • The income is steady; you’re paid a monthly salary, which doesn’t depend on how many articles (and how many words) you write.
  • There are benefits, such as medical aid, pension, sick leave, and paid leave.
  • There is office camaraderie.
  • You can flex your creative muscles while still in the safety of a structured environment.

In-house disadvantages

  • There isn’t always creative licence. You may be assigned particular articles and tasks, which may not be to your taste.
  • The structure is sometimes too controlling and you don’t have any creative freedom.
  • You might not like your office colleagues.
  • Your time is not your own.

Freelancing advantages

  • Your time is your own. You work when you want; so long as you meet deadlines no one worries if you get up at noon.
  • You can find your own stories and sell them to which ever magazine publishers are interested.
  • Your income can be higher than if you worked full-time for one magazine.

Freelancing disadvantages

  • The income can be very irregular. Some months you’ll be amazed at your impressive bank balance and the next you might worry about covering your direct deposits.
  • Even though your income may be, on average, higher than someone who works full-time, you have to fund your own medical aid and pension, and any you leave you take is unpaid.
  • You still have to comply with magazines’ publishing guidelines. This can be confusing if you’re writing for several different magazines.
  • You don’t always get to choose your stories, as some magazines may commission you to write on a specific topic.

Whether you choose to go the freelance or in-house route is up to you, as each option suits different personalities and styles.

6 Tips for going freelance

Here are six tips for breaking into magazine publishing if you’re going to take the freelance route.

1)     Build a portfolio. If you’ve never been published in a magazine before and you’ve never interned anywhere that has given you the opportunity to do any publishable writing then you need to start where so many people start: online.

Choose a subject in which you’d like to specialise and start writing articles on topics of interest. See if you can get them published on websites that offer guest post opportunities, otherwise publish them on online magazine distribution sites.

Also, consider writing on a broad array of topics to demonstrate your range.

2)     Research relevant magazine publications and compile a list of potential employers. Make the list as diverse as possible, which means you should include some small, independent boutique publishers, some major publishing companies, and some online magazine publishers.

3)     There are two ways to sell yourself to editors.

  • Think of relevant ideas and contact editors to find out whether they might be interested. Note: a phone call is better than an email because emails can get buried in inboxes and busy editors might not have the time to reply to random emails from strangers. While you have the editor on the phone, find out about the magazine’s contributor guidelines, especially whether you still have to submit a query letter or proposal.
  • Write an article that you think will be relevant to the publication and send it, along with a cover letter, to the editor. The process is called submitting on speculation or ‘on spec’ and is often recommended for writers who’ve never been published in a magazine before. You will have to study past issues of the magazine concerned to ensure that you’ve used a style, tone and format that is in keeping with its character.

4)     Find out about rates and payment schedules, and ride the wave to see if you can become a regular or semi-regular contributor.

5)     Practice patience because you probably won’t hear back from editors immediately after you’ve submitted your article or query letter. They probably won’t even get back to you within a few days. Give it a week and then send a follow up query. If you still haven’t heard back in three weeks, inform them that you will be offering the story to other publishers.

6)     One of the things you need to find out about contributing articles is whether you need to supply your own pictures or if the magazine has an in-house designer who will take care of that for you. If you need to supply the pictures, find out about the correct format and size and practice your photography skills.

A last word on writing for magazines

Many people build rich and rewarding careers writing for print and digital magazine publications. But, if you still want to publish the next big novel, you can use the work that has been published in magazines to your advantage when you need to sell yourself to book publishing houses.