In one of SCN’s online roundtable chat groups, Kathryn Haueisen mentioned that she had just submitted a magazine piece. Another group member, Doris Clark, asked her to say more about the process. Kathryn responded with six helpful suggestions that made everybody sit up and take notice. Here’s what she wrote.
Six Steps to Publishing in Magazines (Print or on-line)
My first career was public relations. One journalism professor required us to submit an article a week with proof we had via a receipt from the post office. My first couple of jobs were doing PR for a small college and a large university. Writing feature articles was part of my job.
I’ve taught a six-week course about this and numerous workshops as well. Things have changed significantly since I started with an electric typewriter, carbon paper, white out and postage stamps. However, the basic approach and ethics are still in place. Here are the basics.
1) Get a copy of Writer’s Market (free at libraries, for sale at any decent-sized, general bookstore, or Amazon. If you buy the book you qualify for an on-line subscription that I find very helpful. You can renew that annually without shelling out the money for a new book every year. I get a new one about every three years.
2) Go to a decent size newspaper/magazine stand, or again your local friendly library, and browse. Which magazines attract your attention? Sit down and flip through them to see what sorts of articles they publish and approximately what length. Study the front pages that list the editorial staff. See if any of the article by-lines match up with people on that list. If not, the article was probably by a freelance author. If it does, see if you can contact that editor by name, by e-mail or snail mail and send a SHORT note saying what you liked about the article. If you can’t find an e-mail address for a specific editor, send a note using their published e-mail address and put that person’s name in the subject line. The address the note to that person. Editors like to hear good things about their efforts as much as the rest of us. DO NOT PHONE. It will just annoy an editor to get a cold call from an unknown writer. Editors are often overworked and underpaid and don’t want to take time to talk freelancers. Put it in a short e-mail. After you’ve sold an editor a few articles and established a connection, or the editor invites you to do so, a phone call would be alright.
3) Do your homework. Pretty much every modern magazine has an on-line version. Read through the sorts of articles they publish, which are often straight from their print editions. If you look up http://www.magazine.com [not a real URL] and add “ /submission guidelines” or “/writers guidelines” after the URL address, you will likely be led to where they tell you what they want and how they want to receive it. When you decide to send a query to one of them, make reference to an article or two you read. Again, editors like knowing someone read what they published.
4) Follow directions. If they say they don’t buy fiction or poetry, do not send them a short story or poem – no matter how many awards it’s won or how many people tell you that you should publish it. If they say they only want queries, do not send them the entire manuscript. And vice-versa, though – most editors do want queries. A few may want the full manuscript, especially if it is a fiction piece. Most editors prefer submissions via e-mail; some no longer even accept USPS ones. I learned this next etiquette rule from an executive at Writer’s Digest: DO NOT SEND AN ATTACHMENT until they ask you to submit a manuscript or previously published clips via e-mail. Like all of us in the cyber community, they worry about virus attacks. Keep the query short and to the point. A good query letter should fit in an e-mail. If you send something in via USPS, make sure you ALWAYS include a stamped, self-addressed envelope or you won’t hear from them again. Also make sure your name and contact information are on the manuscript. Yes, people do send in items without this information on the manuscript.
5) If you have previously published articles and can provide links to them, include the links. You may have published samples of your work, but like many of mine, they were published before everything was also on line. Mention a couple of them and where they were published. I made a pdf of some of mine and put them on my website on a separate page. I give editors a link to that page. If you don’t have any published samples of your writing, not to worry. Everyone had to get published for the first time. Don’t mention that you haven’t yet been published; rather focus on your qualifications for writing the article and why you think it a good fit for The Magazine readers.
6) Write the most compelling query you can generate. There are oodles of articles on-line and in the front section of Writer’s Market to teach you how. Try to send it to a person, but sometimes that is challenging – especially if the magazine insists you contact them only via their on-line submission form. Hit the “send” button or release it into the care of the USPS. Then pray, or do yoga, or drink something and move onto the next item on your “to do” list for the week. It’s OK to nudge an editor if you haven’t heard after a month to six weeks. I recently did that and landed a contract to write the article I’d pitched six weeks earlier. Editors get overwhelmed with the volume of queries and unsolicited articles they receive on a daily basis. But only check-up once per editor per query. If you don’t hear after an inquiry about the fate of your query, move on to another publication. You may get an answer along the line: “Sorry, it’s not for us.” It’s not about you or the quality of your work. It’s about the competition, which is very intense these days now that anyone with a keyboard and Wi-Fi access claims to be an author. Send a sincere thank you note for taking time to review your idea. The fact they A) read it and B) responded, means you’re on to something. Try another topic for that publication or your idea with another publication.
I haven’t kept track, but I suspect my accepted to rejected query ratio runs about 1 out of every 10. Pitching freelance articles isn’t for the impatient or easily discouraged. However, for me, the thrill of a “I’d like to see it,” or a contract to sell it, make the effort worth it. I also enjoy depositing the resulting checks.
Kathryn Haueisen writes, queries, and ponders her next freelance idea from Houston, TX where she lives with her husband and spoiled double-rescue poodle. She writes a weekly blog about people and projects making a useful contribution to society at www.HowWiseThen.com