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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Breaking into Magazines

As a pre-teen with literary dreams, I was blessed to have a newspaper editor for an uncle. During a visit to his house, he introduced me to a Writer's Market and demonstrated how to submit poems and short stories to magazines. After a few dozen submissions, I received my first byline. And you know what--I still have the $8 check, proudly displayed in an old scrapbook!

Now, beginners often ask me, "How do I get published in magazines?" As I've pondered the answer to that question, I've uncovered important tips to building a career as a freelancer. Hopefully, even if you've been at this writing thing a while, you can glean something new from what I've learned (often, the hard way--ouch!).

Tip #1: Study the markets. First, invest in a writer’s market guide. Writers’ Digest has an excellent one, as does Sally Stuart (for Christian writers). Also, Writers’ Weekly website and other writing sites send free weekly emails with market listings.

When you get the guide (or receive a markets ezine in your in-box), familiarize yourself with its layout and pick a few markets—those which match your expertise, aspirations and/or interests--to study. Each market listing gives out information you can’t get just by reading a magazine, such as whether or not the editor accepts complete manuscripts. Market entries list website addresses (where you can often find more comprehensive writers’ guidelines), snail mail addresses (so you can send off ms. by snail mail if they request it), magazine departments, and editor names.

Tip #2: Notice rights information, such as whether or not the publication sells “first rights” or “all rights.” Many writers sell “all rights” (which is just what it sounds like—you lose all rights to your work) only when they’re starting out or when the magazine pays extremely well. The rights you sell are important when you begin to re-sell your published work, or if you ever plan to use articles in a compilation or book manuscript.

When magazines purchase first rights, it gives them permission to use your piece once. Then, if they want to reprint it or use it in another format, they’re obligated to pay you again. If your piece has been published before (even on a personal website), it’s considered a reprint, so you’ll need to sell reprint or second rights.

Tip #3: Go the extra mile. Subscribe to online and print newsletters and peruse magazines in public places. Spend time online or in your local library, reading back issues. As you study the variety of places to send your work, you’ll get a feel for each magazine’s audience and the kinds of pieces they publish.

And keep current by subscribing to writers’ magazines, purchasing an updated market guide every year, and calling the magazine before you submit to make sure you have the right editor’s name on your manuscript. Why? First, markets rapidly change, and second, editors and agents repeatedly change positions. The writer with the advantage is the one who stays abreast of people, publications, and trends.

Case in point: a magazine accepted an article of mine (which they had previously rejected) because I re-submitted it when a new editor came on board. I found out about the opportunity through the "market news" section of a professional writer's newsletter. Makes the $50 a year subscription price worth it! (I also found my first book publisher with a lead from that same newsletter--which Writers Information Network still publishes.)

Tip #4: Craft an excellent manuscript or query.

How do you get those all-important first credits? Author Sarah Stockton says, “I queried places where I felt I had something to contribute (that I felt passionate about), with an idea directly related to their content and an angle that I hadn't seen from them before."

If the market listing says the magazine accepts complete manuscripts, go ahead and send them an error-free, excellent article which has been targeted to their specific audience. If they ask for a query, don’t send a manuscript—unless you want an automatic rejection!

A lot of writers are scared of queries, but they’re not intimidating once you learn how to craft them. I write each query like a mini-article, with a short “grabby” lead (often a quote or statistic), a bit of preliminary research, the sources I plan to interview (I usually find these online), and my writing credits. I then close the letter by asking for an assignment and offering to write a different article if the editor has a need for a new freelancer.

The big thing? Don't forget to proof your letter or ms. (Don't rely on spell-checker, either--it's notorious for missing obvious stuff.) Then let it sit for hours, or preferably days, and check it again. You'll be surprised how many mistakes you catch when you come at your document with a fresh eye.

Tip #5: Sell and re-sell.

So what do you do after sending off an article? Start on the next one or submit your first piece elsewhere. Just be sure and let editors know you’re submitting simultaneously. (That’s a common practice, since it can take months to hear back from a magazine. In the unlikely event that more than one magazine wants your piece, rejoice—and then pick the highest paying one!)

And once you have a few excellent clips--tear-sheets of published work from magazines--try selling them again to new markets. Each time, you'll receive a byline, as well as payment, for “easy” work.

Tip #5: Don’t take rejection personally.


This is the toughest one. Becoming a successful magazine writer takes perseverance, patience and discipline. Remember, every author—even famous ones—receives rejections. Remember: it’s not about you. You may have queried the magazine with an idea that they were already working on, or you might have approached them at a bad time. If you get a personal rejection letter, be impressed, and read it carefully. And if they ask you to submit again, do it!

Before sending your piece back out to a different market, try to determine if your manuscript needs re-tooling. (Critique partners or groups are very helpful in that regard.)

Keep honing your craft, learning about the industry, and sending out excellent work. If you do those three things, I believe you will find your niche—if you don’t give up.

Just be sure and let me know when you get that first check!

Author Bio:
As a busy wife, mom, author, and speaker, Dena Dyer adores her life—but there are days when she wants her own mommy! Thankfully, she has God, her mom, and a counselor on speed dial. Dena is the proud wife of Carey and mom of Jordan and Jackson. When she’s not desperately trying to find her keys or cellphone, she enjoys writing books such as The Groovy Chicks’ Road Trip to Love (Cook/LifeJourney, co-compiled with Laurie Copeland) and short pieces for magazines like Family Circle, Today's Christian Woman, NickJr. Family and Parenting. For more information, visit her website: www.denadyer.com ; The Groovy Chicks' website: www.groovychicksroadtrip.com ; or her blog "Amazing Grace-land," geared toward mommies, writers, and other followers of Jesus: www.denadyer.typepad.com .

2 comments:

Jennifer said...

This was a great piece! As someone who is going to look into magazine nonfiction publication, it was very helpful and there were some resources here I was unfamiliar with. Thanks.

Dena Dyer said...

Jennifer,

You're so welcome! :) I hope you have great success.