The beginning of your writing career sets the foundation for your future, so the sooner you implement these tips for for print magazines, the more successful you’ll be as a freelance writer! Some of these feature writing tips and hints for pitching to editors are directly from editors (thanks Reader’s Digest!)…and others are from my own experience as a full-time freelance writer.
Before the tips, a quip:
“Usually, when people get to the end of a chapter, they close the book and go to sleep,” says bestselling author Sidney Sheldon. “I deliberately write a book so when the reader gets to the end of the chapter, he or she must turn one more page. When people tell me I’ve kept them up all night, I feel like I’ve succeeded.”
Whether you’re writing the next bestselling novel, an article for your favorite magazine, or an email to your mom – the secret to good writing is to keep people reading. For help with that — and many other aspects of writing — read The ASJA Guide to Freelance Writing: A Professional Guide to the Business, for Nonfiction Writers of All Experience Levels. And, here are six tips for successful writers…
Write for Print Magazines – Tips for Beginning Your Writing Career
1. Be as clear as possible in your query letter — and the article. The magazine editors at Health and Reader’s Digest have sent my articles back with questions such as “Why does this happen?” and “What’s an example of that happening?” and “Can you explain this better? I get it, but I want it to be clear for the readers.” To improve your magazine article, explain how and why something works. Be specific — but not wordy — when you write.
2. Measure each sentence. I don’t mean “vary your sentence length” (which is a key writing tip). By “measure each sentence”, I’m referring to the value of each sentence. Does every sentence in your paragraph offer something new to the reader? Does each sentence provide a little more clarity, explanation, insight? (see, that last sentence was redundant, and if I were editing myself, I’d take it right out). To improve your writing, you need to edit ruthlessly.
3. Include compelling, relevant anecdotes. Readers and magazine editors love stories! If you’re including them in your feature article or pitch letter, make sure the anecdotes are both relevant and compelling. They should illustrate your point — not confuse or irritate the reader.
4. Show you have access to sources. This tip for beginning writers comes directly from my favorite editor at Reader’s Digest. Actually, it’s more of a pitching tip: “Editors look to see that writers have access to sources – ones that are willing to talk,” she said. “Which usually means you have to talk to a few people up front to get enough info to structure your pitch and make sure your article will work the way you’re presenting it.” To see what she means, check out this example of a successful query letter to Reader’s Digest.
5. Do your background research before you query a magazine editor. Before you pitch an idea to an editor, make sure you can actually write the article! When I started my writing career, I disliked “wasting’ time on researching articles until I had an assignment (and contract) from a magazine. But I’ve learned that doing background research protects writers and shows both them and the editor that the article is write-able. This saves both freelancers and editors time and energy.
6. Welcome editorial input. This tip for successful writers is one of my favorites, because many writers squirm when their pieces are fiddled with. Me, I don’t care…and I’ve learned that the more a magazine editor pokes at my piece before publishing it, the better my article gets (usually). The editor’s clarifications, questions, comments, revisions can all make you a better writer (Caveat: this only works if the editor asks you to edit the article. If the editor simply makes changes and publishes it without involving you, then you haven’t learned much as a writer!).
If you have any questions or thoughts about writing for print magazines or beginning your writing career, please comment below…
I'm glad you're here! My name is Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen; my husband Bruce and I live in Vancouver, BC with our critters. We can't have kids, and are learning to accept whatever life brings - both good and bad. I have an MSW (Master of Social Work) from UBC, and degrees in Education and Psychology. I hope you say hello and share your thoughts below. If not, go well....and don't forget to come back.