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What magazine editors want - tiips every freelance writer should read

Imagine relaxing on your sailboat somewhere in the Bahamas, where you’re sitting in the cockpit, enjoying a nice breeze. You look out at water that’s so blue, and so crystal clear, that you’d almost swear the water was photoshopped by Mother Nature herself.

You casually fire up your laptop and check your email, excited to see a response from the editor of Cruising World magazine, saying they will be printing an article you submitted to them a few months ago in their upcoming December issue. You then open your word processor to finish another article you’re writing for another (albeit smaller) magazine that you write a monthly column for. It doesn’t pay as much as Cruising World per article, but it brings in a few hundred dollars a month, so it actually amounts to much more in the long run.

Think this sounds like a dream? Well, for some cruisers and location independents, writing for money is a reality.

I know several freelance writers who have turned their passion for writing into a decent side income. One blog follower funds her cruising kitty by writing articles for magazines, and boasts a 15% response rate for her queries. That’s about 1 in 6, which is excellent considering the competition!

Speaking of competition, be prepared to step up your game in order to get noticed.  Some editors get thousands of submissions a month, so there’s no one just waiting to throw you money for your brilliant writing.

Obviously, in order to get published, you need to be able to write well, and if you can’t yet write well, that’s ok. Practice makes all the difference, and there are a ton of technical books on how to improve your writing.

The real key to making money as a freelance writer is to use tactics that the pros use to win over editors, as well as some tactics you may not have heard of before. After all, good writing is one thing, but there’s a lot of research and finesse involved if you want to get consistent work, and if you use these tips, you’ll have an advantage over most other writers who are pitching the same magazines.

The #1 Writing Tool

Study the Publication You Want to Pitch Your Writing To

If you look at a magazine’s submission guidelines, you’ll notice that most of them tell you to look at past issues to get to know the kinds of stories they publish.

This is a given, but sadly, so often overlooked. It goes beyond just saying, “Oh, this magazine is about sailing – I’ll write about that.” You have to niche it down. Some sailing magazines don’t accept travelogues. Some prefer “how-to” type articles. Study the magazine… study the audience. Follow the directions in their submission guidelines to a tee.

Are the articles in the magazine more technical, or more conversational? Do they show more, or do they tell more? Are most pieces short or long? (Hint: go after the short pieces when possible. Editors often will have empty spaces to fill at the last minute. They often appreciate short pieces because they fill these spots easily. The shorts get overlooked by freelance writers, but can pay surprisingly well.)

Pick an Original Topic to Write About

Get your brainstorming caps on! This is where you get out a pen and paper and just jot down potential topics. Don’t overthink it or be too specific here — we’ll do that in the next steps, but this is where you could put down general ideas you think they might be interested in.

Let’s say there’s a big regatta they cover each year. Start thinking about something that ties in with this (but not an article on the race itself, as the magazine probably has already gotten someone to cover this. Plus, more unoriginal writers will be sending submissions about the race ad nauseum). Maybe you could locate and interview (via phone or email) the winner from this race from say, 25 years ago in a “Where Are They Now” fashion. How about writing an article about ways to keep your race crew happy?

There’s always a way to put a new spin on a topic and editors will love hearing some fresh, unique ideas.

Now that you have a head start on researching your target magazines, their audience, and your potential topics, the next post will dive into the actual writing process.

In the meantime, do you have any writing hacks or tips you’d like to add? Any freelance writers out there? Let me know in the comments!

Click here to read Part 2 – Get Paid To Write: Keys for Getting Published in Magazines