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Imagine for a minute that you’re the editor of a popular magazine. You arrive to work one morning, settle in with your coffee (the first cup of many), fire up your computer, and open your emails. Wow – already you can see that you’ve got at least 100 submissions sitting in your inbox, waiting to be read. It’s going to be a long day.
One by one, you read your emails, shaking your head as you quickly hit the delete button over and over. The submission guidelines specifically say not to send attachments. Guess some people apparently felt that it didn’t apply to them. *Sigh*
As you skim through more submissions and queries, you do one of two things: delete those that are poorly written, irrelevant, or just plain uninteresting, and flag those that look halfway decent, so you can read later.
After an hour or so, you grab a second cup of coffee, take a few phone calls, have a quick meeting with the managing editor, then settle back in with your third cup and start reading the emails you flagged earlier.
At this point, you’re getting hungry for lunch. You’re also feeling pressure because the next issue goes to press in 4 days, and you still need a couple of stories — good stories.
You read through each email, saving the ones with potential, when one catches your eye.
The subject line is a headline, and it’s a great headline. You recognize the name of the sender — this person sent you a good query letter a couple of days ago — hmmm, they turned that story around fast.
You open the email and as you read it, you notice that not only is it well-written, but the writer even took a suggestion you made in your initial response to their query and used it in the finished piece. You don’t see any typos or mistakes on your first read, so you say a silent thank you to the person who just made your job easier.
This writer just hit the jackpot. Not only will their story likely get published, but the good impression they made just elevated them to “dream writer” status. This is what I call writers who get paid to write for magazines on a consistent basis because editors love working with them.
Contrary to what you might think, it’s not that hard to get into the “dream writer” club. There are tons of great writers out there. Sadly, there are a lot fewer writers who can follow directions. If you can do both, you’ve already beat out at least half of the competition.
Below are some tips to use when writing your article that will make you stand out like a beacon in the night to editors and help elevate you to “dream writer” status.
First Impressions: It Starts With a Good Query
Depending on who you’re pitching to, and what type of story you’re pitching, a query letter may not be necessary, but it will boost your chances of getting published overall.
What’s a query letter? It’s a one-page proposal offering to write a specific piece for the magazine you’re targeting. It can be a good way to gauge interest from an editor first — without going to the trouble of actually writing an entire article. Typically, the format is as follows:
- First Paragraph: The lead-in or the hook is meant to draw people in. This paragraph should be written in the style that you’d write the article in… in other words, it could double as the first paragraph of your finished article. This will give the editor a quick idea of your writing style, and whether or not the topic is compelling or will interest their readers.
- Second Paragraph: A summary of what you’ll be offering and how you’ll tailor it to their audience. You can give a brief description of your focus or angle.
- Third Paragraph: The actual pitch – this gets down to the nuts and bolts of your article. If you’ll be using sources, talk about those and what you plan to glean from them here. Show the editor that you’ve not only got a great story idea, but that you’ve got some research and sources to back it up.
- Fourth Paragraph: The “Why I’m Awesome” paragraph. Do you have any writing credits worth mentioning? Do you keep a regular blog? Talk about it here.
- PRO TIP: The “Ask”: Even though an editor knows that you’re sending the query in hopes of getting published, you still don’t want to leave this important step out. Most advice I’ve read about writing a query doesn’t even mention this step – they always just say, “Don’t forget to follow up!” (and you shouldn’t forget to), but my marketing background tells me to put a clear CTA (call-to-action) at the bottom of my query. It’s human nature for us to want to answer a direct question (after all, it would be rude to leave an open question unanswered, right?). This is a psychological hack that encourages a direct response, one way or another. My advice is to make it a yes or no question that doesn’t require much thought to answer.
So, for example, if I were going to write a query about this post, it might look like this:
Dying to get your name in print? Want to break into a freelance writing career and get paid to write, but not sure where to start? Or worse, is your inbox filled with rejection letters? You’re not alone. Many writers have the ability to tell a story, but can’t seem to crack the code that takes them from the editor’s inbox and onto the glossy page.
In my article “You Can Get Paid to Write – Keys to Getting Published in Magazines,” I’ll share proven tactics to help writers improve their writing and capture the attention of magazine editors. From writing hacks such as coming up with ten different headline ideas, to technical tools that help automate the editing process, I’ll show writers how to drastically improve their chances of an article being accepted by a publication.
For example, I’ll offer tips from magazine editors, such as:
-Become intimately familiar with the publication you’re pitching.
-The importance of explicitly following instructions in submission guidelines. This proves that you are paying attention, and that you can follow simple directions.
-Don’t send anything that requires heavy editing. It’s not the editor’s job to rewrite your piece for you, no matter how compelling the subject matter is.
I’ll also share tips from professional writers:
-Write compelling headlines that are engaging and relevant
-Be succinct in your writing – get to the point (and tools you can use to help you stay on track)
-How the Hemingway App (a free online tool) can help you write better
I’m a freelance writer in Florida who lives on a sailboat and writes about saving and making money on my blog, SavingToSail.com. I’ve also written for blogs like Making Sense of Cents and Budgets are Sexy, and have been featured in the magazines Nashville Lifestyles, Nashville Arts, and Spinsheet. As a professional proofreader, I understand the behind-the-scenes details of the publishing process — and as a writer, I know how to translate them into readable and interesting articles.
Is this something you’d be interested in for your magazine?
Write Headlines They Can’t Help But Love
Every writer is different in their approach, but one thing I do produce interesting content is to write the headline first. (It’s kind of like buying the shoes, then buying the outfit to match the shoes.) I often do this when writing for my blog. (Write a headline… not buy shoes.) By selecting the headline first, it gives me a precise target to aim for.
In fact, don’t just write one headline. Write ten headlines. Yep.
I know that sounds like overkill, but how often is your first idea your best idea? Not often, I bet. Brainstorming for different headlines gets your creative muscles warmed up, and a killer headline will almost guarantee that an editor will open your query or read your article.
I just recently learned about an amazing tool for analyzing headlines that’s totally free. It’s called the Emotional Marketing Headline Analyzer, and it measures the emotional impact of your headline and assigns it a score, based on how Intellectual, Spiritual, or Empathetic it is. Most professional copywriters see a 30-40% EMV score, while the most gifted writers will score in the 50-75% range for their headlines. It’s rare to see 100%.
For this article, I analyzed several potential headlines, and the one I chose scored a 38.46%. Not too shabby!
If you want to read a really interesting article I found that goes into detail about the power of headlines and how effective this EMV headline analyzer can be, check out this post at OkDork.com.
Build a Foundation: Creating an Outline for Your Article
When you’re writing for money, you can’t just write willy-nilly and expect good results. Like it or not, you need structure — just as we put a lot of thought into our topic and our headlines, we should be putting as much (or more) into the article itself. You wouldn’t build a house without a foundation, would you? The key to writing good content is to organize the points you want to address ahead of time.
I consider an outline an essential part of the writing process. This was one of my least favorite things to do when writing in school, because I felt that it was unnecessary. I knew what I was writing about, and I wanted to just get started writing, so come on, already. Don’t add yet another process to it!
But now that I’m writing for an actual audience (and money!), I understand that an article needs structure in order to make sense, and to maintain relevancy. A basic outline with topics and points you want to cover will help you immensely.
The tool that I use to help me with this is a software program called Scrivener. I use this regularly to help me organize my thoughts and my draft. You organize your ideas on virtual index cards that are easily rearranged by dragging and dropping onto the virtual corkboard. It’s perfect for writing articles and even books. There’s also a distraction-free writing mode so you can block out the rest of your desktop as you write.
Scrivener is also what the hubby used to write his Amazon best-selling e-book You Gotta Go To Know. It’s a great tool, and I highly recommend it for anyone doing any serious writing. You can get your own copy of Scrivener using my affiliate link for just $40 (Windows) or $45 (Mac).
Put Your Best Foot Forward and Start Writing
Now that you’ve studied who you’re pitching, picked a great topic, written a killer headline, and have an outline for your article, it’s time to write the piece. I could fill an entire blog with ways to improve your writing, and as I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of books and websites about writing techniques that you can research yourself. Frankly, the best way to get better at writing is simply to write.
The main thing you want to keep in mind when writing is your audience — or rather, the magazine’s audience. Be interesting. Write clearly and succinctly, so it’s easy to read and understand, and be sure to stay on topic. When you’re writing a blog post, you have a little more leeway in your writing style — you can meander a little bit, but when writing for magazines or print publications, you need to stay on point.
PRO TIP: Don’t try to edit your article for grammar and misspellings as you’re writing. When you’re in writing mode, be in writing mode. If you try to edit while you’re writing, it puts you into a critical thinking mindset instead of creative mindset, so for now, just get the article written.
Unleash Your Inner Grammar God(ess) and Start Editing
Once you’re happy with your draft, that’s when you want to go in with an “editor’s eye” and start making changes. One of the first things I do once I’ve got a draft finished is to read it once or twice to make sure that the content flows and is easy to read. I often catch most of my mistakes during this process.
Revise. Then revise again. As my journalism teacher used to love to tell us, “Trim the fat!” Cut out the fluffy words. Make every word count. If you’re unsure about something, take it out, re-read the paragraph, and if it still makes sense, leave it out.
Keep revising until you have something that’s worthy of being read by thousands and thousands of people. After all, you’re name’s going to be on it, so make it great!
You can also get someone else to proofread/edit it for you. My Dad (who was also a writer) used to just send everything he wrote to me for editing. That way, he didn’t have to worry about getting distracted. He knew if he started picking things apart or analyzing each sentence for errors, he’d get so focused on that, and it kept him from making progress on the actual writing.
No matter which way you do it, it’s still a good idea to have a few tools in your arsenal to help you with the editing process.
My Can’t-Live-Without Editing Tools
One great tool I like to use is the Hemingway Editor. Just input your text and it will analyze it for readability, as well as grade level (lower grades are considered better – you want your writing to be clear and concise).
I don’t always use its suggestions, but it does alert me to hard-to-read sentences. I mainly use it to get the readability score (also known as the Flesch-Kincaid Score). Optimally, you want to write at a 6th-grade level or lower in order to reach the broadest audience. Write too complicated, and people could lose interest. They have a free version and a paid version (paid version is just $10 and can be used offline).
My favorite app for editing (which I use both personally and professionally) is Grammarly. To say it makes my life easier is an understatement. I’m a full-time proofreader* by day, and this makes the editing process so much more efficient. It checks for spelling, grammar, overuse of words, run-on sentences, plagiarism, and more.
They have a free version and a paid version. I use the paid version because of the additional features, and my subscription for the entire year was only around $70. It has already paid for itself because I use it so often, and it saves me so much time. Click below to get your copy of either the free or paid version (affiliate link).
While the editing tools I’ve mentioned can help you with your writing process, it’s always good practice to never rely on just one tool. Here is my method for writing and editing:
- Create an outline in Scrivener
- Do my actual writing in either Scrivener or MS Word
- Input text into Hemingway App to get readability score/grade level and make necessary changes
- Copy/paste into Grammarly to correct grammar, spelling, and readability
- Go over the piece word by word, line by line, with my own eyes to see there are any other issues
- Once I’ve made all edits, I sit back and read the piece in its entirety again from a reader’s perspective to make sure I’m happy with it
- Rinse and repeat as necessary
Submitting Your Article
First, make sure you don’t submit the same article simultaneously to other publications to avoid copyright infringement should more than one publication accept your article.
When you do send your article, be sure you follow the submission guidelines to a tee. I can’t stress this enough. Don’t send as an attachment if the submission guidelines advise not to. I’ve had writing jobs whose guidelines were so specific that I was asked to send my article in Calibri font, size 11, with specific spacing guidelines. It’s imperative that you carefully read their guidelines for things like this, as it may make or break your article getting picked up or left in the delete pile. Remember, editors want to work with someone who makes their job easier.
I email my submissions unless otherwise directed. If I sent a query and got a reply, I simply reply to that same email (so it shows the editor that there has already been contact), but I change the subject line to the following format: [SUBMISSION] Captivating Article Headline Here
The reason for the above format is that it tells the editor immediately that it’s a submission, and then the captivating headline will pique their interest.
In the body of my email, I write a very brief note to the editor to remind them about our initial discussion, and then paste the article below that (or if they prefer attachments, I attach… remember to follow their guidelines). Something like:
I’ve included my article below titled “Get Paid To Write – Keys to Getting Published in Magazines.” As I mentioned in my initial query, this includes lots of actionable tips that I think your readers will enjoy. Please let me know if you have any questions or need changes made. Love your magazine.
Notice I keep it brief and professional, but still fairly casual and light. I don’t say, “Please let me know if this is something you could use?” or “Let me know if you’re interested.” Instead, I show a little more confidence by simply saying, “Please let me know if you have any questions or need changes made.” I then end it with a sincere compliment, and then my name and phone number (in case they have a quick question). You can put your website (if you have a writing portfolio) here, too. The main thing is to keep the entire intro brief and to the point.
Get Paid To Write – Final Tip: Keep Writing!
Congratulations – you’ve submitted your first article! Now is where it’s important not to get discouraged if you don’t get a response right away, or even if it gets rejected. At times, you’ll feel brilliant, while other times, you’ll think you suck. And sometimes you may suck!
After some practice, your query letters will get better, your headlines will rock, and your writing will improve. Instead of feeling defeated when an article is rejected, you’ll see it as a learning experience, and even a way to build a relationship with the editor. The key is to keep writing, and keep submitting. Like Wayne Gretzky said: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
The main thing to remember is to go the extra mile for each piece you submit. Be professional. Follow directions, and make it almost impossible for the editor to say no. If you use some of the things I talked about in this post and the first post in this series, it won’t be long before you can get paid to write for magazines.
*Shameless self-promotion: I’m available for hire if you need anything proofread. I do this professionally for a NY Times best-selling author and professional blogger, and I’m very careful and thorough. Contact me if you want to discuss your project and get a quote.