The most visible magazines are mainstream magazines sold on newsstands and in
bookstores to the public. Trade magazines, on the other hand, are more exclusive; they
are not sold to the public at retail chains and they usually circulate to the magazine’s elite
class of subscribers and members. Just as there are countless mainstream magazines on
sports, pets, travel, weddings, and lifestyle, you can also find just as many trade
magazines that cover the same subjects. Writing for trade magazines pays well
(sometimes higher than mainstream magazines) and they regularly use freelance writers.
Breaking into trade magazines as a freelance writer can be tricky. Many editors of
trade magazines choose not to list their writer’s guidelines. Editors of trade magazines are
extremely busy and short-staffed. These editors avoid having an open call for submissions
to avoid a ceaseless cycle of reviewing, critiquing and rejecting unsolicited articles and
query letters sent in by writers, non-writers and their moms.
You will not find their writer’s guidelines in Writer’s Marketplace and they may not post their guidelines online at their website. Many freelance writers break into trade magazines by pitching an idea to the editor or contacting the editor directly. These freelance writers pitch brilliant article ideas, they’ve reviewed the magazine in advance, and they aggressively market themselves and their work with confidence.
Here are some frequently asked questions about freelance writing for trade
Question # 1: What are some advantages of writing for trade magazines, as opposed
to writing for mainstream (newsstand) magazines?
Answer: The first advantage is the smaller number of competitors (other freelance
writers). Many writers, especially amateurs, don’t routinely research trade magazines for
potential writing assignments. However, this also means it’s often up to you, the writer, to
educate an editor on the advantage of using your work.
The second advantage is that trade magazines are usually understaffed. When an
editor finds a good freelancer, they not only accept the initial story but also ask the writer
to accept future assignments.
A third advantage is the reputation you develop when you write for trade magazines
within that industry. As your reputation builds, you often experience unexpected
opportunities, such as referrals and writing assignments from other editors.
Question # 2: What’s the best research method to uncover hard-to-find trade
Answer: The best method is to find a Standard Rate & Data for business publications
(http://www.srds.com). This directory contains almost every trade magazine published in
the U.S. Second, find out what your friends and neighbors read in their business. Do they
have any copies you can borrow? What about the mechanic who just fixed your car?
What trades are on his waiting room table? How about the barber? How about the
manager of that gift store near your house? How about the restaurant manager? A real
estate agent? A roofing contractor? A bricklayer? A computer programmer? Your tax
accountant? The third way is the Internet. Find trade magazines at Freebizmag.com,
tradepub.com and freetradepubs.com.
Question #3: What’s the best way to pitch an article to a trade magazine?
Answer: Call the editor, tell him what you have in mind, and get feedback.
Otherwise, you can send an email query. Once you have some credits, the best approach
is calling the editor. Even if the editor doesn’t need the story you are pitching, he may
have one he would like to see, but haven’t found anyone to do it.
Question #4: What do you do if the trade magazine doesn’t have writer’s guidelines?
Answer: Less than 10 percent of trade magazines have writers’ guidelines. If you
don’t have a copy of the magazine you want to pitch to, find a way to get one and then go
through it to see how the headlines are put together and how long the articles run. Check
the masthead for full-time staff and the number of contributors. Are the contributors
industry gurus or independent writers like yourself? How much of the magazine is staff
written? If the trade magazine has one editor and he’s written more than 60 percent of the
magazine, then he probably needs a good freelance writer from time to time.
Question # 5: What are some challenges freelance writers might face with trade
Answer: The first challenge is finding the people with the right information.
Specialization is a good idea for a trade journalist just as it is for a mainstream journalist.
You write based on “who” you know. A second challenge is learning to leverage what
you’ve developed. If you specialize in writing on construction, you can also tie this topic
to other industries, such as restaurant management, small hospital management,
manufacturing, hospitality, real estate, golf course management, etc.
Another challenge is to learn discretion. Businesses have secrets they don’t want
their competitors to know about; they do have techniques or practices or processes that
give them an edge. To maintain your contacts’ trust, you must develop good judgment
about just how much information you can pass along in your article and how much you
can’t. Never cheat your contacts. Be fair with them and they will be fair with you. They
may get mad occasionally when they get called on a mistake, but as long as it’s a fair call,
then you’ll keep them.
Question # 6: What other types of articles do trade magazines find popular?
Answer: The most popular type of article in trade magazines is: “Who did what, and
why?” Readers love to get ideas by seeing what others in their industry are doing. They
also want to see who’s doing what so they can decide if the article subject might be a
potential customer. “List” articles are another favorite. Trade magazines are where people
go to talk shop and to see who’s who, who’s new, and what’s new.