One of my writing discussion groups recently had a topic thread going about the success rate of pitching magazine article ideas. It seems that the standard acceptance rate is about 30% – 40%. In my own experience though, I’ve had about a 90% acceptance rate and I mentioned that in the group. This inevitably led to a nuts and bolts discussion, and I thought I’d share these tips with you.
Check the editorial calendar
1. Never send a query without first looking at the magazine’s editorial calendar. By looking at the editorial calendar, you can see immediately what topics the editor will be most interested in, and when. Not all magazines publish an editorial calendar and some require that you request it via email. If you cannot find one on the publication’s website, and you find nothing that states they do not publish one, then send a short note to the Editor asking if it is available and if so will they please send it to you.
Lead times and guidelines
2. Pay attention to the publication’s lead time. Most editorial calendars or writers’ guidelines will tell you what their particular lead time is. Lead time is simply the amount of advanced time that advertisements or articles must be submitted in order to be ready for publication in a particular issue.
So, if a magazine states their lead time is 3 months and you were looking for ideas to pitch to them in May, you would want to look at what topics they will be covering in September, October or November. You can pitch ideas that are further ahead on the calendar as well, just remember that the farther ahead you pitch, the longer you may have to wait for payment.
Do your research
3. Read the publication. Most publications can be read partially or completely online now days, so there is no excuse for skipping this step. By reading several of their most recently published materials, you’ll gain two critical advantages:
A. You will not send in an idea that was recently covered – doing so is an almost guaranteed way to have your query rejected.
B. You will get a solid feel for the publication’s style. Crafting your query and article to their particular style is essential to getting published.
As a side effect, reading the magazine may also help you to generate some great topic ideas for your own queries.
4. Contact the proper person. I use the online version of Writer’s Market to stay abreast of contact changes. I use this as a research and lead tool only however. Once I’ve found publications that fit my acceptable payment range and interest, I’ll then visit the publication’s site and search for freelance information there. Often the publication’s website will have a different editor listed, or they may even direct you to send your queries to an assistant instead. I always follow the rules outlined on the publication’s website, regardless of what information I originally found on the Writer’s Market site.
Structure of the query
5. When crafting your query, keep it professional and concise. Briefly introduce yourself and your article idea. Mention which upcoming issue of their publication you feel the article will fit best in based on their editorial calendar, and if possible, mention how you feel it will fit into their publication based on what you know of their recent articles. And last but not least, include 2 – 4 relevant credits and a link to your online portfolio or clips.
When mentioning credits, I suggest simply listing a few of the magazines you’ve published within the past. Including the complete title, issue, page number and so on isn’t usually needed. I also strongly suggest including a link to an electronic portfolio, or at least to a page that has a list of your available clips. This makes it easy for the editor to review your previous work at their own convenience.
Of course it should go without saying that you have reviewed the publication’s available guidelines before doing any of the above, and that you will present yourself as professionally as possible – including performing spelling and grammar checks – before sending anything.
My preferred market is business, technical and trade publications, so your own results with these methods may vary slightly. But by following the simple submission preparation steps outlined in this article, any freelance writer should be able to turn more queries into paying assignments.