A Hidden Market for Freelance Writers
I’ve started noticing a theme that comes up with most of my e-course students and mentoring clients: They tell me they want to break into national magazines (usually women’s magazines) so they can make enough money to quit their jobs and make a living as a full-time freelancer.
Of course, I’m very willing to help them. I’ve written for dozens of newsstand magazines, from Family Circle to Fitness, and I have a pretty good idea of what they’re looking for. However, I don’t know anyone who makes a full-time living writing only for these types of magazines, for one good reason: They’re very difficult to work for. It seems pretty sweet to make $2 per word and up writing for a newsstand magazine, but let me tell you — you work your ass off for that money.
Because ideas have to go through multiple layers of acceptance, it often takes months to hear back on a query — and then, when you do, sometimes the editors need the article turned around very quickly. Then, once you turn in the article, the multiple rounds of revisions start. Finally, once the article is finally accepted, you have to wait to get paid. One newsstand women’s magazine accepted my idea in June, the article wasn’t accepted until November, and I wasn’t paid until the following April.
Now, I’m not saying that it’s not worth it to pitch and write for national magazines. Not at all. They make excellent clips that can help open the door to other magazines. And the per-word rate is a factor: I definitely felt like I had “made it” when I got my first assignment that paid over a dollar a word. Finally, I’ve developed relationships with many wonderful editors at national magazines.
But if your goal is to make enough income to freelance full-time, I’ll tell you what I tell my students: You need to write for other markets as well, and trade magazines are a great, often overlooked market for freelance writers. Trade magazines are publications that are created for the members of a certain industry. For example, Credit Union Times is for execs in the credit union industry, In-Plant Graphics is for people who run on-site print shops, and you can probably guess who reads Sheep! magazine.
Here are some of the benefits of writing for trades:
* They’re easier to break into than national magazines. I’ve written for more than two dozen trades, including Funworld, Multi-Channel Merchant, and Call Center Management Review, and I broke into almost all of them with letters of introduction. While many trades are happy to receive pitches, they also often come up with ideas in-house and assign them to freelancers.
* They’re less competitive than national magazines. So many writers overlook this great market that trade magazine editors tend not to be overwhelmed with pitches like their national magazine counterparts.
* They make great clips. A clip from a trade magazine can help open the doors to other magazines. I used mostly trade clips to break into national magazines.
* They’re fun to write for. The people I interview for trade magazines are usually excited to share information about their industries, and that excitement is contagious. You may think it’s boring to write about, say, how to set up a cleaning schedule for your restaurant (which is a topic I wrote on last year), but I disagree. A true freelance writer can find interesting nuggets in any topic.
* They can pay well per hour. The per-word rates can look stingy compared to national magazine rates — anywhere from 5 cents per word up to say $1 per word, but usually somewhere in between — but the editing process is so much easier than at national magazines that you can end up making more per hour. For example, many of the trades I’ve written for in the last few years have paid around $.50 per word, but my hourly rate has been around $250.
So how do you break into the trade market? Here are some tips:
* Seek them out. You can find trades in many places. For example, tradepub.com lists thousands and includes links to their websites, where you can read the archives and find the editors’ e-mail addresses. Writer’s Market (which is a pay service) lists many, though their directory is by no means exhaustive. The American Society of Business Publication Editors costs $50 per year to join and gives you access to their membership list. And of course, you can always Google your chosen industry plus “trade magazine” or “trade journal.” The only problem is that outside of Writer’s Market, it’s hard to determine how much a trade magazine pays — or if it pays at all. It’s really hit or miss.
Look for trade magazines that address topics you have some expertise in. For example, if your full-time job is as an HR manager, look for trades in that industry. It seems that almost every industry has at least one trade magazine. Don’t believe me? My husband once wrote for Indian Gaming Business — and this magazine actually has a competitor.
If you have a general area of business expertise like small business management, employee relations, or marketing, this can play well in trades across all industries.
* Script your LOI. Your letter of introduction should make it clear that you’ve read through the magazine, or at least the online archives. Ask the editor if she assigns articles to freelancers, and then tout your credentials in the trade’s target industry. End by asking if you can send the editor some clips (if you have them; if you don’t, don’t mention it — just ask if there’s anything you can do for the editor).
* Craft a pitch. Alternatively, you can pitch an idea to the magazine with a query letter. Make sure you thoroughly read through the magazine’s online archives. And keep in mind that trade magazines target businesspeople, not consumers. So a trade for the travel industry might have an article on how readers can market their services, but it would never run an article on the best wineries in Napa Valley.
* Follow up. Always follow up on LOIs and pitches! I usually give it two to three weeks before sending a quick e-mail note to check on the status of my LOI/pitch.
* Build a relationship. Your goal is to build a relationship with trade magazine editors so that they think of you when they have an assignment. I wrote a whole blog post on this in September.
* Happy writing! I hope you score lots of assignments with trade magazines. Let me know when you land your first assignment with one! [lf]
If you liked that post, you might also like:
- How to Write for Trade Magazines in *ANY* Industry
- Do You Know What to Do with an Article Idea Once You Have It?
- You Ask, I Answer: Is This a Bad Time to Be a Writer?
- How to Write a Letter of Introduction That Will Impress Editors and Get You More Freelance Writing Gigs
- FOLIO Magazine’s 115 Magazine and Media Predictions for 2010