How Magazine Writers Can Diversify Their Way to Freelance Writing Success
You’ve probably heard the command before: Diversify.
In most cases, what they’re telling you to do is to try out different streams of income: magazine writing, book publishing, coaching or editing. But there’s another way you can diversify as a magazine writer: By looking at new and unexplored markets beyond your comfort zone.
Target small specialty magazines.
Trade magazines are not as strong as they once were. Years ago, you could find publications for almost every trade, from cement pouring to oil & energy to insurance. The recession took a big toll on trade mags and as a result many folded or stopped taking freelance submissions.
Many, but not all. Trade magazines are still out there and they pay well. For example, last year I sold an article to a wine making magazine for $650 and one to a paper industry magazine for almost $1,000. Do I know a lot about wine making or paper production? No, but I’m good at research and I found great experts to quote in the articles, so the editors were happy.
You won’t find trade magazines at your local bookstore – they’re mostly sold by subscription or given away for free to members of a certain union or organization. Still, most have websites where you can get an idea of the topics they cover and you can use your local bookstore to browse books on the same topic for story ideas.
Look at your niche with new eyes.
Whatever your niche is, there might be more to it than you think. Let’s take, for example, the fitness niche. The obvious market is fitness magazines such as Shape and Men’s Fitness.
But if you write targeted articles, you can sell a fitness story to a woman’s magazine (“Exercise for the busy career woman”), a college magazine (“How exercise can help you deal with the stress of college”) or a health magazine (“How exercise can decrease your risk of depression”). How about a children’s magazine? Sports Illustrated Kids magazine publishes stories on kids excelling at sports and fitness and Youth Fitness magazine recently published an article on common summer injuries in active kids and teens.
If you find a specific topic, you can spin it forever into different angles. A “how to avoid injury” article can be targeted to fit a running, skiing or cycling magazine. I once wrote an article on budget travel in Japan and then realized I could write similar articles about other destinations. That resulted in multiple articles and over $2,000 in assignments from travel publications, in-flight magazines and an expat magazine.
And don’t forget trade publications. You could target magazines aimed at fitness professionals, gym owners and sports management. These would require a very different type of article and approach, but it could be an interesting challenge to try.
Up until a couple of years ago, it had never crossed my mind to target international magazines. It seems like such an obvious thing to do, right? The UK, Canada and Australia have plenty of magazines covering the same fields you find in American publications. So why are you ignoring them?
Once I discovered international markets, my reach expanded a lot. I’m a frequent contributor to The Genteel, a Canadian fashion and design publication and I’ve sold stories to The Writer, Marie Claire Australia and UK’s Six magazine. My work has also appeared in English-language magazines in Russia, Vietnam and Thailand.
Editors won’t discriminate based on your location – in fact, many of them won’t even ask where you’re located. I’m currently living in Bangkok, but most of my editors never even find out. And if they do, all I get is something like “how cool!” and then we go back to writing.
Add a new niche.
You don’t have to be a one-niche writer. My niche used to be fitness and nutrition because I have a background in the field and that always opens doors. But rather than staying there, I’ve expanded into other niches that I’m also interested and knowledgeable about. One is travel. I’ve lived in five different countries over the past 12 years and I’ve taken my pets along every time I’ve moved. That’s two more topics I can write about: travel and moving with pets.
You don’t have to be a world traveler to find interesting new topics to write about, though. Look at your background, your degree, your interests, even the places you’ve visited in your own town. Your small town is local to you, but to an editor it could be an exotic getaway to a hidden attraction.
Think beyond “feature writing.”
Sure, we all want our articles to make the cover of our favorite magazine. But smaller sections of a publication, such as columns, profiles and tips, are often open to freelancers too. Some magazines buy opinion pieces, book reviews or short essays. The first piece I sold to Writer’s Digest was actually a short excerpt from an interview I did with children’s author Harry Mazer. It was published as a small sidebar to somebody else’s feature article.
Learning to diversify can take some time, but it can also be a lot of fun and a great way to increase your income.
Diana Bocco is a full-time freelance writer, editor and writing coach. She teaches short-story and freelance writing workshops (both group and one-on-one) and is getting ready to launch her own horror magazine. Diana is the author of How They Did It: 25 bloggers, authors and writers share all their secrets about earning a living and how you can do it too as well as the horror anthology Don’t Turn the Lights On. An incurable globetrotter, Diana has lived and worked in New York City, Buenos Aires, Siberia, Hanoi and currently resides in Bangkok. You can read more about her and her work on her website.