6 Smart Ways to Find Out if a Magazine Pays for Freelance Articles

money and bankBy Carol Tice

You’ve got a great story idea, and think you’ve found the perfect magazine to send it to. There’s only one problem: you have no idea if that magazine ever uses freelance writers — or if they do, if there’s any pay involved.

You could spend days developing this query — pre-interviewing sources and crafting your pitch — only to find out it’s not a paying market. That’s a big time-waster, so you want to find out if you’ve got a real opportunity here or not before you dive into your article research.

Fortunately, it’s not too hard to determine if a magazine is a paying freelance market, and if so, how much they typically pay. That is, if you know where to look.

Here are six tips for quickly finding out if a magazine pays:

1. Use directories

The Writer’s Market and Mediabistro’s How to Pitch guides both offer information on their listed magazines for what percentage of the publication is freelanced out, and of pay rates. If the magazine you want is in there, you’re set with the info you need.

Of course, you might take a quick browse through those and find your target magazine is not listed. If so, that’s a strong clue that this might not be a great market for you, especially if you’re a new freelance writer.

The Writer’s Market is a fairly exhaustive compendium of magazines that are open to using new freelance writers, assign a lot of freelance articles, and offer at least some pay. Thats right — not all the magazines in the universe, but magazines that fit those parameters.

My sense is the magazines where editors take the time to fill out the survey form and send it in to Writer’s Market tend to fall into that sweet spot. When your target pub isn’t listed, that’s a clue that one of those factors may be missing at that magazine — they’re not open to new writers, they assign only a very small proportion of their bylines to freelancers, or they don’t pay.

Personally, I always want to concentrate on magazines that assign out 50 percent of more of the publication to freelancers. The lower that percentage is, the less likely you’re going to get an assignment.

2. Find guidelines

Many magazines have their writer’s guidelines right on their website these days. Poke around there and see if you can turn up any “write for us” information.

If they’ve got guidelines, it will often give you at least a range of pay. It also may be a treasure-trove of tips on which sections they take freelance articles on, article lengths, the appropriate editor’s email address for various departments, and more.

3. Tap Google

Don’t overlook the insights the mighty search engine might bring you if you do a search on “pay at X magazine.” While you’re at it, you can do a quick reputation check by Googling “X magazine sucks” or “problems at X magazine.” That might give you a bit more background on whether you want to pitch this market.

4. Investigate ads

One thing I learned in my 12 years as a staff writer is that magazines are rarely fully staffed. If they have staff writers, they always seem to be short one and in the hiring process.

Do some searches on job-ad compilation sites such as Indeed.com, or on LinkedIn and see if they’re hiring staffers. If they hire paid writers full-time and do use freelancers, it’s a fair bet that they pay freelancers, too.

5. Ask your network

If you don’t know other freelance writers, you need to. Don’t think of other freelance as the competition — they are your sounding board and may know about magazines you want to try. They can refer you gigs, too.

For instance, for many years I wrote for a city magazine that was a notorious slow-payer. Literally, they paid often more than six months after I wrote the article! If I’d asked around among other local writers, I could have found that out right quick and spared myself some lean months.

To get started getting connected with other writers, you can Google “[your city] freelance writer” and see who comes up in the first few pages. Those are writers you want to get to know.

6. Get it from the horse’s mouth

When all else fails, see if you can scare up a phone number for the magazine and call. Barring that, find an editorial email and try that. View lack of response as a strong indicator that they don’t pay.

Bottom line: It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes of quick research to get a strong sense of whether a magazine is a paying market. Then you know whether to invest more time in creating that query letter you had in mind.

How about you: Have you ever had to do some sleuthing to find out if a magazine pays? If so, what happened? Do you have any tips or experiences to share? Let us know in the Comments below!

Carol Tice writes the Make a Living Writing blog and founded Freelance Writers Den. To earn more as an article writer, grab her free handout — 7 Ways to Get Editors’ Emails.


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20 comments… add one
  • Another way is to simply check the bylines vs. the masthead. If a number of the articles are by people not on the staff, there’s a good chance the magazine is using freelancers.

  • Kim Chartres

    I’m a newbie to this industry (about 3 months!)and I’m so grateful for the information which seasoned writer are happy to share. I’ve learned so much in such as short time. Thanks Carol and Kelly for these great tips!

  • Using freelancers and paying freelancers are two different things. If I find a magazine that doesn’t mention pay in their guidelines, I just drop the editor an email and ask.

    • Love that approach, Carol! It’s true — there are markets that are looking for free contributions. I like how you go the extra mile and inquire if the guidelines don’t mention pay.

  • Good ol’ fashion cold calling got me answers fairly quickly!

  • Yes! These are really awesome. I particularly like the “x magazine sucks” LOL

    • You’d be surprised what you can turn up on that search, Willi — sometimes writers are so angry they start “X company sucks” websites with that exact URL.

  • Nice one, Carol!

    Another trick that I’ve found to be quite successful is to hunt down freelancers writing in the niche you want to break into and then take a look at their clips — chances are, if a publication is taking freelance content from them, they’ll be open to your ideas, too.

    This is also a really great way to find new publications that you wouldn’t even necessarily know exist. I’ve scored relatively regular and quite well paying gigs several times using this strategy.

  • Mike Cusano

    I was contacted by a magazine in California to be featured in an issue for up and coming start up businesses. Looking to gain exposure i was interested in what they had to offer. I will not disclose their name because i don’t feel it is right to tarnish anyone’s name. However i did not find much credibility in this magazine and now they continue to contact me multiple times a day. I feel a credible magazine would have people at their doorstep, rather then them trying to find businesses to include.

  • Alex Strine

    Wow these are all great tips! They’re all simple and even somewhat obvious but I had never though of them. I’ve been spending a lot of time kicking around my favorite sites wondering if they took freelance work, now I’ll be able to cut that time in half. Thanks!

  • I look at the ads. Ads show whether the magazine has a regular source of funding. I also look at the advertising rates to see what the advertisers are being charged (the more, the better the budget). Also, a magazine’s guidelines for photographers may list freelance rates even when its guidelines for writers do not. If a magazine is paying its photographers, it is usually safe to assume that writers are being paid as well.

  • Sarah

    Thanks for these! It would be hard to know where to start to find out if a magazine pays/hires freelance writers.

  • Wow, Carol, thank you SO MUCH for this! I literally went step-by-step for the first three or four points and got the information about the magazine I want to write for! Your advice is invaluable! Thank you very much for what you are doing!

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