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.