If You Don’t Read Magazines, Don’t Try to Write for Them
Diana teaches the fabulous Become an Idea Machine workshop that’s helped students land in the New York Times, Parenting, Success and other publications. She told me that more frequently than you would expect, she’ll suggest a student read through some magazines to help spur ideas, and they’ll reply:
“Oh, I don’t read magazines.”
Or, even worse:
“I hate magazines!”
I know this is not an uncommon scenario because when I do query critiques, sometimes it’s clear to me that the writer has not cracked open a magazine. Believe me, you can tell! For example, they’ll be pitching an edgy men’s publication and their query sounds like a government report, complete with 5-dollar words, passive case overdrive, and footnotes.
I’m not even sure how to respond to what I’m seeing out there. Why would anyone think that magazine writing is the only job in the known universe where you don’t need to know anything about the medium you hope to make money from, your clients’ products, or the marketplace?
It’s like if you were applying for a job as an accountant and you told your interviewer, “Well, I don’t know what accountants do and I don’t much like numbers, but will you give me a job””
Of if you wanted to work at McDonald’s and you told your interviewer, “Oh, I’m a vegan and I’m morally against eating meat. I refuse to learn about your menu or serve burgers, but I want you to give me a job.”
This sounds ridiculous in all contexts — except, for some people, when talking about a freelance writing career.
I think there are a lot of Internet-famous business “gurus” out there who like to plug writing as an easy work-at-home gig where all you need is a laptop and the ability to string sentences together. After all, it’s FREElance, as in FREE to do whatever you want.
And that’s true IF you want to write $10 articles for the content mills.
But if you want to earn some decent money writing for top-notch trade, custom, and consumer magazines, for the love of all that is good and holy, you need to actually familiarize yourself with the magazine market.
When you want to become a magazine writer, reading magazines becomes a full-time job for you.
- You read magazines you want to write for from cover to cover and study the writing, the departments, how articles are structured, and even the ads.
- You read magazines you don’t want to write for, just for the hell of it.
- You read Writer’s Market in its entirety every year.
- You browse magazine directories online.
- You become known as the crazy person who carts away stacks of outdated magazines from your hairdresser’s and doctor’s waiting rooms. (Yes, I have done this!)
- You ask your neighbors to put their old to-be-recycled magazines on your porch. (Yep…done that too.)
When you go to the effort required to get to know the market, eventually it becomes ingrained in your brain. It becomes part of you.
So, for example…
- When your kid’s school bus driver mentions she’d like to get into writing, you say, “Oh, you should try School Bus Fleet magazine.”
- When you have an article idea about how to handle your tween’s hormonal temper tantrums, you know Family Circle may be a good market, but Parents is not.
- Your article ideas become sharper and more focused because you’ve read hundreds of magazine articles and know what’s been done and how you can do it differently.
- You’ll know that Inc. magazine ran an article two issues ago on a topic you want to pitch, so you’ll need to come up with a fresher slant if you want to query them.
This is not optional, folks. If you want to write for magazines, you need to read them. No, you need to study them. Lots of them.
Here’s your challenge: Today, right now if you can, read a magazine from cover to cover, studying every part. Or, if you have a copy or are near a bookstore or library, start browsing through Writer’s Market and read all the magazine guidelines.
How about you: Do you love magazines? Do you read them? Why or why not? (Hey, does this sound like a high school essay question?)