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The Top Ten Mistakes Magazine Writers Make
by Kelly James-Enger
Hoping to launch themselves into the world of
magazine writing, both novice and experienced freelancers often unwittingly
sabotage their efforts by committing one or more of the "top ten"
magazine-writing mistakes. Avoid these common pitfalls and youll improve your
queries-and boost your chances of publication in the process:
Mistake #10: Not Looking at the Market
Blame Writers Market. Youre browsing through
the latest edition and find a magazine that sounds perfect for your latest
story idea. Instead of picking up a recent issue, though, you shoot off a
query and hope for the best. Ive fallen victim to this trap myself, but in
three and a half years of fulltime freelancing, Ive never sold to a market
that I didnt look at first. You need a feel for magazines tone and
readership to ensure that your query "fits" the publication.
Mistake #9: Addressing the Query to the Wrong
Or to "Dear Editor". By the time a magazine
hits the newsstands, its masthead is probably outdated. Editors change
positions and publications with amazing speed. Call the magazine and confirm
the name and title of the editor youre pitching to, and your query will wind
up on the right persons desk instead of languishing in the slush pile.
Mistake #8: Not Researching the Query
Dont start a query for a diet article with
"Americans are overweight. They eat too much and exercise too little." Its
too general, especially for a health story. Its much more convincing to cite
recent obesity statistics from the Centers for Disease Control. Including
facts, statistics or quotesor naming experts you plan to interview for the
storylets the editor know youve already done your homework about the topic.
Mistake #7: A Weak Lead
As a novice freelancer, I often started
queries with "Id like to write an article about
" Not very compelling. An
article lead captures your attention and draws you into the story. A query
lead should have the same effect on an editor.
Mistake #6: Query is Too Long or
If you cant adequately describe your subject,
your approach and your qualifications in a page-long letter, chances are your
query is too long or too general. Your topic should be narrow enough so that
youre able to address it in the suggested word length.
Mistake #5: Query Looks Sloppy
Think of your query as a letter of
introduction. If its riddled with grammatical mistakes or incorrectly used
words, it says that you dont much care about the impression you make. On the
other hand, a query thats easy to read and contains no typos or misspellings
says that youre a professional (or aspiring to be one).
Mistake #4: Forgetting what the Editor
Just because you find a subject fascinating
doesnt mean the editor will, too. Keep the magazines readers in mind as you
pitch an idea. Why does this story concern them? Why will they want to read
it? Think like the editor and youll be closer to receiving an
Mistake #3: Being too Modest
Every query should include what I call the
"I-am-so-great" paragraph. Mention your background and experience and
demonstrate why youre pitching this article. If you recently lost 50 pounds
and are pitching a diet story, say so. If you have stepchildren and are
querying about the challenges of step parenting, mention that. Convince the
editor that youre uniquely qualified to write this story.
Mistake #2: Not Querying First
First, many major magazines dont even
accepted completed manuscriptsthey only want queries. Second, when you write
an article and send it in, youre saying, "take it or leave it". The editor
has no chance to offer guidance or direction. Perhaps she likes the idea but
would prefer a different angle. Finally, when you submit a completed story,
you run the risk that the magazine already has assigned a similar pieceand
youve wasted your time. (The two exceptions to the query-first rule are humor
and essays. With both, you should submit the completed
Mistake #1: Giving up too Soon
Yes, rejections (what I call "bongs") can be
disheartening. But it will probably take some timeand more than one queryto
nail an assignment from a national magazine. Pitch timely, well-developed
ideas and your persistence will pay off. It took me 6 queries (and 18 months)
to nail an assignment from Womans Day; 5 queries (and a year) with
Fitness; and 7 queries (and 18 months) with Marie Claire,
but it was time well spent. Ive written multiple times for all three
So dont let your bongs get you downconsider
them steps toward eventual publication. The more you get, the closer you are!
© Copyright 2000, Kelly James-Enger
Kelly James-Enger has authored more than a dozen books, including Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success (Writers Digest, 2012) and Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writers Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books (CreateSpace, 2010). Check out her blog, Dollars and Deadlines, for practical advice about how you can make more money in less time as a nonfiction freelance writer.
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