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A Beginners Guide to Selling to Magazines
by Kathryn Lay

There are magazines all around you. At the library. The bookstore. The grocery store. They range in age, interest, genre, gender, and economics. With so many magazines available, why does it seem so elusive and frightening to get an article or story published in one?

Knowing where and how to get started will get you on the right track to getting that first of many acceptances.


The magazine market is large and varied. Whether you are aiming for local magazines, religious magazines, national publications, or specific trade magazines, you must learn how to study and understand them, what they are wanting from writers, and how to gear your ideas to fit their style and readership.

Most magazines have sections and columns that reflect the type of articles they want, their tone, and the readers you will be addressing. As well, advertising inside magazines will tell you a lot about the type of reader you are reaching.

When studying potential magazine markets, make a list of the magazines you want to approach (you may first want to begin with an area that you feel you have an expertise or interest in). Study several months’ issues to get a feel for what they’ve done, what they haven’t done, and how they’ve done it. Next label the articles as to their types: Profile, How-to, List article, Informational piece, Personal experience, Essay, and so on.

Learning to be a magazine ‘reader’ as a writer will give you more insight into selling to magazines than just reading guidelines or market information


Have you ever thought about your writing goals? I have often gone pell-mell into writing whatever comes along and though it’s gotten me far in many ways, I’m now ready to be specific about my goals.

Do you have specific magazines you’d like to break into? Do you have financial goals with your writing?

If you’ve never written down your goals, try doing it. It doesn’t mean you are stuck with those forever, but challenge yourself to write realistic ones that are attainable, as well as those dreams you hope might happen but are afraid to say it aloud.

Setting marketing goals doesn’t mean you have moved from writer to agent, it just means that you are serious about getting your work in front of a magazine editor.

Set weekly goals, monthly goals, and long-term goals. These are for yourself. You might share them with us or a writing buddy, but the only one that really matters in understanding, making, and accomplishing them is yourself.

Lastly, don’t view goals that aren’t reached as failures, but as opportunities. Time has a way of changing trends, editors, publishing houses, your editing and rewriting abilities, and so on. Projects may go unpublished and suddenly, the time is right and you find the perfect opportunity and wham! That goal you set months or years earlier has become reality.

Make a contract to yourself that you will work at keeping your goals. They are YOUR goals. You made them because you wanted them. If you meet them or chuck them out the window, it affects no one but yourself.


Do you wonder if you have enough good ideas? Make a list of what you know and would like to know. Your hates and loves. Your areas of expertise and those of your family and friends. What are recent personal experiences you’ve gone through that might help or inform others? What is an issue you feel strongly about? What are your collections or hobbies.

Ideas are everywhere. Once you start listing them, you may find you have more ideas than time, which isn’t a bad problem.


Too often, new writers let the fear of writing a query letter keep them from sending out their good ideas. Instead, they don’t send them, or spend time writing full articles and sending them only to the magazines who will luck at manuscripts. First, understand why learning to write a query letter is important.

The purpose of your query letter is to sell an ‘idea.’ Most of the time, you will be sending a query letter for an unwritten manuscript, for an idea you hope the editor will want to read. Editors know what their magazine needs are and what ideas they will use. No matter how much you study, you won’t know what’s on that editor’s mind at the time you send your manuscript. Rather, with a query, you are sending an idea.

The editor may love the sound of the idea and ask you to submit a manuscript on speculation (meaning, they aren’t promising to buy it, only consider it). Or, they may like the idea, but want a different slant. Or, they may not like the piece and prefer something else based on the experience you mentioned in your query.

Don’t be afraid to take the time to study how to write queries. Check out http://www.writing-world.com. There are several excellent articles on writing queries.


Now that you’ve studied magazines, begun setting goals, and studied how to write a query letter, it’s time to think about your marketing approaches. Do you go through your writer’s market lists or guidelines and start at the A’s? Do you pick your favorite and send them something?

Look at your notes from your studies and your list of ideas. Like a great relationship, finding the right article or story to go with the right magazine may take some time, but your chances of putting together the perfect match shouldn’t be rushed into.

Begin pairing your ideas with publications and before long, you’ll be raring to start sending out those queries, stories, and essays.

Are you unpublished? Face your fears, make a plan, and prepare your writing and marketing knowledge. The way to publication in magazines isn’t frightening, once you know where to begin.

© Copyright 2003, Kathryn Lay

Kathryn Lay is the author of 26 books for children, over 2000 articles, essays and stories for children and adults and the book from AWOC.COM Publishing, The Organized Writer is a Selling Writer. Check out her website at www.kathrynlay.com and email through rlay15@aol.com

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