The first thing freelancers should learn about how to pitch magazine articles is how to write a query letter. I’m making the assumption that you know how to query already. If you don’t, then read some of the other posts on queries below.
You’re the great writer, so the other two pieces you need are finding a winning idea and proving there’s a need for the article.
Find a Winning Idea
When pitching an article to a magazine, the best place to start in searching out the winning idea is in the pages of the magazine. Here’s what you’re looking for:
- Topics covered. Most magazines focus on a specific subject. For instance, Writer’s Digest focuses on writing; Guns & Ammo focuses on guns and ammunition.
- Target audience. Even general interest magazines tend to serve a specific target audience. Writer’s Digest serves writers; Guns & Ammo serves gun enthusiasts; and Texas Monthly serves people living in Texas.
- Treatments. How are articles written for each magazine? Do they use lists? Interviews? Are they funny? Serious? Helpful? What titles are used for articles? By identifying how the magazine treats topics, freelancers can uncover the tone of the magazine, which helps with pitching new articles.
- Masthead. Yes, the masthead is important in pitching articles. Unless the submission guidelines say otherwise (and yes, the submission guidelines always lead the way), the managing editor is the person to pitch. However, the masthead can also help freelancers identify which sections are generally written by in-house resources. If certain sections are always handled “in house,” they’re probably going to be a tough sell regardless of how great the idea is.
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Develop Winning Ideas
Wait a second, when did we find the idea? Well, during the research above, you should have an idea of what your targeted magazine covers, who their audience is, how they treat their content, who handles what, and what has already been covered.
- Pick ideas that have NOT been covered within the past 2-3 years. Or if you want to tackle a subject that has been covered, write an objection to the previous article or refute a point or commonly held belief.
- Put thought into your proposed article title. A good title that lines up with other article titles by the magazine won’t win the day on its own, but it does make it easier for the editor to visualize your piece in the roster. Craft a title that fits.
- Connect audience to your article idea. Don’t expect editors to make natural leaps of logic. Instead, be clear and concise in connecting the dots of why the magazine’s target audience cares about your proposed article.
- Include 1 or 2 “throw away” ideas. Each query or pitch should have one main article it’s trying to sell to an editor. Getting too in depth about too many ideas can overwhelm an editor. However, it’s a good idea to always include one or two “extra” ideas on completely unique/specialized topics, because those are sometimes the ones an editor will accept while holding off on the golden idea.
Following the submission guidelines puts most freelancers in the top half of the field for pitching editors. Researching a magazine’s needs and applying that knowledge to your query will instantly put you in the final round. Do this enough, and it’s virtually impossible to not find success pitching articles.
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Here are some query letter resources: