5 Steps to Discover What a Publication Will Pay

Carol Tice

I’ve gotten this question from several writers recently:

“I’m researching a new publication, and they seem like a fit for me. But I can’t tell what they pay, so I don’t know if it’s worth the time to develop a query letter for them.”

That’s the rub, huh? Sometimes it’s not entirely obvious what a particular market might pay you.

On the bright side, it’s not all that hard to find out. But you have to be willing to do a little sleuthing.

Before you start though, you need to do one thing: Get the right attitude.

If your attitude is “If I don’t see the answer on their website in the first five minutes of looking, then I give up,” your choices of potential markets to pitch are going to be pretty limited.

Take the attitude that this is a mystery you need to solve, and you’re going to keep going until you solve it. Period.

Once you’ve got your head on straight, you’re ready to do some research and find out what this publication pays.

Here are five ways I often use to track down pay rates at a new publication:

  1. Use The Writer’s Market — they have a 1-4 dollar-sign system that gives you at least a rough idea if it’s a low or high-paying market. The online edition has a growing stable of freshly updated online markets, too.
  2. Ask around on writer forums on LinkedIn, on regional writer forums, or writing niche forums — or of course on Freelance Writers Den — if anyone has written for the publication. If you don’t participate in any writing forums, do some research and join a few — they are invaluable for situations like this.
  3. Do some Google searches on “magazine name” and “pays” and/or “sucks” or “writer’s guidelines” and see if you pick up anyone complaining about them, or discussing their rates.
  4. Get the media kit. Here’s one thing almost all publications have, both online and off — a media kit. It contains information intended to convince advertisers to place ads with the publication, and it’s often readily available online (if not, call and pose as a potential advertiser and they’ll send you one). Media kits are often a gold mine of info about the number of subscribers, their age, average income, job title, purchasing power, and so on. You can make a good bet that if there’s a big or well-heeled subscriber base, pay will usually be pretty decent.
  5. Pick up the phone. If you can scare up a phone number, simply call the publication. Ask for editorial. See if you can get a receptionist, or an editor, on the line. You might request writer’s guidelines, which will usually give you a pay range. Or just ask what rates are like. Short of that, send a quick email request for writer’s guidelines and pay rates.

How do you find out what publications pay? Leave a comment and add to my list of tactics.


  1. NextGen Writer

    “pose as a potential advertiser ” that’s a smart way to get a media kit 😉

  2. Tony Scott

    Thanks for these valuable tips! As a writer, I dream of getting published and earn while doing it. By following these tips, I know I can’t go wrong.

  3. Carrie Schmeck

    One of the easiest ways to discover what a publication pays is to ask.

    I recently wrote to an editor and said something like: I’ve been looking at your publication and have a few ideas I think might fit. Before I spend too much time on them, I thought I’d ask about your standard writers’ rates.

    The editor wrote back with her range. I sent my idea and she offered me the top end of the range. I suspect it was because I approached her with a professional expectation.

    • Carol Tice

      Great story!

      As I talk to writers in the Den, I get that there’s just so much fear around simply asking questions. That you’ll be seen as stupid or an amateur if you ask something. But it’s really the opposite — make a simple, professional inquiry and you could end up with a nice gig out of it.

      I love that you said you had SEVERAL ideas. To me that is really big. As opposed to “I have an idea.” Editors love writers with many ideas that they can come back to for regular assignments.

    • Nicky

      Carry’s query letter regarding pay rates for publications, that is excellent way to word it!

  4. Ruth - Freelance Writing Blog

    This is fascinating to me – I haven’t done magazine writing for a long time, and when I did, I relied entirely on The Writer’s Market (printed version). But compared to the work I do now, it does seem that editorial/magazine writing is much more ‘fixed’ in its pay scale. You have to be a bit of a sleuth even as a freelance writer working in the corporate sector, mind you, so it’s not altogether different.

  5. Jennifer Roland

    Never be afraid to ask questions. Carol told me that in the Freelance Writer’s Den forums, and asking the editor what she actually wanted saved me a lot of worry and confusion. I am applying that advice to all of the sticky freelancing questions I come up with. Thanks!

    • Carol Tice

      Sure beats guessing and wondering, doesn’t it?

  6. Cathie Ericson

    Love the advice to search “xxx” and “sucks”. You are so right! I bet that writers are more apt to talk about the very poor opportunities than the best ones and that is great information to have. I am very much enjoying this blog; thank you for your support to novice and experienced freelancers alike.


    • Carol Tice

      You’d be surprised how many walmartsucks.com-type sites there are out there, not to mention stray blog comments about various markets that you might turn up!

  7. Diane Bucka

    Perfect that this should arrive today. I had sent a query to Environmental Leader
    and they are interested, wanted me to expand, and offered me the opportunity to be a regular columnist. However, I’m not interested in a regular commitment to work for free, even if it’s a widely-recognized publication in my niche. I’m going to try your suggestions, but if anyone KNOWS if they pay and how much, please let me know!

    • Carol Tice

      Knows if who pays? Sounds like you already found out this publication doesn’t.
      And yes, definitely no to publications that would like you to be a regular free columnist!

      • Diane Bucka

        Thanks, but I don’t really know, just kind of guess based on the huge corral of top-shelf industry experts they have listed as columnists: http://www.environmentalleader.com/guest-columnists/a-e/
        It’s hard for me to imagine that these people worry about getting paid for an article (although I certainly do!), but I just don’t know. I’m going to sleuth it out tomorrow.

  8. Nicky

    what do you do when you ask and the money is below the hours it takes to write it? Not 5c a word awful but not what I would spend working on it. i know we’re supposed to value our time but I’m just starting out and I figure get some more samples for local publications then I can approach bigger targets that pay better?

    • Carol Tice

      When you’re starting out, you need to make decisions about whether you should do an assignment just because you need that clip in your portfolio. At the very early stage, pay is almost irrelevant. But only at the VERY beginning.

      Local publication samples can definitely help you to get bigger publications later…just remember to think big and pitch up fairly quickly.

  9. edmond0925

    Wouldn’t it be better to ask the publication itself? Or they don’t answer those types of question?

    • Carol Tice

      That IS one of the points, Edmond!

  10. Karen

    I subscribe to several writers’ newsletters that do the research for you and highlight paying markets (with details of pay rates and sometimes payment schedules) in every issue. C Hope Clark’s Funds for Writers is my favorite for general markets and the majority of my travel pieces have been placed in markets I found through The Travel Writers Life newsletter.

  11. Pinar Tarhan

    This is one big problem for me. Not all publicaitons openly indicate their rates, and sometimes even a good research on google doesn’t help! I was wondering if it is OK to ask them openly through email. This helps a lot!

    (So many publications to learn the rates of! 🙂 )

  12. isabella

    Great post! the tips and advice explains it all. Learned several things here! Thanks for sharing this post!

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