How I Got My First National Magazine Article Gig: Step-By-Step

Carol Tice

Step upBy Tracy Hume

I’m celebrating the publication of my first national magazine article.

Writing has always played a role in the day jobs I’ve held (community relations assistant at a hospital, academic report writer and grant writer at a community college).

But most of the writing I’ve done for work has been written for a very specialized audience. And except for a short stint as a temporary guest columnist for The Denver Post in 2002, it was mostly behind-the-scenes and did not carry a byline.

In 2006 I began freelancing full-time, focusing on the areas I knew best — researching and writing specialized academic reports and grants. These are worthwhile writing niches.

However, it’s helpful to be able to show a breadth of writing abilities on your writer’s website, and bylined pieces are an essential part of a writer’s portfolio.

I wanted to get a byline in a national magazine to show potential clients I can also write shorter, consumer-oriented pieces.

Here’s how I made that happen.

Write what you know

Step 1. I’m a regular reader of Weight Watchers magazine.

I noticed each issue had a one-page article featuring different types of exercise. I love square dancing and thought to myself, “why haven’t they published an article on square dancing? They should!”

Lesson: Pitch a magazine you already read with a topic you are passionate about.

Step 2. I found an editor’s name in the masthead and Googled “editor name” “@weightwatchers.com” to find her e-mail address. Bingo!

Lesson:  Use whatever tips and tricks you can to find editor contact info. I learned the Google search tip in one of the weekly webinars offered by the Freelance Writers Den.

Step 3. I sent a query to the editor. In the query, I described my connections with both Weight Watchers and with square dancing to establish my authority on the topic.

But I didn’t have any relevant clips, so I broke one of the rules of query writing: I wrote the 400-word article and sent it in with my query.

Before I wrote it, I carefully studied the feature in the magazine for style, length, tone, subheads, etc. and then I tried to mimic it as precisely as possible.

Dear [editor’s name]:

I am a professional freelance writer, a Weight Watchers member (55 lbs lost so far, still moving toward goal), a regular reader of Weight Watchers Magazine and a square dancer. I think square dancing would be a great topic for the Magazine’s “I tried it!” feature.

I wouldn’t normally send a pre-written article (see below: ‘Square Dancing: When her partner walked out, she stepped up by committing to eating right and dancing to a new tune’), but most of my recent writing has been B2B, so I thought it would be best if I sent you an example of what I can do. I can also provide additional copy for online content, including links to national square dance sites, etc.

Thanks for your consideration!

Tracy Hume

[I attached the article draft here.]

Lesson: Sometimes the only way to show an editor you can write what they need is to go ahead and write it.

Step 4. Four weeks after my e-mail query the editor asked me to send clips. The only relevant clips I had were two essays published eleven years ago in the newspaper. I sent them. She gave me the assignment.

Lesson: If you have ever had anything published, it counts as a clip.

Write – and revise

Step 5. On May 8 the editor assigned me a 400-word piece with a due date of May 17. She gave me multiple suggestions for revising the piece I had submitted with the query. I turned it in before the deadline.

Lesson: Be prepared to write quickly and deliver on time.

Step 6. After I turned in the story it went through six weeks of revisions. For a 400-word story!

Different editors had different questions, and each editor wanted to emphasize a different aspect of the story.

After revisions were finished a fact-checker confirmed every detail. I responded quickly to each request.

Because it was a personal essay, I wanted it to be true, but if they needed to modify the voice to fit the magazine, I was cool with that.

In the end, not a single sentence I had submitted in the original query survived the rounds of revisions intact!

Lesson: Don’t be married to your words. The magazine’s editors know best what fits with the voice/tone of their publication.

Paid and published

Step 7. I submitted my invoice on July 8, after the last round of revisions was accepted. I received a check on July 15.

Lesson: Weight Watchers magazine pays on time! (Probably can’t generalize to all consumer magazines here … I’m sure each one is different.)

Step 8. My piece, “Dance Therapy,” appeared in the November/December 2013 issue of Weight Watchers magazine. (Now I’m a local celebrity — within my local Weight Watchers group, anyway. Ha!)

How do you use your passions to get great gigs? Tell us in the comments below.

Tracy Hume is a Colorado-based freelance writer who loves learning new things and writing about them. She learned to square dance last year, and this year she’s completing a certificate program in health information technology.

 

33 Comments

  1. Judith

    Tracy, Hi.
    Erika Dreifuss, in her Friday Finds for Writers linked to your piece. I liked it for its clarity and focus and the forward impetus of the writing. It was personal but not in the least self absorbed. Suggestion: How about writing a mystery series around a square dancing, weight watching grant writer? I think your writing voice would work really well in a cozy but very smart mystery series. Best of luck and thanks again for a very readable piece. J.Mesch

    • Carol Tice

      Or a hilarious send-up of the mystery genre, like Sean Platt & Johnny B Truant’s Unicorn Western series is with westerns?

  2. Kostas

    Well done on your national byline Tracy! This is a great example of getting your pitch right and also of how you do sometimes need to bend the rules!

  3. Melissa Weir

    I like your chutzpah, Tracy! You wanted to prove you could write short pieces so you went for a byline in a NATIONAL magazine, skipping right over any regional or local pubs.

    Then you didn’t have a short article clip to share so you wrote an entire article and sent it with the query! Guts!

    Congratulations to you. You’ve inspired me to submit an adoption article I’ve been noodling over for, I don’t know, months and months!

    Good luck with all your future work. Now I need to go find my December WW to check out your story!

  4. Williesha Morris

    Ooo good post. Completely forgot about Googling editor’s name with .com. Congrats on the magazine publication and thank you for sharing your tips!

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