Pitch Accepted: The Newbie Strategy That Landed a Major Magazine Assignment


Get a major magazine assignment with no experience. Makealivingwriting.com

Can you land a freelance magazine assignment without any clips?

If you’re new to freelancing and don’t have a lot of writing experience, it’s easy to think you can’t.

But it’s just not true.

A couple years ago, I started at ground zero. I was pitching local newspapers and charity organizations. And I wasn’t getting anywhere. Not even low-paying gigs or pro bono work.

How was I ever going to land a magazine assignment without any clips?

Fortunately, Carol set me straight. “You need to learn how to pitch successfully,” she said.

Instead of chasing dead-end clients, I decided to go big and pitch a major magazine — the kind of magazine that has a massive readership, millions in ad revenue, and a freelance budget that pays pro rates.

And it worked. Pitch accepted.

Want to know how I did it? Here’s how you can land a major magazine assignment without any clips or experience.

Magazine markets for newbies

I stumbled across a few nuggets of information about magazine writing while I was reading Writer’s Market about how to develop story ideas and write query letters.

Some major magazines work with new writers. For example, I found out that The Atlantic works with new writers and assigns 50 percent of its content to freelancers.

Want to write for a popular magazine? Start here:

  • Study Writer’s Market. If you want to write for a major magazine, this is the best place to find information on what editors are looking for, guidelines, pay rates, and where freelancers fit in.
  • Hint: Save yourself some time, and use the online version that makes it easy to search for magazines in your niche that pay the best rates.

Was I convinced I could land a magazine assignment with The Atlantic, after reading the guidelines? No.

Finding a paying market was just the beginning of the process.

Do your homework

There was one other interesting fact I discovered about The Atlantic. This magazine likes to feature articles about Donald Trump. Just about every magazine has recurring topics and themes they like to cover, and you can find out what they are by doing your homework.

I studied the magazine. I read a ton of back issues and looked for articles on Donald Trump. I even studied The Atlantic’s website and FAQs, to understand it’s style, voice, and audience.

And a story idea with a fresh angle on the POTUS, and his success in business and real estate started to emerge.

  • Got an article idea for a magazine? Before you start writing your pitch, take the time to really get to know the magazine. Look at things like sentence structure, word count, sources, style, voice, graphics, and photos. This step will help you get into the mind of the editor, think like a reader, and refine your idea.

Dig into research

Before I could send a query letter to the editor of The Atlantic, I needed to do some research on my topic. So I mapped out a timeline of Donald Trump’s successes and failures and identified key sources who influenced his decisions.

  • You don’t need to know everything on a topic to write a pitch and land a magazine assignment. But it’s a mistake a lot of new writers make, including myself. You just need to know enough to convince an editor you have a good idea. Do your research, find expert sources, and move on to writing your pitch.

Write a query letter

With enough research on my topic, I sat down to write a query letter for The Atlantic. But I kept getting stuck on a problem that stops a lot of newbie freelancers from moving forward.

Editors receive dozens of queries and pitches each day. Hundreds each week. And for a magazine like The Atlantic, there might be just 100 magazine assignments for freelancers commissioned in a year.

  • How do you make your query letter stand out? There’s more than one way to do this. As a newbie writer, I didn’t have any successful query letters of my own that I could model, so I:
    • Combed through advice on writing queries in Writer’s Market
    • Read a book called How to Sell Every Magazine Article You Write
    • Studied resources in the Freelance Writers Den

And after a lot of self-doubt, editing, and rewriting, I submitted the following pitch to News Desk Editor Scott Stossel at The Atlantic:

Dear Mr. Stossel:

Would you be interested in an article on how President Trump reinvented himself at the age of 44 and how this critical period in his life led to his decision to ultimately seek the presidency?

The article will also cover the development of many of his highly personalized approaches to issues as well as his distinctive mannerisms.

This juicy article will be a great fit for your readers especially because of the wild, sometimes funny, sometimes sad but totally unique journey the author entails.

In December 1990 Trump was living a lavish life in Atlantic City. He was just starting to feel like he was making money with his casinos and many businesses when things turned sour and life threw him headfirst into a huge crisis. Having done what his father and family had expected of him for 30 years, and still ending up bankrupt, Trump decided to do his own thing.

The article covers meaningful aspects of his life during this eventful period, which are both sad and humorous.

Among the many episodes covered are:

– Trump reinvents himself after massive infusion of loans to keep his New York real estate business from failing

– Other influences from family members and associates including Ed Koch, Fred Trump and Roy Cohn

– How he developed a conviction he could become president based on his business success

– Early plans to develop his political background from his father and Roy Cohn

This article will comprehensively explain the reasons behind his business decision to reinvent his apartment lease policies and how this major change from his father’s business practices affected his plans for the rest of his life, including his drive to run for the presidency.

Comments and quotes from his peers, including Ed Koch, will spice the article. A photo section will add a pictorial dimension.

My background includes freelance journalist and patent paralegal.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Douglas Fitzpatrick

Your first magazine assignment

A few days later, I heard back from Scott. My query seemed to come at the perfect time. And I scored my first paid assignment for a major magazine. Kind of crazy.

Here’s what I learned. You don’t need a pile of clips or years of experience to land your first magazine assignment. You just need to get started.

Work through the process to identify a market, study the magazine, research a topic for a story idea, and write a query letter. That’s what pro writers do, and it’s not really any different if you’re just beginning.

The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll be signing your first contract.

Need help landing your first magazine assignment? Let’s discuss in the comments below.

Douglas Fitzpatrick is a freelance writer based in Dallas, Texas.


  1. Joel Monkarsh

    I’m one of the overworked, underpaid, refugees from the USA in South Korea. In a sense, I have more tutoring work than need, but I would love to do something other than tutoring online, mostly through Zoom, and dealing with in-person students on weekends. While I might write a how to do it books on ESL teaching, I wonder if there is a market for articles for practical tips on stress-free tutoring while living overseas, so I can focus on writing and editing rather accumulating more Zoom hours?

  2. Simeon Olagoke Awopetu

    I will be interested in knowing more about Query Letters and landing my first freelance writing article in a magazine.

    • Angie Mansfield

      Hi, Simeon – Lots of good resources for beginning freelance writers on this page. You can also check out all of the posts about query writing. Best of luck!

  3. TerryC

    Douglas, you mentioned a photo section. Did you supply the photos or did the magazine? If you supplied them, how did you acquire them? Did you have to pursue permission or pay for rights from other sources? Did you have the interview sources lined up in advance as current interviews, or did you borrow their words from other publications with attribution, with permissions, etc? Very interested in the mechanics behind the information acquisition. Thanks. This article is both encouraging and filled with quality tips.

    • Carol Tice

      Not sure if Douglas will see this as this is an older post, Terry… but ‘borrowing’ words from other publications is not OK. If you sought ‘permissions’ they would say no, likely. We get paid as journalists for unique information, not borrowing from others’ work. I find this is a common confusion with longtime academics/students, who are used to being able to cite paragraph after paragraph from previous written sources.

      Magazines’ policies on photos vary from publication to publication, you just ask what their requirements are. For instance, I’m writing for the Superlawyers trade magazines, and they just ask that reporters ask their profile subjects for a few photos for possible use. I’ve also shot photos and been paid extra for them, but these days many magazines just have a stock-photo account with istock or somewhere and a designer at the paper chooses images. Just depends.

      You might have sources lined up or even pre-interviewed to quote from IN your pitch, or seek them after you get the assignment, depending.

      Hope this helps!

    • TerryC

      Carol, it does help. The reason I asked about “borrowing “—perhaps I should have said “linking” or “paraphrasing”—was Douglas mentioned words from Ed Koch in his pitch.

      Ed Koch died in 2013, and I was under the impression that Douglas’ article was much more recent. I have not seen the article itself and didn’t see a link to it.

      Given the number of linked references I see in journalistic articles online, I am asking about that protocol.

      A development in journalism since my long-ago time as a reporter and editor has been the extensive use by one magazine or paper to say “as reported by X,” where X is another media source. This includes the big ones, such as NYT, WaPo, and The Atlantic.

      I hope that clarifies the intent of my question better. I see these occurrences in both straight reporting and commentary articles.

    • Carol Tice

      Well, there are many publications that won’t accept that sort of secondary reporting. You definitely see a ton of that on blogs, though. #lazy

    • TerryC

      Thanks, Carol. As I noted, I see it being done with the big names now. However, it is distinctly different with them than what I see on blogs (the “lazy” you refer to). There, they are building an ongoing/developing story off each other, noting who broke the story or some aspect of it, then discussing the follow up investigation from it.

      Again, I will have to try to find Douglas’ article I guess to see the approach he used on the “evidence” of influences on Trump’s life. Some types of journalism do have to rely on academic-style resources if it is appropriate to the story (hard to interview the dead, but easier to interview a living expert on the dead, of course).

      Thank you for your feedback, and I think one good tip encased in it is to find out how specific publications or editors want references to other works handled when it is appropriate to the story. They same is true of more professional-level blogs. Some use external links and others forbid them.

      As always, I find this site, you, and your contributors to be a wealth of good info!

  4. Diane Young

    Thanks for sharing Douglas Fitzpatrick’s experience with The Atlantic. I’ve always enjoyed reading the magazine but felt it was a bit too, er, literary for my style of writing. Like The New Yorker, minus the wonderful cartoons. Plus, I couldn’t ever think of an idea to pitch them that I thought had a chance. Back in the last century, I sold feature articles to three dailies. Hmm. If Douglas could write a great pitch but no clips and still get an assignment, really? why couldn’t I? This has been a great realization! I’m headed for my Writers’ Market. Tomorrow I’m off to the library to read their back issues. I just might have thought of an idea too. Thanks again, Carol and Douglas!

  5. Mary

    This is inspiring indeed. I’m going to brush up my nerves for sure.


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