Mailbag: How Can a Writer Find Publications?

Carol Tice

How Can a Writer Find Publications?Today I’m back in my role as the Dear Abby of freelance writers, as we turn to a question from Marina DelVecchio. She read my recent post on querying without experiencing rejection, and commented:

This was a great post, especially since I belong in your #2 category [getting emotionally attached to a single query]. Is there a specific source that you can recommend that lists consumer magazine and online mags to query? How does one go about finding these sources?

Carol, I am overwhelmed with the internet online mags and other internet sources out there. I write articles and submit them to Harper’s, Ms., Brain-Child, and such, but with no luck. I have about seven articles that I have written on motherhood and women’s empowerment, but have no idea how to begin to find sources interested enough to query them.

I just got an agent for my book, but [freelance writing] is a venue I am really interested in breaking into, but don’t know how. It was easier, I think, when it was just print mags and newspapers. Now there are too many for me to count…

OK, lotsa thoughts here about how to break into more paying publication markets:

Is there a specific, single place to find consumer and online magazines? No. Especially online magazines, which are springing up like weeds in May. But there are several places that form a good starting point. The Writer’s Market lists hundreds and hundreds of magazines (get it with online support for more useful ways to slice their data).

Wooden Horse has a magazine database and a newsletter that lists editorial changes weekly, which I find is a great way to discover new magazines and a new contact. Often, new editors seem more approachable and open to new writers, so I consider that information gold. MediaBistro’s paid level gives you access to about 300 “how to pitch” guides with info on various magazines. The Writer’s Market online also has a daily column of updates and announcements about new magazine launches.

You can also Google the Internet for various compendiums of magazines. Generally, it’s research, research, research. When you find an interesting publication, Google “editor [publication name],” or do that search on LinkedIn, and see what you can find. Ask your writers’ forums and groups if they know anything. Reach out on Twitter. Beat every bush.

To me, it sounds like your real problem isn’t finding magazines. Your problem is overwhelm. Yes, there are a million magazines in the naked city, but which ones should you be trying? That’s the real question.

Since you just landed a book agent, we’re going to assume that you write well. So that’s not the problem. A few possibilities suggest themselves to me:

You’re aiming too high. I don’t know Brain-Child, but the other two publications you mention are very highly regarded national magazines. You might try a regional or smaller-circulation equivalent type magazine instead as a starting point. In general, it’s difficult to crack major national magazines cold, without a track record of having written for similar local, regional, or national smaller publications of a similar type.

It’s sort of a farm system out there, just like any other industry. You start at a smaller place and work your way up the ladder. There are exceptions, but that’s generally how it works. Once you have a published book these entrees will get easier, but until then think of perhaps a slightly lower target which could give you a great clip with which to query the big guns.

You’re sending articles instead of queries. You say you want to know more magazines to query, but then you go on to say you have already written seven articles and want to send them out. I very strongly recommend against sending finished articles to markets that are new for you. As you’re finding out, it almost never works. You just don’t know enough about that editor’s needs as a new freelancer to hit the home run needed to place an article cold. So send succinct, one-page queries.

You need to beef up your query skills. If you aren’t getting responses from your queries, read a book about how to write killer queries (there’s a couple in the Amazon toolbar at right). This post on WM Freelance Writers Connection about why editors aren’t responding to your queries may also help. Queries are really an art form unto themselves, and taking a little time to learn the craft can pay off big. For instance, I recently got $6,000 of articles assigned off a single query letter I sent. Really — it’s worth learning how to do this!

You’re only thinking big consumer mags. When you limit yourself to the big-circulation, known-name consumer mags, you’re only looking at a small part of the overall publication pie. There are trade publications, company magazines, union and professional organization magazines. Look at other types of publications. Often, building some good clips in another channel can help build your credibility for jumping to the major consumer mags.

You need a tighter niche focus. One way to keep yourself from going crazy is to pick one niche area and query publications in that niche only. I think this could help you. From your blog it appears that feminist issues are core to your being, so you might work the Mother Jones/Utne Reader/Ms/HipMama type vein. Develop a list of a dozen or more appropriate publications at various pay and circulation levels and try them. If that doesn’t work, try another niche. It’s just trial and error as you see where the publications universe will respond to you.

Finally, I have to disagree that it was easier back when there were only print pubs. I think now is the golden age for getting published! More magazines online mean more opportunities for freelance writers to break in. And many of those online mags are quickly acquiring solid credibility and provide great clips.

Anyone else have tips for Marina? Please leave them in the comments below.

Have a question you want answered about how to earn more from your writing? Tell us that, too. If it’s of general interest to readers, I will try to answer it here on the blog.

Join my freelance writer community: Freelance Writers Den

 

16 Comments

  1. Carol Tice

    Hi Steven —

    I hate to discourage people from shooting for the stars, and it's not that new writers shouldn't try the big pubs…but I think the strategy that's usually more productive is looking at smaller-circulation or more regional publications first. They can provide the strong clips you need to succeed in pitching big-circulation national mags. I know there's the occasional moonshot that happens where somebody pitches Vogue or McCall's or something out of the blue and gets that $2000 assignment. But it's really rare.

    I see a syndrome where people pitch big, get discouraged, and give up. Better to me to get a few articles in Seattle's Child and use them to pave the way to writing for Parents, for example. Just a more tried-and-true way to make it happen.

    Thanks for commenting!

  2. Steven H

    "You’re aiming too high. I don’t know Brain-Child, but the other two publications you mention are very highly regarded national magazines. You might try a regional or smaller-circulation equivalent type magazine instead as a starting point. In general, it’s difficult to crack major national magazines cold, without a track record of having written for similar local, regional, or national smaller publications of a similar type."

    This is going to stick with me. Need to know how to walk before you can run, right?

    Great advice for aspiring writers!

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