Want to write for magazines?
Itâ€™s the dream for a lot of freelance writers.
Maybe youâ€™ve got your sights set on getting published in a glossy consumer magazine with millions of readers.
You read every issue. You study the headlines, writing style, and topics. And you think about story ideas for your dream magazineâ€¦a lot.
Thatâ€™s a start. But how do you turn your story ideas into an assignment with a contract, your byline in a popular magazine, and a check in the mail?
One freelance writer took the challenge to get published in AARP: The Magazineâ€¦a highly-competitive niche magazine that pays $1/word.
At first she didnâ€™t see a clear path to break in. But with a little effort, she discovered a strategy to write for magazines that really works, whether you’re just starting out or a pro.
Want to steal her idea to break into your dream pub? Hereâ€™s what you need to know:
Meet freelance writer Willi Morris
Willi Morris wasn’t always nabbing major magazine assignments. But she is now. She’s been writing for a living for more than a decade as an editorial assistant, journalist, and freelancer.
When she set her sights on writing forÂ AARP: The Magazine, she decided nothing was going to stop her from landing an assignment. If you want to write for magazines,” says Willi, “here’s the secret. Be persistent.”
We caught up with Willi Morris on a recent Freelance Writers Den podcast to learn more about how she landed that dream assignment and what it’s like to write for magazines.
Q: How did you get into magazine writing?
A: I’ve been writing off and on since I was in college. I got my degree in journalism, and I was a journalist for a few years. I left the industry about 10 years ago, because I knew it was on a decline.
Then about six years ago, I moved to Alabama, andÂ kind of fell back into writing with regional magazine. The editor’s encouragement really helped me do more freelancing. And Carol’s blog was a constant source of motivation to keep going.”
Q: What type of magazine writing do you like the most?
A:Â I enjoy doing feature profiles, because I love interviewingÂ people. It’s interesting getting to know them.Â Right now, Iâ€™m trying to move towards doing more long-form content like caseÂ studies, which takes interviewing skills.
Q: What made you decide to pitch AARP?
A:Â Well, you know, Wikipedia was my friend one day. So I decide, “Hey, letâ€™s check out magazine circulation by numbers.”Â And I was kind of surprised that it was AARP.Â I realized it has a huge audience. I had no idea how I was going to be able to break into the magazine. But itÂ kind of became a goalÂ of mine for several years.
Q: What was your first step to breaking into AARP?
A:Â When I checked up on an editor I worked with from a couple years ago, I realized she was working for AARP. So I sent her an InMail: “You’re working for AARP now. That sounds cool. What are you doing?” And that’s pretty much how it started. It feels like a fluke, but reaching out to her like that was really more intentional.
I only interacted with her a couple of times over a few months.Â And very randomly,Â I got a voicemail saying: â€œHi, this is so-and-so from AARP. I want to talk toÂ you about what weâ€™re working on next.â€ I was aghast. I had no idea she even remembered that I emailed her.”
Q: What kind of story ideas did you pitch AARP?
A:Â I emailed her a lot of traditional pitches after that, like how to be a leader of black millennials, mental health topics, social media. Very reported assignments.
And then she came to me about doing personal essays for women of color between 35 to 45 years old.
Q: What do you think about accountability partners for writers?
A:Â My accountability partner, Ayelet Weisz, used to be a Den member and moderator. I don’t think I would have gotten the AARP gig without her. I wouldn’t have spend so as much time on LinkedIn marketing, but that’s what she was pushing me to do.
Without that, I probably wouldn’t have noticed that the editor I worked with in 2013 had moved magazines. It was really because of her encouragement that I was able to get the assignment.
Q: If you want to write for magazines like AARP, what advice can you give other freelancers?
A:Â Persistence is everything. Even if you feel like youâ€™re being a little bit annoying by following up on a pitch, you
probably arenâ€™t. Just be really brief: â€œHey, I wanted to see what youâ€™re up to.â€ Be brief, kind, and persistent. That means a lot to editors.”
If you’re afraid to send a pitch, do it anyways. I’ve been doing this for a really long time, and you never stop being scared. It’s part of the process.
Be a writer, not a waiter
If you’ve been sitting on a solid idea for a magazine article, for days, weeks, months, or maybe even years, what are you waiting for. Write that query letter. Send it off. Repeat the process until you’ve landed an assignment. And keep going until you get a “yes” from your dream pub. Be a writer, not a waiter. That’s the secret to freelance success.
Want to write for magazines?Â Let’s discuss in the comments below.
Evan JensenÂ is the blog editor for Make a Living Writing. When heâ€™s not on a writing deadline or catching up on emails, heâ€™s training to run another 100-mile ultra-marathon.