Write for Magazines: Steal This Writer’s Strategy to Land Top Pubs

Evan Jensen

Steal This Strategy to Write for Magazines. Makealivingwriting.comWant to write for magazines?

It’s the dream for a lot of freelance writers.

Maybe you’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 magazine…a lot.

That’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 Magazine…a highly-competitive niche magazine that pays $1/word.

At first she didn’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? Here’s what you need to know:

Meet freelance writer Willi Morris

Write for Magazines: Williesha Morris

Williesha 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 for 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, and 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: I enjoy doing feature profiles, because I love interviewing people. It’s interesting getting to know them. Right now, I’m trying to move towards doing more long-form content like case studies, which takes interviewing skills.

Q: What made you decide to pitch AARP?

A: Well, you know, Wikipedia was my friend one day. So I decide, “Hey, let’s check out magazine circulation by numbers.” And I was kind of surprised that it was AARP. I realized it has a huge audience. I had no idea how I was going to be able to break into the magazine. But it kind of became a goal of mine for several years.

Q: What was your first step to breaking into AARP?

A: 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. And very randomly, I got a voicemail saying: “Hi, this is so-and-so from AARP. I want to talk to you about what we’re working on next.” 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: 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.

It’s a a good lesson that what you pitch might not be what you actually write, but can still turn into an assignment.

Q: What do you think about accountability partners for writers?

A: 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: Persistence is everything. Even if you feel like you’re being a little bit annoying by following up on a pitch, you

probably aren’t. Just be really brief: “Hey, I wanted to see what you’re up to.” 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? Let’s discuss in the comments below.

Evan Jensen is the blog editor for Make a Living Writing. When he’s not on a writing deadline or catching up on emails, he’s training to run another 100-mile ultra-marathon.

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  1. Willi Morris

    Thanks for the write-up Evan. I am specifically writing for The Sisters section of AARP.com. I’ve had one additional story fall through. I still got paid for it, though! And a recent spate of ideas didn’t quite work, but she gave me an idea of what they’re looking for. Huge help!! And I still have to follow up persistently as she is a busy editor. Once you’re “in” you still have to dig deep for good ideas.

    • Carol Tice

      Been my experience as well, Willi. Keep cranking those ideas! And asking editors what they’re looking for REALLY pays off.

      • Gillian Dance

        Thanks Willi, really motivating, what can come of bothering to make contacts on Linkdin etc. You never know where things lead. Plus persistence. Really motivating read. All the best to you.

  2. Lisa Cunningham

    I’m sorry but I don’t see how this can really help. This writer already knew the editor so it’s not like she is sharing some huge secret. I was hoping this would give a better idea of how someone with no magazine publishing experience could break in.

    I guess the only lesson here is to keep networking everywhere you go…on LinkedIn and in person.

    • Carol Tice

      Please see the other comments, Lisa.

  3. Charmaine Engelsman-Robins

    Oh “Boooo,” Carol! If the answer is “Have an in with someone who works there,” fine, but that really isn’t a realistic hint for others; that’s just dumb luck!

    • Willi

      I didn’t just have an “in.” This was a LinkedIn lead that I utilized. If I had an “in” I’d pro ask for a FT gig! Lol

      • Carol Tice

        Or a regular column, for sure!

    • Evan Jensen

      Charmaine, start building your network one contact at a time. Reach out. Follow up. Say hi. Make connections. Ask for referrals.

      It’s not really dumb luck. I like how Willi uses the word: “intentional.”

      Had a hardcore sales job once where the manager always ended every meeting with: “Go create your own luck.”

      You can do this.

    • Carol Tice

      Please see the rest of the comments, Charmaine.

  4. Lisa Cunningham

    My comment hasn’t been published yet, I guess. I submitted one.

    Your hint about having an in with an editor who already works there is not very helpful. If you haven’t already worked with that person or are new to magazines, it doesn’t help at all. This article doesn’t deliver what it promised. It’s disappointing.

    • Willi

      So let me be super clear about something- I did not have an “in.” She was a LinkedIn connection I made probably because I noticed she was an editor. I’ve never met her and we aren’t close. She also wasn’t an editor for AARP when I made the connection.

    • Willi Morris

      Alright, let me be clear. My LinkedIn message to this editor was the second time I’d ever messaged her ever. I connected with her not because of “dumb luck,” but because I’ve built a large LinkedIn base over the past several years. She was not an editor of AARP when I connected with her. I think my original contact with her had nothing to do with freelance writing at all.

      This is the second time I’ve ever been published in a magazine. Ever.

      • Willi Morris

        Maybe this needs to be clarified some, Evan and Carol. By “worked with,” I believe I responded to an open call for stories about relationships in Essence Magazine through Help a Reporter about 5 years ago. So I was actually a source for her originally. I think I connected with her on LinkedIn in hopes of writing for Essence.

      • Carol Tice

        Thanks for adding the details, Willi! And debunking the idea that some special ‘connections’ or blind luck is how professional writing careers are built.

      • Carol Tice

        Which I think brings up another SOLID point everyone should take away from this — FOLLOW YOUR EDITORS. See where they go. They turn up new places you might want to write for! I have editors I’ve written for at 3 different magazines, as they moved around.

      • Lisa Cunningham

        OK, now it makes sense. The way the story was written, it didn’t make that clear. Thank you, Willi, for clarifying it for us. Good luck with your writing!

  5. Mary Morris

    Great article, Evan, thanks!

    And thank you, Ms. Morris, for sharing this exciting success and your path to it! All the best in your future work!

    • Willi Morris

      Thanks for reading! I’ve really been trying to narrow down my next pitch in hopes she likes it!

  6. Roy

    This “tip” about having an in with an editor is not particularly useful to aspiring freelance magazine writers who want to break into top echelon publications. As pointed out in the preceding comments, that’s just dumb luck. And I would think that persistence is a commonly known and obvious attribute for success in freelancing. Willi Morris does, however, make one good point; once you’ve broken into a magazine, keep feeding that editor plenty of story ideas. I’ve used this tactic successfully to land more than 1,000 published stories in 200+ regional, national, & international magazines, newspapers, trade journals, custom & specialty pubs, in-flights, and on-boards. Providing repeat business has been a highly successful tool in my toolbox. Regards, Roy Stevenson http://www.Roy-stevenson.com

  7. Luther Cavendish

    Totally agree with Cunningham’s below comments. Also amazed writer wasn’t previously aware that AARP:The Magazine has had a very large readership among a specific demographic in the U.S. for a long time. That is rather easy to find out before pitching. I have a combined industry-specific and PR writing background. I found out recently that it very difficult to connect with a specific AARP editor. Special connections always help in many areas.

    • Carol Tice

      Think Willi WAS aware of that… but their expansion into some sub-niches and going younger is sort of the more recent development, I believe.

    • Willi Morris

      Yes, I was very aware. But yes, this newsletter launched maybe a year ago. It is quite new!

  8. Valerie Holland

    Carol, thank you for always providing articles that get us to think seriously about our freelancing! I feel like I keep adding little nuggets into my pouch of freelance knowledge…every bit helps!

    Thanks, Evan Jensen, for pursuing this interview with Willi Morris. I’ve walked away from this article feeling like, “I can do this!” It’s awesome that she was willing to share her professional journey. That’s collaboration among writers…


    • Willi Morris

      Thanks so much. It’s always a hope of mine that what I talk about motivates people!

  9. Moss Clement

    Hi Carol, Willis, & Evans,

    This interview is a gold mine in terms of motivation and inspiration. Willis landed that job because she was persistent even though it wasn’t the gig she wanted. It’s a good lesson for newbie freelance writers; don’t give up so soon, send the emails and follow up on your previous email. For example, many would say job board doesn’t work, but I land a high-paying job on Problgger just recently, writing 1000-word article for $200 and submitting 10 articles per month. What I did was I applied for the job, then copied the email address that all applicants were directed to send their applications to.
    Four days later, I send a follow-up email and a couple day more I send a second follow-up email. Next day they contacted me and the rest is history.
    So, don’t let fear hold you back from sending that email. Be persistent and you will be surprised at how successful you’ll be.

  10. Jacqueline Vanderpuye

    Hi Willi and Carol!
    This is a great interview and it sounds like the strategies you’ve used Willi, are exactly the strategies we’ve learnt in the Freelance writers bootcamp. It’s great to hear from a seasoned professional that you also get scared…gives us newbies inspiration and lots of hope.

  11. Arnita

    This is an excellent interview, and a great strategy.

    I’m a regular reader of Carol’s blog. However, upon reading Willi’s interview, I was shocked and disappointed to notice four errors:

    1) I left the industry about 10 years ago, because I new it was….,

    2) …Alabama, and kind of fell back into writing with regional magazine…,

    3) I wouldn’t have spend so as much time…,

    4) …what are you waiting for.

    I wasn’t seeking or trolling to find errors. They just caught my attention as I read the post.

    As a writer, I’ve discovered throughout my freelance writing career that I’m just turned-in when it comes to the written word, specifically when I read for understanding.

    But again, Willi’s post is very informative, with some great takeaways.

    • Willi Morris

      If you are shocked and disappointed to find errors, you haven’t been reading Carol’s blog long enough! Hahaha She’s long since noted that sometimes there will be errors or typos. Thanks for reading.

  12. Brenda

    Great behind the scenes intel. Thanks for the great article and advise to persue getting published in AARP.


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