If you’ve shopped in any grocery store, ever, then you’ve seen those glossy magazine covers at the checkout lines. They contain splashy blurbs that promise to help you melt away ten pounds for bikini season, supercharge your sex life or whip up a recipe that you can prepare in 30 minutes or less that contains not one but three cancer-fighting ingredients.
Each of these is a consumer magazine.
Not all consumer magazines are found in grocery stores, but they are typically found on news racks and usually target a specific demographic: teen girls (Seventeen); women in their fifties (Good Housekeeping); performance-driven men in their thirties (Men’s Fitness); and the like.
Trade magazines, though, are business publications specifically targeted for people in a certain industry: plumbers, doctors, journalists and so forth. You seldom find these magazines in stores, although you can sometimes find them in libraries.
Circulation figures are usually smaller with trades and they often aren’t as slickly produced, focusing more on the information contained within than its eye-catching appearance. That’s because these magazines are often required or at least recommended reading for professionals in a certain field and so the marketing pizazz isn’t as necessary as it is with consumer magazines fighting for readers’ attention and advertisers’ dollars.
Writing for consumer magazines sounds more glamorous, doesn’t it? So why would I be encouraging you to focus on trade magazines?
Benefits of writing for trade magazines
At writer’s conferences, busy consumer magazine editors talk about receiving hundreds of queries daily. Now, let’s say that “hundreds” equals 200 – and let’s assume that they only receive these queries, Monday through Friday. At a minimum, this editor could receive 1,000 queries per week – about 4,000 per month, 52,000 per year.
You see the problem, right?
What rises to the top: queries from writers they already use and writers with dazzling clips (published articles) in other similar magazines. So, if you’re new to the field, even your most super-duper-fantabulous idea might be ignored or outright rejected.
Meanwhile, some trade magazine editors are craving one good writer to add to their stable! Although pay varies by magazine, trade publications can be a nice source of income, especially if you become a regular contributor.
Fortunately, Writer’s Market makes it easy to find opportunities. Get a copy of the most recent version (2016 was just released) or review it at the library. Look at the trade publications section, separated by profession. Each magazine included will list payments made for an article, along with other specifics. (Full disclosure: I teach writing for the company that publishes Writer’s Market; it is, however, the generally accepted gold standard for listing markets for writers.)
Querying: consumer versus trade publications
At the risk of oversimplification, a consumer magazine query consists of a paragraph or two containing the most compelling elements of the article idea you’re proposing – an astounding statistic, a startling quote or an anecdote that grabs you by the claws and won’t let go. Then you write another paragraph or two offering more relevant specifics before sharing why you are the perfect person to write this article. If that idea doesn’t appeal, the query probably gets trashed.
With a trade magazine editor, though, you can often write a letter introducing yourself, why you are intrigued by the magazine and why you’d be a good contributor. For example, if you have a social work degree, you could query a magazine intended for social work professionals and offer to write for that magazine. Sometimes, that’s all it takes and the editor assigns you an idea that he or she has but hasn’t assigned to a writer yet. It isn’t always that easy, but it’s also not uncommon if you write an articulate, persuasive letter.
Rule of 7
Let’s say the editor likes your introductory letter and asks for an article idea. First, right-size it using the rule of 7, which takes a general idea and narrows it down seven times to get an article-sized piece. Here is a demonstration.
Level 1: I want to help writers.
Level 2: I want to help writers get published.
Level 3: I want to help writers get published in magazines.
Level 4: I want to help writers get published in magazines in an easier way.
Level 5: I will write about getting published in trade magazines.
Level 6: I will write a how-to about the benefits of publishing in trade magazines.
Level 7: Hidden Gems: Publishing in Trade Magazines
Finding and interviewing experts
If you’re writing about a field where you’ve worked, you already have contacts. Or, sometimes, the magazine editor will share contacts. If not, here is where I find experts to interview once I have a go-ahead from an editor: HelpAReporter.com and ProfNet.com. You can also use the Encyclopedia of Associations.
Before you interview the expert(s), read what you can about the expert, including previous interviews. You will then be prepared to ask questions that will elicit the unique information needed to create a fresh and original article that will please your editor.
You must check facts in your article carefully before submitting and this can include asking the experts follow up questions (make sure to ask for permission to do this at the end of each interview!). “Dr. Rodriguez, am I correct in understanding that . . .” What’s typically NOT acceptable to editors is for you to show the article to Dr. Rodriguez and ask for feedback. Don’t do this unless you have explicit permission from the editor.
Getting your next assignment
If you have a good experience with an editor and he or she seems satisfied with your work, ask for your next assignment. Early in my career, I made the mistake of writing for Editor A, then Editor B and then Editor C without following up for more work. That’s a waste of time and energy.
Check out other posts about freelance writing jobs.
By the way, are you trying to find a new freelance writing job, but running out of places to look? I can help you out! Visit The Ultimate List of Freelance Writing Jobs and 100+ Paying Websites.