The Cross-over

Yesterday was one of those days where I got up from this chair and walked a mile. I’d been sitting in the same spot, powering through a big project, since 7:30. At 5 pm, I was toasted. Today it’s a second pass on some of the smaller sections, and pushing forward again.

I had sent out a number of queries two weeks ago, and they’re starting to roll back in. I sent one – my first one – to Redbook. I expected nothing, so their response was a pleasant surprise. While I didn’t get the assignment, the rejection letter was full of compliments – words like “well researched idea” and “your writing samples show you have strong talent” and the best “we encourage you to submit in the future.” Thank you. I will.

It’s surprising to me because I don’t write for consumer magazines. Maybe a smattering of small clips at smaller pubs, but nothing like one of the “top guns” of magazines. But that’s probably more because my experience in trades hasn’t always been viewed as experience that can transfer. Little do they know.

I’m of the opinion if you can tackle a complex technical article, you can certainly take on a consumer article. Why? Because we’re all consumers. We all know what bugs us, what concerns us, and what we love and hate. Writing for a trade requires getting to know the audience and their industry. Writing for consumers – getting to know yourself and your neighbors.

And it’s getting to know the magazine in all cases. You have to know that magazine before you put fingers to keyboard. You have to be able to hit their voice, their style, and their audience. And here’s the key – not all women between 24 and 40 read Redbook. How much money do they earn? Are they working women or at-home parents? Do they live in the suburbs or the country? Where do they shop? What are their interests? The answers will give you your focus.

Look at the ads. Read the articles. What’s the tone? Whom do you see the magazine’s writers talking to? What is that person’s life like? What do they worry about? Cruise the Internet site. What articles are being read most, commented on most, and what ideas pop out of those comments or that article that you can capitalize on?

How do you approach magazines?

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  • Devon Ellington August 18, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    Yeah, one of the frustrations is how the "tone" of some magazines has gotten so homogenized that all the writers sound the same. Hate that, as a reader and a writer.

    Most of the magazines to which I subscribe aren't those to which I pitch — sometimes because of the flat tone, but sometimes because I like to subscribe to publications to learn stuff I don't know.

    Mostly, if I read something and think I could write something for them, I pitch a batch of ideas with some solid points so they get a good idea of what they'd get, and attach clips. Either they think it fits or it doesn't.

    I get a much higher return when I pitch multiple ideas than just one.

  • Paula August 18, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    It is odd, like Devon, I seldom pitch magazines I subscribe to. Well, there's one that I subscribed to after they bought reprints to one of my articles, but since subscribing, I've noticed the editorial content has shifted from focused and quirky to a mix of breathless gossip and PR fluff. I doubt I'll renew. That editor made my list for Follow Up Friday two times in a row for not responding to my latest query. Not a good sign.

    I like to ask people I know well about the magazines they subscribe to. What do they like about them? What do they dislike? Which subjects have been done to death? What would they like the magazine to focus on a bit more? I always ask if they have any old issues I can borrow. Then I check out the magazine's website, search the archives. One magazine might want first-person stories, another might prefer "Top Seven Ways to…." pitches. Read articles, especially those in the "department" you're targeting.

    I have a killer idea right now, and am in the process of deciding which women's magazine is the best fit. I discovered one touched on a related topic last year, and a couple magazines that don't cover the general subject.

  • Ashley August 18, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    I'm just getting into that type of freelancing and I've been doing a lot of reading on how to query magazines. I have discovered it's not as easy as the books make it sound 😉 But as they say, practice makes perfect – So I keep studying the ones I'd like to target and adjust my pitches accordingly.

  • Lori August 18, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    Devon, I've had to match that homogenized tone on a few occasions. It sucks the life out of you. There's a consistency of voice, but it begins to sound "drone-ish" and repetitive. I hate it. I think it talks down to the reader.

    Paula, I don't think I've pitched to all but two magazines I've read. I cruise the online content now and then, but I wouldn't call myself their reader, either.

    Let me know how that idea goes!

    Ashley, it becomes easier with practice. So you're smart not to give up!

  • Wendy August 19, 2010 at 1:59 am

    My biggest problem wasn't the research on the magazine, but the research on what editors look for.

    Basically, my pitches were so bad that I could have just said, "Hey, I've got a great idea for an article, but don't hire me to write it, because obviously I don't have a clue what I'm doing." My pitch had the same effect.

  • Lori August 19, 2010 at 11:57 am

    So basically you apologized for bothering them instead of showed them why you can handle it, eh? Been there myself, Wendy. 🙂

    I remember one pitch in particular that elicited an angry response from the editor. Yes, angry. He thought I was stereotyping – it wasn't my intention at all. Obviously, I had some things to learn back then about tactful approaches to sensitive subjects. 🙂

  • Paula August 19, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    The best way to kick off a query is to write the first sentence or two as the lead to your article.

    A lot of people want to start by introducing themselves. Wrong approach. Get the editor's attention before saying who you are or why you're contacting them.