Breaking into the world of freelance writing for magazines is daunting. With a little time and organization, new writers can avoid many of the common mistakes that plague their peers.
Develop an organizational system to keep track of your story ideas, queries, research, and notes. It does not need to be complicated, but it must work for your style. When you need to find the transcript from an interview, you should know exactly where to look. Create a workspace where you can find everything easily. Also, make sure to backup your work and keep hard copies of important documents.
Take time to study the markets that you are querying. Most public libraries will keep at least several months of magazine back issues. Spend some time reading the ones you want to write for. How is their magazine divided, and where would your idea best fit? Pay attention to the types of articles they print, the tone used and how long they are. You want your article to be targeted to the specific publication.
Keep for formatting simple. Use plain white paper, one-inch margins all around, and either Times New Roman or Courier for your font. It should be 12 pt. Your query letter should be structured as a basic business letter. Request submission guidelines from the magazine, and follow them even if they contradict the standard formatting. Submit in the manner the editors ask for. Even though you are a writer, this is not the arena to showcase your creativity. Keep it professional.
Query larger markets first. Many authors doubt their talent and spend far too long writing for free. If you want to make writing your business, you need to get paid for it. Try querying a national magazine if you have an idea that would fit them. You can always query local or start-up magazines later.
Read your contract carefully, and make sure to ask if there are any clauses that you have concerns about. Know exactly which rights the magazine wishes to purchase and which you retain. Many freelance writers make additional income by selling reprint rights or electronic rights to articles that magazines have purchased. As long as the magazine does not buy all rights you may be able to do this as well.
Get your article in before the deadline. This is crucial to your success. If you are consistently late with your submissions, editors are probably not going to use you for future assignments. However, if you send your articles in early (fully proofread and edited to the best of your ability), then you may find the magazine contacts you when they need a piece written.
If you have previously written for a publication and proved yourself, don't be afraid to negotiate a higher pay rate for your next piece. Far too many writers seem content to continue writing for low-paying publications or are afraid to ask for a pay increase. There are many freelancers out there who are paid $1 or more per word. Aim high!
If you are serious about pursuing freelancing as a career, I suggest picking up a copy of "Make a REAL LIVING as a Freelance Writer" by Jenna Glatzer. Glatzer is a contributing editor at Writer's Digest magazine and has written seventeen books and hundreds of articles. She explores many of the business aspects of freelance writing in remarkable detail in this book. The book deals with everything from dealing with interview subjects to communicating with your editor.
Most of all, do not take rejections personally. Every serious writer has received stacks of them. It does not mean your story isn't good or that it won't find a home somewhere. It just wasn't what that particular editor was looking for. Review your query letter to see if it could be stronger and submit the story elsewhere. Don't forget to tailor it to the new market as needed!
Remember that this is a competitive field. Consider yourself a businessperson and develop a thick skin. Good luck!