How to target small specialty magazines
A resourceful writer offers seven strategies for making these publications pay off
Published: April 6, 2010
|I’m a relative newcomer to the freelance-writing field, yet in the 27 months I’ve been writing, I’ve had 380 articles accepted for publication in more than 110 magazines, newspapers and e-zines. That’s an average of 14 articles each month. I hasten to add that these are not 380 different articles—many of the stories have been re-printed several times as I resell them again and again to other magazines. But to freelancers, the overall total is what counts because a sale is a sale. |
Although I’ve been published in plenty of large-circulation national and international magazines in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand, most of the publications have been specialty magazines. Granted, the paychecks aren’t big, like the $1,000-plus assignments you dream of from the top-shelf magazines, but by writing for smaller specialty magazines you can usually get several paychecks for each article, ranging from $100 to $600 apiece.
When I pitch a story, I’ve had a 95 percent chance an editor somewhere will pick it up—only a handful have been rejected. These are good odds. You have to develop a knack—and a system—for dreaming up an abundance of unique story ideas and then targeting them to specialty magazines. These seven ideas can help:
1. Diversify the magazine genres you write for. To make a living as a freelancer, or to get published more, you’ll need to write in several different fields. Get out of your comfort zone of writing the same old articles for the same old magazines. Diversify your genres and you’ll exponentially increase your pool of ideas and thus your publishing potential. I’ve been in specialty magazines on travel, military vehicles and aircraft, military history, art, communications, health, fitness, running, triathlons, writing and film festivals.
Writing in a variety of genres has the added benefit of keeping you from getting bored with one subject. Aim to establish yourself as a writer in at least five areas that fascinate you, and strive to double that number as your writing improves. After you’ve been published a few times, you’ll gain confidence and start branching out into other areas.
What are your passions? Write down five different areas that interest you. Select only topics that excite you, or your writing will be flat and lifeless.
2. Pitch story ideas by combining your interests and hobbies with travel. Writing about your interests is what keeps freelance writers mo-tivated and in the game. It’s fun sharing your knowledge and experiences about places you’ve enjoyed with other people. Knowing that thousands of people will read my travel articles (and I hope) want to go to these places is one of the most rewarding things about travel writing.
Here’s an example of how I combined my interest in all things military with travel. While living in Belgium, I visited the National Military Museum of Luxembourg, took notes and photos, and interviewed the curator. I sold a story about the vehicles there to two U.K. military-vehicle magazines and one in the U.S. Total earned from the museum trip: $525. And I’ve done this time after time.
From your “passion list,” name the places you’ve been where you followed these interests. Was it a dog show, a vintage-car show, a living-history reenactment? Now find some specialty magazines on your topic and fire off a good query about what you saw. Great sources for your hunt include WriterMag.com, Writer’s Market: UK & Ireland, The Writer’s Handbook 2010 (U.K.), Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook 2010 and The International Directory of Little Magazines & Small Presses (a gold mine!).
3. Combine your knowledge and education to pitch to specialist magazines. Use your education to help dream up stories in your specialty area. I’m an exercise physiologist by trade and teach exercise science in Seattle. I constantly use my education and knowledge to come up with dozens of fitness- and exercise-related ideas that have sold to specialty magazines.
From my students, for example, I learned that overtraining is a big problem with athletes in all endurance sports and at all levels. I wrote a nice article about overtraining and how to prevent it, and sold it to eight running, triathlon and fitness magazines in the U.S., Scotland and Australia for a total of $1,680. I’ve done this sort of thing repeatedly.
Can you think of any story ideas that are marketable across genres? You’ll be surprised at how many can be sold in this manner with a little tweaking.
4. Pitch your stories to other specialist magazines outside your field of expertise. With small changes to your story and some creative marketing, it’s possible to resell the same article to specialty magazines in other fields. Here’s one of my best examples. Last summer, I wrote an article about how to protect your skin from sun damage. Can you imagine the potential for selling this story across specialist genres? What athletes suffer from skin damage? Well, runners, triathletes, golfers, kiteboarders, sailors and tennis players, to name a few. This article showed me the power of selecting topics that can be sold across genres. I sold this particular piece to 10 different specialist sports magazines, making $1,530 from just one of the articles.|
A year ago, the editor of a regional magazine contracted me to write an article about a resort on San Juan Island in Washington state that hosts 85 weddings each year, a kind of wedding mecca for the Pacific Northwest. After that article was published, I wondered who else might be interested in an article about a coastal resort on an island. I pitched it to yachting magazines and two of them took the article. Then I pitched it to another regional travel magazine, and it bought the piece, too. So far I’ve made $1,000 from that one article, and I’m still trying to sell it.
5. Pitch your story to specialty magazines in other countries. I’m currently considering pitching the same resort story to English specialty magazines. It’s easy to sell your story across international boundaries, and it’s one of the best ways to multiply your income from one story.
The English, for example, are just as curious about the U.S. as we are about them. I’ve had a U.K. magazine about military vehicles pick up my article on the tanks at the Fort Lewis Military Museum in Washington state and another piece about a military-vehicle museum in Long Beach, Calif. And travel magazines and newspapers based in England, such as The Independent Traveler, Lonely Planet Magazine, Real Travel and Wanderlust, often publish stories about traveling in America. My running and triathlon articles have sold extremely well in England.
My work has appeared in 16 U.K. specialty magazines in all. The other topics have included the top 10 beer festivals in Belgium, artillery at the battle of Waterloo, the military museums at Edinburgh Castle in Scotland, antioxidants as “super nutrients,” overtraining in triathletes, the best way to run a half-marathon, and a runner’s guide to healthy summer skin. There’s absolutely no reason why you can’t pitch magazines anywhere in the English-speaking world. What surprises me is that more freelance writers don’t do this.
6. Train yourself to constantly be on the lookout for article ideas. As you become more aware of your interests, ideas will just pop into your head. Developing this sixth sense for looking at things around you as potential story ideas is one of the most valuable skills freelancers can develop. I promise you that you’ll never look at the world in the same way again.
And don’t let other people tell you your story ideas will never sell. There are 17,000 magazines and newspapers out there, and specialist-magazine editors are screaming out for good ideas.
7. Use the bookstore, library and Internet to find ideas. I spend an inordinate amount of time browsing bookstores. Not just the magazine racks, but in the Pacific Northwest region section, since I live in Seattle. I’ll thumb through the books seeking ideas for editors of Northwest travel and lifestyle magazines.
This technique has paid off richly. Here’s a recent example. A year ago I bought the book Ghost Towns of the Pacific Northwest and found story ideas in it about some intriguing ghost towns in Washington and Oregon. After visiting the towns, taking lots of photos, and sending out some pitches, I have so far sold three ghost-town stories to regional travel/lifestyle magazines. And I’m still reselling these articles today. The return so far of $1,000 from those three sales has made my $19.95 book investment well worthwhile, to say the least.
I do the same in England every year. Researching new stories, I’ve avidly browsed bookshops—Foyles, Blackwell, Waterstone’s, Borders, the lot. All have extensive regional-book sections that I use for ideas to pitch to specialty, regional and national travel magazines.
Incidentally, regional magazines can be rewarding magazines to pitch. Editors of regional magazines by far prefer finding people in their region to write their articles because they have local insight and inside knowledge.
Knowing what not to pitch will also save you time. Look through a few recent copies of a specialty magazine before you pitch it. If it has run a few stories about a particular topic, you can assume it will be flooded with pitches for similar ideas. Savvy freelancers should instead be moving on to find something fresh.
The Internet is also a valuable tool for getting story ideas. Many times I’ve earmarked Web sites for possible future article ideas while researching another story. When I go back to look at the information, I’ll try to look at it in a different or unique way to entice editors.
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Roy Stevenson of Seattle has had more than 380 articles published on a variety of topics, including travel, art, military history, and health and fitness. Web: www.roy-stevenson.com.|
(This article appeared in the May 2010 issue of The Writer.)