8 Tips For Writing and Selling Articles to Magazines, Websites, and More

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I’m a big proponent of article writing. I think nothing bad can come from writers trying to sell content to magazines, newspapers and websites. Think about it. Selling articles ups your credentials and credibility; it gives you something awesome to talk about in the Bio section of your query letters; it generates nice paychecks; it puts you in touch with media members who can help you later; it builds your writer platform and visibility, and more.

If you want to make more money writing and expand your writing horizons, think about penning short nonfiction pieces for outlets seeking good work. It’s a simple way to do some good for your writing career. Here are 8 tips to help you get started concerning how to write for magazines.

1. Seek out the publication’s writers’ guidelines. All publications have guidelines, which, simply put, are an explanation of how writers should contact the publication in consideration of writing for them. Writers’ guidelines usually address three key things: 1) what kind of pieces the publication is looking for (including length, tone, and subject matter), 2) how to submit your work for consideration (details on formatting and whether they accept e-mail or snail mail submissions), and 3) when and how they will respond to your request.

2. You do not have to write full articles before you sell them. Selling a nonfiction article is exactly like selling a nonfiction book—you sell the item based on the concept and a “business plan” for it. Here’s how it works: You compose a one-page query letter (typically submitted via e-mail) that details what the article/column will be about, as well as your credentials as an article writer. From that point, the publication, if interested, will contract you to write the article—and only at that point will you write it. writing an article when no one has agreed to buy it is called writing on speculation (“on spec”). You can do this if you feel you need to, but you risk losing time on a project that may never see a financial return.

3. Consider what the gig has to offer. Remember that in your case, the goal is platform. The goal is getting your name and work and bio in front of people who will buy your book and become followers. if an editor asks you to write a long piece for little money, that’s not good. But are there benefits? Will you get more assignments in the future—and therefore more platform? Are you doing the editor a favor he will remember? Will writing the article put you in touch with key people you’d like to know?

4. Keep an eye out for new publications. New publications are actively seeking content to fill pages and are willing to work with newer and untested writers. I would suggest signing up to the Writer Gazette and Writer’s Market newsletters (both free) to get notices of any new publications or paying websites that pop up.

5. Write for local publications. Besides the fact that you’re befriending local media pros who can help you later, you should know that local publications have a natural affinity for local writers. People always say “write what you know”—and you know your hometown and community better than anyone else.

6. Feel free to aim high, but expect to start small. You’ll have an easier time getting things published if you pitch shorter pieces and aim for small to midsized outlets. The goal is to break in, and then use your success and accomplishments to get bigger, better assignments. That’s not to say you can’t at least aim for Real Simple or The Huffington Post—just don’t be surprised if they say no because you lack the experience. (But hey, it never hurts to ask.)

7. You can recycle ideas and get multiple paying jobs. One of the best parts about being a freelancer is your ability to recycle and reuse ideas. For example, I pitched Ohio Magazine a series that would profile historic theaters around the state that were still in operation today. After the magazine said no, I made a few changes to my query and sent it off to Pennsylvania Magazine. This time, I got a yes, and I received fourteen articles and paychecks out of it.

8. Read the publications you’re pitching. Get familiar with several target markets and read back content, either online, with a subscription, or through issues at your local library. Note the tone of articles, the sections of the magazines, and the general feel of the magazine and its advertisers. From there, you will be better off pitching the best article ideas—and you will also find out if the idea you want to share has been used recently.

You never know when a writing opportunity or assignment will lead you, so challenge yourself and stick your toe in different waters. In my case, writing that series for Pennsylvania Magazine was what drew a literary agent to sign me. From there, we’ve been able to sell 4 books together thus far. If I wouldn’t have dived into article writing and kept querying until I found some success, who knows if my writing journey would resemble what it does today.

Photo credit: Flickr, splorp.

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About Chuck Sambuchino

Chuck Sambuchino is a freelance editor of query letters, synopses, book proposals, and manuscripts. As an editor for Writer's Digest Books, he edits the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS and the CHILDREN'S WRITER'S & ILLUSTRATOR'S MARKET. His Guide to Literary Agents Blog is one of the largest blogs in publishing. His own books include the bestselling humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, which was optioned by Sony Pictures, as well as the writing guide, CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM. Connect with Chuck on Twitter or at his website.

Comments

  1. Lynn Jarrett says

    Thank you for the very informative article. It has inspired me to take the plunge and check out a few magazine writing opportunities.

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  2. says

    It has been 10 or so years since I sold my writing online…been meaning to get back to it. Thanks for the incentive and practical info.
    Patti

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  3. says

    Thanks for those freelancer newsletters in number four. It’s a bummer that newbies have to start so small (read: unpaid), but at least there’s a way to break into the business.

    And you’re right about number five. There’s a place here in Bakersfield that’ll put out anything written by a local, even if its printed on construction paper and bound with yarn.

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  4. says

    Chuck, I am a magazine junkie and love writing shorts. It’s a great way to get all those nagging ideas out of my head and onto paper. They also feed other areas of my life. You reminded me I should be sending stuff out instead of sitting on it. Thank you.

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  5. Rene` Diane Aube says

    This article is inspiring! My Institute of Children’s Literature instructor recently returned one of my assignments marked “Revise and submit to editors”. I’ve done the revising and will soon be submitting my first children’s fiction story to magazine editors. You have nudged me forward though my heart is pounding and nerves are edgy. Thank you!

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  6. says

    Thank you for this — we hear so much about social media that it can be easy to forget this way of getting our name “out there.”

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  7. Lori Owen says

    This is a terrific article. While reading it, I remembered my mother submitting stories to several women’s magazines and actually getting published. I had not really thought about submitting my stuff to magazines. I have done articles for my high school newspaper in the, will let’s not go there. But I also submitted articles in our church newsletter. This is definitely food for thought and maybe a little extra money.

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  8. says

    Thank, Chuck. I’ve been researching ways to break into the freelance business. Number five (local publications) might be the way for me to go, as several small magazines serve my greater metropolitan area. It’s a start, right?

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  9. says

    I started writing articles to build my platform and liked it, but the more journalistic style of writing took too much time away from my fiction. Add the social media to that (and mothering) and it was too much to handle. Any ideas about how to balance writing shorts with long fiction?

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  10. says

    I looked into this years ago, reading lots of freelance books and articles but sort of drifted away and got into my graphic design more. Now that I have a routine with that, I’m thinking I’d like to try my hand at freelancing and see if I can’t get my foot in the door. Thanks for the jumpstart! :)

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  11. says

    This is super exciting. I have been reviewing a lot of publishing information today and trying to figure out how it all works. Thanks bro!

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  12. Lee says

    Great, motivating list of tips and ideas – thank you! I’m forever bookmarking your articles for reference.

    Lee

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  13. says

    Great article. I am always amazed at established authors who want to bring new/aspiring authors into the business of writing and the information they provide.

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  14. Sarah Jones says

    Hi Chuck,

    Very informative post. As much as I’d love to have some articles published just about anywhere, here is my fear: I am currently finishing my degree in creative writing, and I have no credentials to speak of yet. I have one year left to complete my BA, but I’d love to have a publication to give me chance before I have my degree in hand. How do I go about selling myself and my writing without the credentials? Would I find sucess with small, local publications as suggested?

    Thank you,
    Sarah

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  15. says

    Don’t forget to keep all research, including website addresses. As more publications go digital, having embeddable websites at hand is a gold mine for the publisher. Also, have supporting photos – either yours or that you have WRITTEN permission to use. Editors appreciate and pay more when you pour hours back into their day by doing the legwork!

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  16. says

    Thank you for this particular article. It has been about a year now that I’ve decided to return to writing after many years absence. I read up on all the how-to articles that I can, and I have been researching for my debut novel. I have a review blog where I review debut authors as well. I look forward to all the articles from WU every morning when I open up my inbox.

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  17. says

    Thanks for #2! I have some (what I think are) great ideas but no time to sit and write an entire article without the glimmer of a promise of publication. THANKS!!

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  18. Deanna Morris Conway says

    Thank you for these tips. I think I have always wanted to be a writer. I was writing poetry and essays when I had my first taste of publishing success as a high-school freshman. The journal was small and limited to entries from students of my high-school, but the thrill of publication was huge. I have recently (after four decades) decided to pursue my dream of writing. I think that reading your article has opened my eyes to the fact that I don’t have to write the Great American Novel to consider myself a success. I’m eager to try some of your suggestions.

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  19. says

    Thanks for the informative article Chuck. I especially like the idea of recycling stories & giving things a twist to optimize the prosperity factor. I’d also add something I’d missed but recently learned in Linda Formacelli’s Renegade Writer e-course: to secure a few interview resources & quotes from them BEFORE sending the query. I think this can make all the difference in getting an editor’s interest & securing the contract. Wish I’d have realized this bit much sooner! :) btw, I’ve been following you on WD & just found you at WM- you are so prolific & a fantastic resource. MUCH APPRECIATED, & I am very inspired by all that you put forth. xo

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  20. Kathy Higgs-Coulthard says

    Hi, Chuck. Congrats on throwing your hat in the freelance editor ring–you’re so great at helping promote authors, that seems like a natural path for you. Best of luck!

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  21. Rebecca says

    Great tips on getting started in magazine writing. I need all the help I can get. I don’t have much published material to use to establish my credibility. Thanks for the inspiration.

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  22. says

    Hi Chuck! I found you doing research today and am very happy I did. This is a great article, it’s very helpful! I’m commenting because I want the free booklet 2013 Guide to literary Agents. I write a cooking blog on Tumblr and I have 77,000 followers. It’s time to turn DelishyTown into a cookbook. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with the world. You Rock!

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  23. Colleen Frerichs says

    Loved this article – so helpful for new writers just getting into the buisness. Thanks!

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  24. Leanne Jewell says

    Chuck – regarding number 2…what if you are new and have no credentials??? Do you write a business plan that knocks their socks off so they don’t know you’re a rookie???

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  25. Aimee mingus says

    Thank you for such an informative article! I am going to put this information to good use.

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  26. says

    And here I was trying to move away from magazine writing to focus only on copywriting. Thanks for the reminder. Sometimes, getting your name in print has more of an effect on your career than just the money.

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  27. says

    Chuck, I would like to mention that another great place for new freelance writers to get their start is on the helium.com website as it offers a great variety of topics that a newbie can write about and its a great place to get your work out there.

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  28. says

    Such wonderful, practical advice! I am going to read all of your previous posts too. Then hopefully win a book too. Thank you for your continued contribution to this forum and the craft of writing.

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  29. Angela Y says

    Great article. I’m wriiting my first novel and your article reminded me that I wrote freelance for a Wedding magazine. I’m going to make a list again and pitch myself/writing. THANKS FOR THE REMINDER….
    -A

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  30. Cassie says

    Very informative! You’ve given me needed information to seek out paid resources!

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  31. says

    This is a helpful post! As one who has not written articles…yet…I appreciate your tips. Thanks for the reminder to consider what “the gig offers.” Considering the goal for writing articles is key. Thanks so much!

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  32. says

    This article has definitely given me some ideas and the push I have needed to start writing and publishing more! Thank you very much :) I am currently working on an article for an online magazine and I have written print and web articles for the student newspaper at my college so this definitely helped me.

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  33. says

    Thank you for these tips. In fact, I found #2 and #7 to be quite helpful. I, too, have started contributing some articles of my own for an online column. Perhaps this will give me some credentials and I’ll be able to get my foot in door for new opportunities.

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  34. john millstead says

    Thank-you! This was very encouraging. I am thinking about pitching my first article and this was extra motivation.

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  35. says

    Good article.

    I guess I didn’t realize Writer’s Market had a newsletter with updated markets; I was just familiar with the book and online versions.

    –Jennifer

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  36. says

    Great stuff. I’ve been submitting just to children’s magazines but you give me inspiration to submit to everything thank you. Eric

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  37. jennifer says

    Thanks for the tips. You’ve given the confidence to submit my articles.

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  38. Don L. Whitfield says

    Thank you very much for 8 tips for Writing and Selling Articles. This information is very helpful and informative for future writers.
    Please send me the book (Create Your Writer Platform).

    Thank you once again,

    Don L. Whitfield

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  39. Fred Semendy says

    Thank you very much for this timely article. I needed this like so many others. For me this is a right push at the right time. What a coincidence ! Thank you again.

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  40. Dianan says

    Great Post. You reminded me about my many articles that I wrote for DemandStudio and a local newspaper. I had completely forgotten about them. And, here I’m thinking that I’m new at writing. Silly me. You helped me realize that if I can write articles, long and short, I surely can write short stories that people will read. Thank you.

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