How to Land That First Big Magazine Writing Assignment

Write your first BIG magazine article! Makealivingwriting.comWhat freelance writer doesn’t dream of snagging a magazine writing assignment for newsstand favorites such as Men’s Health, SELF, or GQ?

Heavyweight magazines may be hard to crack, but with smart, persistent strategy, it’s possible — even if you’ve never had a national magazine writing assignment before.

Here are the tips that helped me land a magazine writing assignment for Runner’s World.

Embrace the pre-interview

When I first started pitching, I tried to get by without doing any pre-interviews. Why spend my time finding an expert and interviewing them, if I’m not even sure the article idea will sell?

But I always ended up with anemic, generic query letters that didn’t get any traction. Once I started doing pre-interviews, I sold more articles — which means less of my pitching time is wasted on queries that don’t sell.

Pre-interviews make your pitches meaty. Not only can you include juicy, pithy expert quotes, but your pitch will come across as authoritative because you will be far more knowledgeable about the subject.

When you find someone you’d like to pre-interview, reach out with a simple, professional email. Through practice, I’ve come up with a successful formula:

[Email Subject Line:] Writer Inquiry: Nailing That First Pullup

Good afternoon Ms. Expert,

My name is Lauren Bedosky, and I’m a Minnesota-based health and fitness writer. I’m working on a pitch for Big Name Magazine that offers readers tips for nailing their first pullup. I read your great article on the subject on Health & Fitness website, and I’m hoping to have a short, 10-minute phone conversation with you.

Are you available sometime in the next couple of weeks?

Thanks for your time,
Lauren

Solicit advice

Hire a coach or find a writer buddy who can look over your pitches and give you feedback. A fresh pair of eyes can spot holes in your logic and tell you if your idea is compelling enough to catch an editor’s attention.

It’s way better to get that feedback early in the process, instead of further down the line when you’ve invested a great deal of time and energy.

Create a follow-up plan

Some writers don’t bother following up on pitches they send, but if I put a lot of work into a pitch, the last thing I want to do is give up on an editor after one go. In fact, most of the responses I get come from sending a quick follow-up email two weeks after the initial pitch.

It’s up to you how detailed you’d like to be. I keep a simple Google spreadsheet where I track pitches sent and responses received. Keeping a spreadsheet also helps me identify new markets to target if my pitch fails to land anywhere.

Stay busy

Once you hit “Send” on a pitch, it’s tempting to spend the rest of the day watching your inbox.

But trust me, your time is better spent working on the next pitch. The more solid ideas you have, the more chances of nabbing an assignment. I’ve kept busy pitching, which has lead to a second assignment from Runner’s World and one from Redbook.

In fact, I often respond to rejection emails by offering another idea. Doing so keeps the conversation going and helps build that critical editor-writer relationship.

How have you gotten assignments from editors? Tell us in the comments below.

Lauren Bedosky is a Minneapolis-based health and fitness writer who’s written for Runner’s World, Experience Life, and others.

J-School: 4-Week Journalism Crash Course. Grow your freelance writing income. Usefulwritingcourses.com

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23 comments on “How to Land That First Big Magazine Writing Assignment
  1. Patricia says:

    I love that you do pre-interviews! I’ll definitely do that from now on. Thanks for the tips, Lauren. 🙂

  2. Williesha says:

    Great post. Do you follow up with that source and re-interview once the pitch is accepted and get more info/quotes? Sometimes it’s tough to get a lot out of them in 10 minutes.

    • Lauren Bedosky says:

      Great question. Yes, I often follow-up with the source to do a longer interview once the pitch is accepted. I always ask them when I’m doing the pre-interview if they might be open to a follow-up interview if the pitch is accepted. Every person I’ve asked has always given an enthusiastic “Yes!” I also always send a thank-you email following the pre-interview, and reiterate that I’ll get in touch for a follow-up.

  3. Shana Gorian says:

    I’m curious as to how they respond when you follow up a rejection by offering another idea. Do you usually get a good/courteous/interested response, or do they come back at you as if you’re ‘trying’ too hard? (ie. sounding desperate) I guess it could go either way, depending on the idea and the person…?

    • Lauren Bedosky says:

      In my experience, the editor will either want to hear more, or she will let me know right away that the idea isn’t a good fit. I’m always blown away by how friendly editors are (at least the ones I’ve come in contact with), so I’ve never felt like they thought I was trying too hard. I was concerned about that at first, but I finally decided that since I can’t manage how people think of me, I may as well go for it. If anything, it shows you’re a writer full of ideas, and that’s a valuable quality to have!

  4. Christy says:

    Great article. Thank you.

    What is your approach to following up? Do you have a professionally courteous way of saying, “Hey! What’s up?!”

    • Lauren Bedosky says:

      I do have a pretty standard template I use for follow-up emails. No matter what I try to keep it short and courteous, so I usually say something along the lines of:

      Good morning/afternoon Editor,

      I’m just checking in to see if you have any thoughts on a pitch I sent a couple of weeks ago for the X Section of your magazine. I’ve copied the pitch below for your reference:

      [Pitch goes here.]

      Thanks for your time,
      Lauren

      I’ve seen a lot of success with this type of quick, easy follow-up!

      • Carol Tice says:

        I know writers who say they get a lot of assignments this way — personally, I hate feeling like a nag, and have a lot of story ideas…so I tend to just send more new pitches instead. 😉

        • Lauren Bedosky says:

          I’m glad you mention that, because it definitely depends on the writer. I personally have no problem nagging people, so long as I don’t make it obvious that I’m nagging 😉

  5. Charles Smart says:

    Excellent article! Please share with us a sample follow-up email or letter.

    Charles

    • Lauren Bedosky says:

      I’m glad you like the article! I just posted a template for follow-ups in response to Christy’s comment, and I’ll post it here as well:

      Good morning/afternoon Editor,

      I’m just checking in to see if you have any thoughts on a pitch I sent a couple of weeks ago for the X Section of your magazine. I’ve copied the pitch below for your reference:

      [Pitch goes here.]

      Thanks for your time,
      Lauren

  6. Janeen says:

    So timely. I am working on a pitch right now and thinking about pre interviews , but I didn’t know how to approach the interviewee without an acceptance. I really needed to read this right now.

  7. Lauren Bedosky says:

    So glad this is helpful! I was stumped for awhile because I was too afraid to do pre-interviews when I didn’t have an assignment in hand. But the way to view it is, the potential source can always say “No,” right? So long as you’re clear that a pre-interview is what you’re doing, you should be fine. And I should say I’ve never had anyone turn down my pre-interview request (yet)! Most people are thrilled to talk to you about their passion.

  8. Annay Dawson says:

    What a great idea – pre-interviews! I also love the thought of following up on the pitch. Sometimes I think editors don’t have enough time to follow up so the old saying holds, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”.

    • Lauren Bedosky says:

      Exactly! I know I sometimes need a second email to remind me that, “Hey, you still haven’t answered this message!” So I always give people the benefit of the doubt 🙂

  9. Robert says:

    Landing your first big assignment as a writer is always a wonderful feeling. The advice listed in this article was not only practical but well written. The best piece of advice in this is to create a follow-up plan. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Lauren Bedosky says:

      I’m so glad you found the advice useful! And I agree, getting that first big assignment is a game-changer.

  10. Great post, Lauren. Hopefully, the pre-interview is included with a well fleshed out idea. As a freelancer turned editor, one of my biggest complaints with query letters is when the writer doesn’t flesh out the idea for me. “What, exactly, do you want to say about this topic?” I find myself asking all the time.

    As for follow-ups, do them. I frequently find pitches buried in my inbox. I encourage my writers to pester me until they get a solid yes or no.

  11. Lauren Bedosky says:

    Great input Carol! So helpful to hear from an editor.

  12. I love the conversation related to following up. I too worry about being a pest, but it is a lot of work to send in a well thought out pitch and sometimes the idea needs to be sold or better communicated plus it shows you care about what you have written. It is much easier to send out a quick follow up and even faster for an editor to hit the delete button if they are not interested. Hopefully after a quick reply, but none the less might as well do the brief extra work than to give up. Polite persistence can never hurt, think of all the sports stars who would have never amounted to anything if they had just given up. Well written and an easy informative read. Thank you!

  13. Deena says:

    Hi, Lauren, and thanks for the informative post. I like how you packed all the (very actionable) information into something short and sweet.

    One thing I’d like to mention: I’ve read several posts on requesting an interview that say you should give the person two or three possible times for scheduling it. That way, they have one less thing to think about, and can simply check their calendar and hit Reply. What do you think about this?

    Deena

    • Lauren Bedosky says:

      Hi Deena, so glad you liked the post!

      That’s interesting, I’ve never tried offering time slots. I might consider doing that next time, but I can honestly say most people I reach out to respond to my interview request, so I’m not sure this is going to be necessary. It certainly couldn’t hurt, though, especially if you’re finding that people aren’t responding to you for some reason.

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