By Tracy Hume
I’m celebrating the publication of my first national magazine article.
Writing has always played a role in the day jobs I’ve held (community relations assistant at a hospital, academic report writer and grant writer at a community college).
But most of the writing I’ve done for work has been written for a very specialized audience. And except for a short stint as a temporary guest columnist for The Denver Post in 2002, it was mostly behind-the-scenes and did not carry a byline.
In 2006 I began freelancing full-time, focusing on the areas I knew best — researching and writing specialized academic reports and grants. These are worthwhile writing niches.
However, it’s helpful to be able to show a breadth of writing abilities on your writer’s website, and bylined pieces are an essential part of a writer’s portfolio.
I wanted to get a byline in a national magazine to show potential clients I can also write shorter, consumer-oriented pieces.
Here’s how I made that happen.
Write what you know
Step 1. I’m a regular reader of Weight Watchers magazine.
I noticed each issue had a one-page article featuring different types of exercise. I love square dancing and thought to myself, “why haven’t they published an article on square dancing? They should!”
Lesson: Pitch a magazine you already read with a topic you are passionate about.
Step 2. I found an editor’s name in the masthead and Googled “editor name” “@weightwatchers.com” to find her e-mail address. Bingo!
Lesson: Use whatever tips and tricks you can to find editor contact info. I learned the Google search tip in one of the weekly webinars offered by the Freelance Writers Den.
Step 3. I sent a query to the editor. In the query, I described my connections with both Weight Watchers and with square dancing to establish my authority on the topic.
But I didn’t have any relevant clips, so I broke one of the rules of query writing: I wrote the 400-word article and sent it in with my query.
Before I wrote it, I carefully studied the feature in the magazine for style, length, tone, subheads, etc. and then I tried to mimic it as precisely as possible.
Dear [editor’s name]:
I am a professional freelance writer, a Weight Watchers member (55 lbs lost so far, still moving toward goal), a regular reader of Weight Watchers Magazine and a square dancer. I think square dancing would be a great topic for the Magazine’s “I tried it!” feature.
I wouldn’t normally send a pre-written article (see below: ‘Square Dancing: When her partner walked out, she stepped up by committing to eating right and dancing to a new tune’), but most of my recent writing has been B2B, so I thought it would be best if I sent you an example of what I can do. I can also provide additional copy for online content, including links to national square dance sites, etc.
Thanks for your consideration!
[I attached the article draft here.]
Lesson: Sometimes the only way to show an editor you can write what they need is to go ahead and write it.
Step 4. Four weeks after my e-mail query the editor asked me to send clips. The only relevant clips I had were two essays published eleven years ago in the newspaper. I sent them. She gave me the assignment.
Lesson: If you have ever had anything published, it counts as a clip.
Write – and revise
Step 5. On May 8 the editor assigned me a 400-word piece with a due date of May 17. She gave me multiple suggestions for revising the piece I had submitted with the query. I turned it in before the deadline.
Lesson: Be prepared to write quickly and deliver on time.
Step 6. After I turned in the story it went through six weeks of revisions. For a 400-word story!
Different editors had different questions, and each editor wanted to emphasize a different aspect of the story.
After revisions were finished a fact-checker confirmed every detail. I responded quickly to each request.
Because it was a personal essay, I wanted it to be true, but if they needed to modify the voice to fit the magazine, I was cool with that.
In the end, not a single sentence I had submitted in the original query survived the rounds of revisions intact!
Lesson: Don’t be married to your words. The magazine’s editors know best what fits with the voice/tone of their publication.
Paid and published
Step 7. I submitted my invoice on July 8, after the last round of revisions was accepted. I received a check on July 15.
Lesson: Weight Watchers magazine pays on time! (Probably can’t generalize to all consumer magazines here … I’m sure each one is different.)
Step 8. My piece, “Dance Therapy,” appeared in the November/December 2013 issue of Weight Watchers magazine. (Now I’m a local celebrity — within my local Weight Watchers group, anyway. Ha!)
How do you use your passions to get great gigs? Tell us in the comments below.
Tracy Hume is a Colorado-based freelance writer who loves learning new things and writing about them. She learned to square dance last year, and this year she’s completing a certificate program in health information technology.