Mailbag: How Can a Writer Find Publications?

How Can a Writer Find Publications?Today I’m back in my role as the Dear Abby of freelance writers, as we turn to a question from Marina DelVecchio. She read my recent post on querying without experiencing rejection, and commented:

This was a great post, especially since I belong in your #2 category [getting emotionally attached to a single query]. Is there a specific source that you can recommend that lists consumer magazine and online mags to query? How does one go about finding these sources?

Carol, I am overwhelmed with the internet online mags and other internet sources out there. I write articles and submit them to Harper’s, Ms., Brain-Child, and such, but with no luck. I have about seven articles that I have written on motherhood and women’s empowerment, but have no idea how to begin to find sources interested enough to query them.

I just got an agent for my book, but [freelance writing] is a venue I am really interested in breaking into, but don’t know how. It was easier, I think, when it was just print mags and newspapers. Now there are too many for me to count…

OK, lotsa thoughts here about how to break into more paying publication markets:

Is there a specific, single place to find consumer and online magazines? No. Especially online magazines, which are springing up like weeds in May. But there are several places that form a good starting point. The Writer’s Market lists hundreds and hundreds of magazines (get it with online support for more useful ways to slice their data).

Wooden Horse has a magazine database and a newsletter that lists editorial changes weekly, which I find is a great way to discover new magazines and a new contact. Often, new editors seem more approachable and open to new writers, so I consider that information gold. MediaBistro’s paid level gives you access to about 300 “how to pitch” guides with info on various magazines. The Writer’s Market online also has a daily column of updates and announcements about new magazine launches.

You can also Google the Internet for various compendiums of magazines. Generally, it’s research, research, research. When you find an interesting publication, Google “editor [publication name],” or do that search on LinkedIn, and see what you can find. Ask your writers’ forums and groups if they know anything. Reach out on Twitter. Beat every bush.

To me, it sounds like your real problem isn’t finding magazines. Your problem is overwhelm. Yes, there are a million magazines in the naked city, but which ones should you be trying? That’s the real question.

Since you just landed a book agent, we’re going to assume that you write well. So that’s not the problem. A few possibilities suggest themselves to me:

You’re aiming too high. I don’t know Brain-Child, but the other two publications you mention are very highly regarded national magazines. You might try a regional or smaller-circulation equivalent type magazine instead as a starting point. In general, it’s difficult to crack major national magazines cold, without a track record of having written for similar local, regional, or national smaller publications of a similar type.

It’s sort of a farm system out there, just like any other industry. You start at a smaller place and work your way up the ladder. There are exceptions, but that’s generally how it works. Once you have a published book these entrees will get easier, but until then think of perhaps a slightly lower target which could give you a great clip with which to query the big guns.

You’re sending articles instead of queries. You say you want to know more magazines to query, but then you go on to say you have already written seven articles and want to send them out. I very strongly recommend against sending finished articles to markets that are new for you. As you’re finding out, it almost never works. You just don’t know enough about that editor’s needs as a new freelancer to hit the home run needed to place an article cold. So send succinct, one-page queries.

You need to beef up your query skills. If you aren’t getting responses from your queries, read a book about how to write killer queries (there’s a couple in the Amazon toolbar at right). This post on WM Freelance Writers Connection about why editors aren’t responding to your queries may also help. Queries are really an art form unto themselves, and taking a little time to learn the craft can pay off big. For instance, I recently got $6,000 of articles assigned off a single query letter I sent. Really — it’s worth learning how to do this!

You’re only thinking big consumer mags. When you limit yourself to the big-circulation, known-name consumer mags, you’re only looking at a small part of the overall publication pie. There are trade publications, company magazines, union and professional organization magazines. Look at other types of publications. Often, building some good clips in another channel can help build your credibility for jumping to the major consumer mags.

You need a tighter niche focus. One way to keep yourself from going crazy is to pick one niche area and query publications in that niche only. I think this could help you. From your blog it appears that feminist issues are core to your being, so you might work the Mother Jones/Utne Reader/Ms/HipMama type vein. Develop a list of a dozen or more appropriate publications at various pay and circulation levels and try them. If that doesn’t work, try another niche. It’s just trial and error as you see where the publications universe will respond to you.

Finally, I have to disagree that it was easier back when there were only print pubs. I think now is the golden age for getting published! More magazines online mean more opportunities for freelance writers to break in. And many of those online mags are quickly acquiring solid credibility and provide great clips.

Anyone else have tips for Marina? Please leave them in the comments below.

Have a question you want answered about how to earn more from your writing? Tell us that, too. If it’s of general interest to readers, I will try to answer it here on the blog.

Join my freelance writer community: Freelance Writers Den

 

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16 comments on “Mailbag: How Can a Writer Find Publications?
  1. Carol Tice says:

    Hi Steven —

    I hate to discourage people from shooting for the stars, and it's not that new writers shouldn't try the big pubs…but I think the strategy that's usually more productive is looking at smaller-circulation or more regional publications first. They can provide the strong clips you need to succeed in pitching big-circulation national mags. I know there's the occasional moonshot that happens where somebody pitches Vogue or McCall's or something out of the blue and gets that $2000 assignment. But it's really rare.

    I see a syndrome where people pitch big, get discouraged, and give up. Better to me to get a few articles in Seattle's Child and use them to pave the way to writing for Parents, for example. Just a more tried-and-true way to make it happen.

    Thanks for commenting!

  2. Steven H says:

    "You’re aiming too high. I don’t know Brain-Child, but the other two publications you mention are very highly regarded national magazines. You might try a regional or smaller-circulation equivalent type magazine instead as a starting point. In general, it’s difficult to crack major national magazines cold, without a track record of having written for similar local, regional, or national smaller publications of a similar type."

    This is going to stick with me. Need to know how to walk before you can run, right?

    Great advice for aspiring writers!

  3. Carol Tice says:

    If it's a resource that's useful to my readers, I'm happy to give you a link, Susan!

  4. Susan says:

    Carol, didn't want to be too shameless in my self-promotion, so I wasn't sure how'd you feel about me linking to my ebook. But here's the direct link: http://susan-johnston.com/ebook.html Have a great weekend!

  5. Carol Tice says:

    Right on Anne — great suggestion, thanks! SO many editors tell me the bulk of pitches they receive reflect a real ignorance of the publication.

  6. Anne Wayman says:

    Carol, the only thing I’d add to your excellent advice is to read multiple issues of the magazines you’re trying to sell to. Read the articles, read the ads (advertisers spend a ton to figure out where to advertise and those are the magazine’s readers as it were.

    Even the masthead gives valuable clues.

    And these days it goes almost without saying that it helps to study the magazine’s website as well.

  7. Carol Tice says:

    @Susan — well thanks for letting us know about your resource! Does your name link take us there? If not please provide a link! Sure my readers would like to check it out.

  8. Susan says:

    Great advice, Carol! The only thing I’d add is that although it’s not a good idea to get too attached to one query, you can still try to sell an idea even if doesn’t work for your dream market. Thinking in terms of 1 idea = 1 assignment for 1 publication is time-consuming, so I’d encourage Marina to retool some of the ideas she’s sent to big consumer magazines and think about what indie or regional publications might be interested, too.

    On another note, the lack of a centralized directory for information on web markets is frustrating, so earlier this year, I created my own and released it as an ebook called The Urban Muse Guide to Online Writing Markets. It has 40+ markets, so it’s by no means an exhaustive list, but there are a variety of markets for aspiring and more established writers. In fact, I used many of the tactics you describe to compile the list and sleuth out decent-paying markets.

  9. Jackie says:

    Finally something that really make sense. Was looking for this in other sites but not anymore!

  10. Anne says:

    There is a site that I just happened upon that seems helpful: http://www.mastheads.org/ . It is a paid site, or you can contribute a masthead and get a year of service, that features the complete staff mastheads for over 750 magazines. I haven’t joined (yet), but have found the sites worksheets (query logs, planners, etc.) useful! Hope this helps! Anne

    • Carol Tice says:

      Thanks for these resources, Perry and Anne! Sites like this masthead one come and go — and the information on them goes out of date pretty fast. But they're a great starting place. I comb through these sites just looking for new publications I haven't heard of that might be a fit for my whole business/finance niche — there are so many!

  11. Melanie Zoltan says:

    I’ve had essay published in Brain,Child Magazine. It’s easily the best “thinking mother’s” magazine out there. I sent an essay in about 2 years ago and got a nice rejection – they’re getting hit with over 1,000 essays *per month* for a handful of slots, and they only publish quarterly.

    So the odds are really, really slim, and even a repeat writer like me can’t easily break through.

    Essays can do well at regional parenting magazines, and the print clips can be used as leverage for better-paying national mags or online sites. Try your local newspaper and ask about publishing an unpaid op-ed on a title related to your book. These all help build momentum for the eventual publishing of your book.

  12. Perry Rose says:

    Many of the cities in the U.S, has its own magazine, so you could do a search for them.

    There's also such sites as iVillage.

    You could also try using Quantcast, which shows similar sites of a site you have queried.

    Example, if you would like to know of other sites like iVillage: http://www.quantcast.com/ivillage.com

    And there is http://www.gebbieinc.com/magurl.htm

    I copied out that loooooong list, and scratched off each source that was not of interest to me until I was left with a much shorter list I could query.

    It only took a couple of hours, so….

    "Now there are too many for me to count…"

    I don't know, but I would think that is a good thing.

  13. Carol Tice says:

    Glad it was helpful! Check back in and let us know how it’s going, or to ask more questions. I’m hoping other readers will chime in with additional tips, too.

  14. Thank you, Carol. This was very helpful and candid, and I appreciate you dedicating an entire blog on my question — but I guess you sensed my frustration. I do subscribe to Writer's Market and used it for finding agents as well as consumer mags. The last time I used it, I was side-tracked with writing contests. I am going to take your advice and make a list of 12 mags to approach with only a query, so this was great advice for me.

    I'll keep you posted on my results, and thanks again for responding to my questions in such a thorough and professional manner.

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