When it comes to writing for print you will often hear people say “study the magazine” before you submit.
So what exactly does that mean?
This is a big issue for many new writers, and I know that I did it totally wrong when I first began freelancing. Let me help you avoid some of the pitfalls, by pointing out how to use your time efficiently when reviewing a magazine…
Skim, don’t read.
I thought that “studying” meant reading every article in the publication a few times—and very carefully.
Don’t do that.
Instead, skim articles and look for things such as:
- Do they use expert quotes?
- What is the tone? Is it formal? Casual?
- Do they use a lot of factual information in sidebar boxes or is it primarily narrative?
- How long are the pieces?
Examine the cover.
The cover of a magazine will tell you a lot about what types of articles they tend to publish. Read the titles carefully. Do they use a lot of “Top 10” pieces? Do you see any “how to” articles? Are they emphasizing any topics, such as budgeting, fitness or childcare? If you can get a few issues of the magazine and study the titles on the front, you’ll get a feel for what the editors tend to gravitate toward in terms of content.
Look at the ads.
This may well be the key to breaking into a magazine in my opinion.
The ads tell you about the reader. Since this is who the publication is speaking to overall, it will really help you get an idea of who the people are that actually buy the magazine. Do you see a lot of ads for diamonds and guard dogs? Chances are the readers have some money. Notice a lot of kids in the advertisements? The publication may cater to parents. Take some time to review the ads and you will be on your way to developing a good query because you will understand the audience.
Keep an eye out for “shorts”.
At least that is what I call them. Some writers refer to them as “fillers”. These are short pieces that can offer you the possibility of breaking in without sending a query. Better yet, they offer new writers a way to get a foot in the door without having to present publication credits. These short pieces can show an editor that you have the chops to get the job done. Not all magazines have them, but when they do, they offer a good point of entry.
The bottom line here is you need to try and train yourself to look at magazines differently than when you are just a reader. When you study them, you need to put on your “writer” hat and think about what the packaging says to you in terms of crafting a query. If you can master this one step, you’ll be a lot closer to a published clip than writers who skim the guidelines and fire off an idea.
And once you get in the habit of studying magazines this way, you’ll never quite look at them the same way again.