Magazine Writing Questions Answered

When I first began writing for magazines I had so many questions. I read forums, bought books and scoured every piece of information on the web looking for answers to some of these–and found nothing.

So today–I am going to share a few of the things I learned early on so that if you happen to be wondering, you can find the answers on the web.

First of all….word count. This is a biggie, and there isn’t a straight answer to be had. If an editor asks you for a piece that is 700 words, does it have to be exactly 700 words?

The answer is yes…and no. Yes. You need to try and get it as close to the word count as you can in print. Magazines rely on ad sales to keep them going, not subscriptions, so the ad space takes priority over your lovely prose. (Sorry, but it’s true.) And then…no. There are precious few editors that will get crazy if you go a few words over or under.

And yes–if I go over, I charge for it if I am getting paid by the word. But I do really try to stay within 5 words or so of what they ask. You can always edit a piece down, or add a bit if need be.

Next. When an editor asks you to send a few clips, how do you send them?

I scan them at a decent resolution (200 dpi or so) and send the scan of the actual page. I try to keep the size of each file under 2 megabytes and send no more than three that way. You don’t want to blanket an editor with files that jam up their inbox.

You can also send MS Word files. I think the actual pages usually look more polished. You can also send a combination of both scans and MS Word files. I’ve said before that you should pick samples that are the same type of topic if you have them available. For example, if you are pitching a travel mag, send travel clips. You get the idea…

And if you aren’t sure how it will look on the other end, send it to yourself first to check and see. That works wonders.

Finally. Although it may be tempting, don’t use any kind of delivery confirmation notices or ask the editor to let you know that they received your e-mail. Don’t send a follow-up e-mail in a few days either. You’ll have to take your chances and hope that you didn’t wind up in the spam folder.

Creating a good subject line will help. I usually try to use the word query in it.

Hopefully something in here is a help for you. When I write these columns, I always try to think back to the hard stuff. The things that eluded me when I first started writing. If you have anything to share that can help your fellow writers, please do share…


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Catherine L. Tully has over nine years of experience writing for magazines such as American Style, AAA Living and Boys' Life. She is the editor for an award-winning blog on freelance writing and also owns and edits a blog for dance professionals.

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