Magazine Writing: Tools Of The Trade

Writing for print has a lot in common with writing for the web, yet they are also quite different. Today I'd like to share some "tools of the trade" that have helped me navigate my writing career--especially when it comes to magazine writing. That said, many of these can also be used for freelance writing in general. Here goes:

Desk Calendar

There's nothing quite like a big desk calendar to keep things front and center in terms of queries out, contracts due and deadlines. Although you can use your computer to keep track of these things as well, I find that for magazine writing it is helpful to have everything right in front of me. Since you often work way ahead of holidays (6 months to a year for many print publications) it can be good to jot down notes or query ideas in the appropriate month. For example, my June month has ideas for the New Year written in the margin.

Standing File For Desk

I keep hard copies of my contracts in a standing file on my desk. That way I have an easy reference when it comes to  the terms of a contract, and if my hard drive crashes, I have a backup copy as well. Why is this suited to writing for print? Many times you will sign a contract that has specific rights information, and you'll want to have that handy in case you can re-sell a piece down the line. I find this to be true more with magazines than things I write for the web, although it doesn't hurt to keep that information on file either.

Clip File/Folder

When you write for print publications you wind up with hard copies of the pieces you get published. I keep a "clip file" of the best ones and scan them into the computer when I have time. They are in a folder on my desktop called "clips". This is handy since many times an editor will ask you for samples of your writing before granting you an assignment. Instead of frantically looking for related pieces, simply check your clip file and attach. (Just remember not to send attachments without permission.)

Receipt Box

Call me old-fashioned, but I keep a small box on my desk for receipts. When you write for magazines, you will need to keep up on the industry and read publications before you pitch them. You can go to the library and flip through publications, get a subscription, or buy individual copies. If you purchase periodicals that are related to a pitch you are putting together, you should be able to deduct them as a write off at tax time. (Be sure to consult your tax professional for the guidelines and requirements for doing this so you are sure the purchases qualify.) For me, the box is a simple way to make sure I have the receipts when I go to pull tax information together.

Razor Blade/Utility Knife

Although I hesitate to recommend anything this sharp, it simply is the neatest way to remove pages from a magazine without ripping them. (Do so at your own risk--and please be careful!) Don't press too hard, and don't go to close to the binding of the publication. I also remove the cover of the magazine to scan and file, so I have a reference of what issue the piece appeared in. You can also do this with scissors, but it typically doesn't come out as easy.

Writing Group

Again, this could apply to all freelance writers, but I have found it especially useful for magazine writing. Joining a group of writers not only gives you some support, but the networking opportunities are excellent. I have landed a few great jobs simply by letting other writers know that I am looking for additional work in the print field. It works.

Do you have any "tools of the trade" that have helped you stay organized or get more work in the world of print? If so, please share here!

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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.

1 thought on “Magazine Writing: Tools Of The Trade”

  1. Hi Catherine,

    I’ve been thinking about joining a writing group myself. How do you recommend going about finding one?



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