I thought doing a post on scheduling might be good for all the magazine writers out there...
Basically what I mean by scheduling is deciding how much to take on at first--in other words, how to manage the process of trying to land articles in print. It can be really easy to take on too much in the beginning, and that can really cause problems.
You see...things don't happen very fast in the print industry. Because of that, having a good, solid plan is more likely to get you published. You really can't do things last-minute when it comes to the glossies--with only a few exceptions...
Exceptions include short, front of the magazine items and last-minute fills. But don't count on these. The former usually doesn't pay and the latter is something you have no control over.
So what is realistic scheduling? What does that mean?
For a new writer, I would seriously recommend targeting only two or three magazines at first when trying to break into print. Really take the time to read through a few issues. Study the publications. Get a feel for what they publish. Dig in deep. It can be tempting to fire out a bunch of queries and see what happens, but believe me, more is not necessarily better.
A little more advice? Start with publications that you are familiar with. If you read a magazine regularly, you have done some of the work already. You are the target audience. This is a good thing! Think about what you would like to see in there and then come up with a few pitches based off of that.
So. Let's say you've got your two or three magazines picked out. You have studied them, come up with a few pitches, and are ready to craft an e-mail query. That is part #1 of the scheduling process. You know which magazines you are going to pitch and you sit down, pull a few queries together and send them out. What then?
Welcome to part #2 of the scheduling process.
Now you have to keep it up, keep track of what you have sent out and follow up. This is where it starts to get tricky, and why I recommended starting with two or three magazines only at first. Tracking queries is a complex business in the print world. Many times you have to follow up multiple times and leave ample time in-between (follow the guidelines from the publication for follow up times). It's easy to forget what you have followed up on--and when.
You can use a simple spreadsheet to keep track of all of this--whatever works for you. The key is to add one more magazine for every query that gets rejected. That way you keep things rolling, but not to the point that it is overwhelming. If it seems too easy, don't get ahead of yourself--things can change quickly when you actually get an assignment.
Part #3 of the scheduling process is being realistic about your workload and how you proceed from there. For example, say you land an article from one of your queries. What then? Do you turn around and shoot out another query, as you would if you did not get it?
This depends on your comfort level. Writing the piece is going to take time. Are you able to manage the workload of keeping up with your follow-ups, studying a new magazine and sending a query and writing the article you were just assigned?
In this case, I would recommend staggering things a little bit. Try something like this:
- Do your research for the new article
- Select a new magazine and start studying it
- Hammer out a rough draft of your article
- Brainstorm ideas for your query
- Refine your draft of the article
- Write the new query and send
- Send in your final copy
- Follow up on your query (according to the time-frame in the guidelines)
You are then mixing in the old (the assigned piece) with the new (next mag/query). This can be a very good way to work. Alternating between two things can help keep both of them fresh.
So there is a bare-bones, 3-part scheduling agenda for you. It has worked well for me, and I'm happy to pass it along. Anyone with any other thoughts, please do feel free to share them!