The Print Industry: Realistic Expectations

This is going to be a different kind of post. Call it a sharing post.

I'm going to talk a bit about what my expectations were when I got into the magazine industry--and also about the reality. I was pretty surprised at how different those two things are, and I'm going to throw my experience out there for you--just in case I can help clarify the difference between what people lead you to believe will happen--and what actually does.

Here goes:

The expectation: Breaking into the magazine market means you should start small, build clips and work your way up to a big publication.

The reality: While starting small can be helpful if you need to sharpen your writing skills a bit, there's no reason to pass on sending queries to larger magazines too. Some of you may know that my first sale was to Boys' Life, which is a huge publication. Don't limit yourself right out of the gate--but do your homework. Study the publication and make sure you craft a good query--don't shoot off ideas willy nilly.

The expectation: Writing for magazines is very similar to writing for the web.

The reality: Nope. Not at all really. The similarity is that you have to write well for both. Other than that, there are a ton of differences. Writing for the web is more "punchy" - you need to create shorter sentences and break up the text more. Although this is changing in print, it still is more paragraph-oriented.

Writing for the web is great for those who enjoy instant gratification. When you write for print, it takes forever for an article to come out in the magazine. In addition, print publications tend to follow an editorial calendar that requires you to pitch six months or more ahead of time. The web tends to be more timely.

When you write for print publications, you may be asked to track down your own photography. This means you'll need to know how to send large files--as you need high resolution to print them. This can be a little complicated. When sending images for the web, the resolution caps at 72 dpi (dots per inch), so they are small and easy to send without clogging up an editor's inbox.

I could go on, but you get the idea...these are definitely two different animals, so to speak. Writing for one doesn't automatically qualify you to write for the other.

The expectation: The editor will get back to you with an answer on your query within the time-frame specified in the guidelines.

The reality: Everything moves slow here. Very slow. Typically, either I hear back right away (within a week), or I have to follow up a few weeks after the end date the guidelines state. Also, with print, sometimes editors will hold on to ideas for a future issue and get in touch with you long after you've thought they didn't want your piece. This rarely happens to me when I write for the web.

The expectation: You will get a free copy of the magazine when your article appears.

The reality: Be sure to ask about this. Some publishers do it automatically, where others don't. Some will do it if you ask for one, but not offer it otherwise. Don't assume you will have it show up in your mailbox--or that it will be in the issue that you were told. Sometimes an article gets bumped, appearing in another issue, and other times it may get pulled entirely. Checking in on this is the best course of action.

Writing for print has its own peculiarities. Even as I was writing this, more were popping into my head, so you'll probably see another piece like this down the line. I wish I had known more about how the industry worked when I started out. That's one of the reasons I write this column--to try and pass that knowledge along to you.

By the same token--if you have something you can share with fellow readers/writers about this subject that you think will be helpful--by all means--ring in!


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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 “The Print Industry: Realistic Expectations”

  1. Online publications respond much more quickly, and frequently, than print publications. It’s not uncommon to never get a response from a print publication, even if you submit a query by e-mail (if that’s what their guidelines request). The down side for online pubs is that most of them don’t pay anything. Their big selling point is that you get exposure, which is nice, but that doesn’t pay the rent.

    Some print publications will send you a PDF of your article instead of a sample copy. Shutterbug did this for me a few months ago and it was great. I put a link to the file onto my blog and in press releases so people could download it easily. This added to my exposure, and I didn’t have to do any scanning of the article.

    Have Fun,


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