The freelance writer’s prospects
Breaking into the newspaper and magazine markets isn’t particularly easy as there is a fair amount of competition.
However, as permanent staff numbers have decreased, editors are turning more to freelance writers for content.
In addition, while demand for print newspapers is on the decline, people still want to read interesting articles in the online versions.
To succeed in this field, the ability to meet deadlines is a must. While editors will obviously need quality copy, they will value a reliable writer and go back to them time and again.
If you can follow an editor’s instructions, write to the required length and deliver on time, you should be able to succeed as an article writer.
Pay rates vary wildly in the newspaper and magazine markets, depending upon factors such as circulation, article length and complexity of the piece.
The higher paying publications generally look for previous experience so a good way to start is by selling articles to your local newspaper and trade magazines. You can get obtain solid information on newspapers and magazines in the Writers’ And Artists’ Yearbook.
Having some samples of your work is an important tool in your marketing bag. To that end, it might be worthwhile writing a few pieces for very small publications or websites for free so that you can get those valuable publishing credits.
There are a number of steps that you can take to improve your prospects of getting a commission, even if you have no previous experience.
- 1. Find your likely target publications.
Identifying some possible markets for your work is as easy as browsing in your nearest large newsagent. If you haven’t checked the magazine racks before, you may be surprised by the number of niche publications on the shelves alongside the general magazines for men and women. Some examples are knitting, crafting, railways and fitness.
A good proportion of magazines will provide information within the first couple of pages on (a) whether they welcome submissions and (b) if so, how to contact the publication.
The other aspect of this research involves going online and checking out if there are digital magazines that cover the kinds of topics that you would like to write about. Many print magazines these days have an online version that publishes additional content and online editors may welcome more proposals.
Don’t forget to pick up an edition of your local newspaper. They are more likely to be interested in general pieces so long as they relate in some way to the local area and are a good prospect if you enjoy writing about the town’s history or interviewing local people.
- 2. Research each publication.
To get the attention of an editor, you must have done your homework. Analyse each publication to ascertain the types of articles they use and their writing style so that you can get an idea of the types of pieces that they need. When you know what an editor wants, you can be confident that you stand a better chance of being noticed.
- 3. Submit a proposal.
Most publications will want a summary proposal, or query, that gives enough detail on the article that you’d like to write. Be clear on why you think the article would be enjoyed by their readers in the first paragraph of your proposal, and remember to include information such as the suggested length and if you have accompanying images.
The rest of your proposal should describe why you should be the one to write the article you have suggested. If you don’t have previous experience, explain the extent of your knowledge on the subject or the contacts that you have with experts whom you can quote. If you have had some success, even if it’s something like a blog, include the relevant links or attachments to add to your credibility.
- 4. As soon as you’ve completed one proposal, move on to the next one.
Article writing is a numbers game. No matter how proficient you become, you will always receive rejections from editors and you need to learn to accept it as part of the experience. Being organised and keeping a record of your proposals is essential if you want to keep track of your ideas and to whom you have sent them.
What publication editors want
Of course, each editor has their own particular requirements but they are all looking for the same basic components to an engaging article. Make sure that you tick these boxes by considering the following when writing a newspaper or magazine article:
- Make a strong opening. This means creating a memorable title (although these are often changed after acceptance) and refining your first sentence so that it’s short, sharp and ‘hooks’ the reader.
- Adjust your language to the publication’s readership. The vocabulary you use in an article for The Guardian will be different to that for Reader’s Digest.
- It’s no coincidence that most newspapers and magazines use short paragraphs and clean layout tools, including bullet points and sidebars. The look of the article on the page can add greatly to its appeal.
- Use quotes in as many of your articles as you can. These add interest and credibility to the content.
- A common trick that article writers adopt is to wrap up the final paragraph by referring back to the points you made in your first few paragraphs. This is particularly effective if you have told someone’s story to demonstrate a broader point and then provide an update on what has happened to them at the end.
As your portfolio grows, so will the proportion of acceptances and rates of pay that you receive. By starting small, it’s possible to build the right experience that will allow you to break into the highest paying national newspapers and magazines.