Freelance Magazine Writing Career

The majority of magazines use freelance writers to contribute articles for features and departments. Many nationally-distributed magazines employ few full-time staff writers. Nearly every “interest” known to humankind has a magazine or trade journal associated to it. Hobby train collectors have Classic Toy Trains magazine, moms have Parenting magazine, technology enthusiasts have Wired magazine, and crafters have Crafts N Things magazine. If you enjoy writing and want to share your passion and experiences, you can find plenty of magazines that perfectly match your interests.

Pay Rates

Pay rates for magazine writing vary according to niche, type of article, size of readership, publishing rights, etc., and can range broadly from $0.35 to $2.00 per word for newsstand and/or nationally-distributed magazines. The smaller magazines with limited distribution might only pay from $0.10 to $.45 per word.

The Basics of Magazine Writing

Because it is easy for writers to find magazines related to their own interests, they often decide to try their hand at magazine writing to start a freelance writing career. The magazine industry is a $37 billion market, publishing about 5,000 publications. You have a sizable window of opportunity to sell articles, but you need to adhere to stringent rules about writing style, language, readership, word count, deadlines, and so on. If an editor wants a 1,000-word article and you provide a 1,300-word article because you think he might appreciate the extra effort, then expect the editor to reject your submission for not following directions. Editors are also picky about editorial style, referencing statistics and numbers, and providing contact information for interviews.

The success in routinely selling articles to magazines relies on knowing how to pitch your ideas and article topics to editors. Not following the magazine’s submission guidelines when pitching or submitting articles is a common reason why editors reject submissions. Make sure you follow the submission process precisely, otherwise you may not have a second chance.

Finding Magazine Writing Jobs

Most freelance writers recommend using the newest edition of The Writer’s Market, a large directory of magazines and periodicals that pay for articles. You can search the Directory’s listings online ( or buy a paperback edition. Knowing what editors accept and reject are important to a successful pitch. You can also tap into a handful of free online resources such as’s special Call for Submissions to find updated editorial needs of digital and print publications that accept freelance submissions.

If you are searching for a magazine’s submission guidelines online, make sure the guidelines are current. Editors don’t always remember to update their publication’s guidelines when needed. Sending submissions to the incorrect individual or pitching an idea to an obsolete department will irritate editors, even if you received the info at their own website. You can prevent this mistake by emailing a staff member for current submission guidelines if you can’t determine when they were lasted updated.

[ Search for Freelance Magazine Writing Jobs | ]

Assembling a Strong Article Submission

You don’t always need to have a finished article to sell it to a magazine. Most writers prefer to write a concise query letter to pitch an article topic before writing the actual article. A query letter simply tells the editor what you’d like to submit, who you are, why you are qualified to write the article, and when you can submit the article.

It is more common for editors to ask you to submit a query letter via email instead of postal mail. A basic query letter addresses these concerns:

1. How will your article interest and engage readers?

2. What makes your article different and unique from other articles that we’ve published?

3. What do you plan to include in your article?

4. Why are you qualified to write on this topic?

To grab the editor’s interest immediately, you can include the first paragraph of your article and then answer the above questions. Write your query letter briefly and concisely. Always know the editor’s current needs so you can fulfill them.

An editor might ask you to provide an outline of what you will discuss in your article and if you will include quotes from experts, photos, sidebars, etc. Lastly, if available, provide specific clips published in similar magazines and/or websites. If you want to write an article on healthcare for retirees, don’t include samples or clips for pet care and computer programming. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Breaking In for Aspiring Writers

Demonstrating that you can write at a professional level can be challenging if you are just starting. If you are having a difficult time selling your articles, then it is acceptable to “write for published clips” or to volunteer to write articles for your local church, non-profit organization or literary magazine. Every writer starts somewhere, and often it is not at the top, landing lucrative deals with high-profile editors. Save every article that gets published and start your own portfolio. Proving your skills and credibility gets easier and easier with each published clip, whether an editor paid you for your article or not.

Another method is to write the article and submit it to the magazine. Only submit a full article if the submission guidelines say you can. Response times vary, from one week to four months, depending on the magazine. The advantage of submitting a completed article rather than a query letter is that the editor can review your writing style and determine if your article will interest the magazine’s readers.

Whatever method you pick, plan to contact the editor in a month or so if you have not received a reply. Editors respect a writer who shows interest in working with them.

An Example of a Call for Submissions

See if you can identify what the magazine is seeking in this job ad:

TeenHelp is a national magazine to help teenagers avoid using drugs as well as to keep troubled teenagers off of drugs. We are seeking informative, how-to articles from 550-750 words. We pay .30 cents/word for features, and .25 cents/word for departments. We buy both print and digital rights. Please send article topics and/or submissions to Laura at (email address).

1. This publication targets teenagers so you should write your article using language that interests teens.This solicitation for articles is brief and seems to lack details—but a second read can help us create a strong query letter to pitch some ideas. Here’s what we know:

2. This publication’s mission is to educate teenagers about illegal drugs and to help troubled teens stay off drugs. Brainstorm topics that teenagers find “cool” and advocates a drug-free living lifestyle.

3. The editor only wants articles between 550 and 750 words, no longer, no shorter.

Understanding the magazine’s readership, its sole purpose for publishing, and what editors are seeking right now are essential to selling an article. If you can pinpoint these vital factors, then you have a better chance of selling your article.

About the author

Brian Scott

Brian Scott

Brian Scott uses his creative skills to freelance full-time as a copywriter, SEO marketing specialist, and graphic designer. Self-employed since 1996, he's had the opportunity to work in traditional media (pre-Internet Age) and now online media. Prior to freelancing, he worked in public relations, newspaper copy editing, and mail-order marketing.

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