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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Make the Leap: 8 Ways to Break into National Magazines

One of the questions I hear frequently from freelancers is about making the leap from smaller, regional, and/or trade magazines to national magazines--the "biggies." Here are eight ways to help you make that leap--which may not be as difficult as you expect:

1. Give the editor something she can't find on her own. Don't live in NYC? That's a plus when it comes to pitching article ideas. When you come up with an idea--say a true-life feature on an amazing (and "below the radar") person in your community, that ups the odds you'll get the assignment--or at least attract the editor's attention.

2. Show her you "get" the biz. The majority of pitches national mag editors receive are from would-be writers and/or magazine readers, not from serious freelancers. You fall into the latter category, so demonstrate that fact by querying (not sending the complete manuscript--rookie mistake!).

3. Start with FOB. Many established freelancers don't bother with FOB, or front-of-book, pieces because they're so short, which means you face less competition. And editors at national magazines are more willing to assign an FOB piece to a writer lacking national clips. After you've proven yourself with a couple of FOB articles, you're much more likely to be able to nab a longer piece from the market.

4. Pitch a round-up. Round-ups are pieces that include a lot of different people's opinions/experiences, and they're a pain to write. Showing an editor that you're willing to do that kind of legwork sets you a notch above other freelancers, who may not be interested in writing this type of story.

5. Think "uniquely qualified." As a newbie freelancer, all of my first assignments were articles that involved subjects I had some personal experience with--that's one of the reasons they sold! Remember to highlight the ISG in your query, and pitch a story that you have unique experience with or knowledge of. Once you gain more clips, you can pitch other ideas, but you're trying to get those first few national clips, remember?

6. Follow up. Editors at national magazines are busy, and often don't reply to queries. A short, professional follow-up is essential to breaking in with the biggies. Follow up on every pitch, and you'll boost your chances of getting an assignment.

7. Keep pitching. I've written before about the importance of having an idea in your pocket. You want to have one for each national market, too, because if you get rejected, you're going to pitch again, using language like:

"Thank you so much for your recent response to my query about TK. While I'm sorry you can't use it at this time, I have another for you to consider:

[new query]

If you've read Six-Figure Freelancing or Ready, Aim, Specialize, you know I used the 24-hour rule to crack national magazines including Fitness, Woman's Day, Family Circle, Marie Claire, and Shape. That simple strategy kept me pitching--and those pitches eventually resulted in assignments.

8. Be brave. One of the biggest reasons freelancers don't write for national magazines is because they don't pitch them! I'm serious. Don't be afraid to reach for the "big boys." The only way you'll get an assignment from one of them is if you're bold enough to try.


  1. This post is perfectly timed--I just sat down to work on a query for a national pub, but when I saw your title I had to stop and read. Thanks for providing a dose of encouragement and insight! I'm ready to rock this :)


  2. Glad to hear about the timing, Cheryl! Good luck with your pitch! :)

  3. It's interesting to read your take on round-up articles. I'll be honest, as a reader I've always looked at those and thought they must be the easiest pieces in the world to write. Maybe I'll have to try pitching a few.