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Getting Published

Making unsolicited attempts to get published in periodicals can be a time-consuming process with a low success rate. Here are some tips on improving your odds:

  • Closely study magazines whose style and content appeal to you, and for which you believe that you can write successfully. Try to determine whether staff writers or freelancers write most articles. If the latter, you may have a chance. Most magazines print a short biographical note if the writer is a freelancer, either at the end of the article or near the back of the magazine.
  • Look at the masthead (the page near the front that lists editors and other key employees) for guidelines on how freelancers should contact the periodical. Sometimes, these guidelines are somewhere near the back of the magazine. The magazine's website (if there is one) may also have helpful information.
  • Never write an article on speculation ("on spec") with the goal of sending it out and hoping to be published. You'll probably not get the courtesy of a reply. Instead, write a brief (editors are very busy) query letter that summarizes your idea for an article, explains why you think it's a great fit for the periodical and asks whether they are interested. Also summarize your history of being published and offer to submit clips on request.
  • Some magazines demand that hopeful writers make queries by snail mail only and not by e-mail -- just one method that they use to weed out those who are not serious.
  • Look for the abbreviation SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) in the guidelines for magazines that work via snail mail. No SASE, no reply.
  • Consider investing in the Writer's Market, a comprehensive annual guide to publications looking for writers, including their payment procedures. This reference tool is the freelancer's "Bible," available both in print and on-line. There also is a companion monthly magazine.
  • Once you have sent out a query, be prepared for a very long wait. Few editors ever reply to queries that do not interest them. Even editors who solicit an article are notoriously tardy about getting back to the author, even if they later decided not to run it. Be judicious in following up without becoming an irritant.
  • If your query meets with a positive response, be sure you also have an agreement on a "kill fee," a fee that you will be paid if you write the article but they later decide not to publish it.

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