Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Cracking Women's Magazines

Question of the day: I'm curious about how you broke into writing for major women's magazines. Is it hard to do so? Harder now with the economy than it used to be? You did a great blog a while back about how you packaged a story with a "Why You Resist/Why We Insist" theme and I wondered how a big a part of the process that is -- coming up with the catchy concept and headline.

I'm going to break this question up into a few parts because it has a lot of different elements to it, so check back for the answers to the second and third questions.

I think I've chatted about this before, but I'm happy to revisit. I broke into women's magazines in a fairly untraditional manner: I did it with no magazine experience. Basically, many years ago, I was doing some celebrity ghostwriting for a PR firm (yes, celebs hire ghostwriters and don't pen things themselves), and I was antsy to break out and do some editorial work. I was planning my wedding at the time, so sent of a pitch letter to The Knot, which now is a magazine, but back then, was only a website. I figured it would be an easy way to break in. Well, as fate would have it, they were looking for a ghostwriter for one of their books. I submitted a proposal, along with some sample chapters, and they hired me. I know. I couldn't have been more floored.

While the experience was less than ideal (for reasons I won't publicly get into - and don't take this as disparaging against the current Knot - this was years ago and many editorial teams ago), I have no regrets about it. Because with that on my pitch letter, "I recently ghostwrote XYZ for The Knot," I broke down my first door. I fired off a query to Bride's, based on a similar subject to the book, and voila, was granted my first feature. Easy as pie!

Ha! While it didn't take me long to break in, once I broke in, it DID take me a looooong time to land something else worthwhile. I did contract one other feature relatively quickly, only to be met with a swift and nasty kill fee, for reasons never explained to me and yeah, oh boy, was that demoralizing. (And FYI, in my defense, I'd freaking outlined the piece AND written half of it in proposal form, so to this day, I remember that editor and would never work with her again.) So instead of concentrating on features, I opted to really bone up my clips: I started pitching FOBs and a variety of websites, who always need more articles than magazines do, and slowly, things began snowballing for me. Cooking Light and Men's Health (I adore those editors to this day) began contracting a bunch of my FOB ideas, and eventually, I was able to leverage my good work with those shorter articles into feature pieces, not only for those original magazines but others as well.

Breaking into magazines requires a lot, A LOT of patience. There is very, very little instant gratification but if you realize you're in it for the long-haul, and attack your career with that mentality - whittling away piece by piece - I do think that you can find success.

So I'd love to hear from readers how YOU broke into mags.


MaNiC MoMMy™ said...

Oh, it is hard! And I know so many people who say, "Don't write for free." I did though, and for me, it paid off. I wrote my first piece for free, and then it led to some regional magazines that paid, which led to a monthly column that paid in that regional magazine, which gets you the clips and the status you need, and the confidence to go after more, and then you just keep at it. Then I started sending out to Parenting and Parents and Pregnancy and you work hard to establish relationships with the editors, right Allison? And I had established a great relationship with the editor at Pregnancy magazine and was writing for them monthly and then BAM! She left. And while I still wrote for a while for them, sometimes new editors bring with them their own team and their new ideas, and you can get left high and dry.

But at that point I was ready to start working seriously on my novel (whole 'nuther' story -- haha), and now I just write for websites. The end! hahah.

Anonymous said...

I broke in with a total fluke - spent months crafting my first query, then fired it off to a major consumer pub and just didn't mention writing credentials. And I got a 1000 word assignment out of it! It took a little time to get another clip, but that one large clip was instrumental in landing other assigments.

Alison Ashley Formento said...

I was lucky enough to get an Op-Ed published in The NY Times, and then, like juusan, I spent months honing a query to target to a national mag. It worked. That same query became part of a cover story in The Writer (May '08) on how to craft winning queries. So, study the magazine you want to write for, then pick a topic that you're passionate about and really work that query. Even if your first query is rejected, odds are the editors will remember you when you submit the next idea. Hopefully, one of your ideas will eventually fit the magazine you target.

Lynnette Labelle said...

I'm not trying to break into the mag writing biz, but wanted to congratulate you on gettin' 'er done. This was an interesting blurb. Thanks.

Lynnette Labelle

Anonymous said...

This is great to know; I'm glad to know good old fashioned work pays off and it's not all about connections. Thanks to all for the advice.