Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Tackling the Trades

Admin note of the day: I'm getting down to the wire with this whole pregnancy thing...if I haven't popped by Tuesday, I'm getting induced. SO...if you've been holding off sending in a question, do it now - I'm trying to stock up on blog entries and answer questions this week so I can still offer advice while taking some time off. Got a question? Send it to me at or post it in the comments section.

Question of the day: I have no published clips. I do believe in querying till I'm blue in the face, and I have read a lot about querying consumer publications. I have sent a couple queries to them, but I want to target trade pubs, as a lot of books on freelancing suggest when you are starting out. I would like to know if you have any advice on how to come up with saleable ideas for trade pubs when you can't get your hands on a copy of the magazine. I am also getting the impression that they want writers who are experts in that area, or they just use staff writers. Am I missing something in this equation? Right now, my focus is solely on getting clips I can use, but I feel a little paralyzed on how to query the small and trade pubs. With all the advice I've read, I feel like it would be easier to query a national mag like Self than a trade pub--this can't be right!

I'm not an expert on writing for trades, as I've never done it. So I surveyed a few writer friends and here's what they had to say. Hope this helps!

-I've had good luck sending a letter of intro to trade magazines. At the end of the letter I ask if I can send the editor clips; for some reason I think that non-threatening question results in more yeses than nos. Several years ago I sent intro letters to 24 magazines, and within a few
weeks I had assignments from eight of them. Sometimes editors just hand me an assignment, and sometimes they encourage me to pitch ideas.
If I don't have direct experience in the topic the magazine focuses on, I list a wide variety of magazines I've written for so the editor sees that I can handle many topics; for example, I might say, "I've written for a wide variety of trade and consumer magazines, including Pizza
Today, Parenting, Modern Reprographics, Entrepreneur's Business Start-Ups, Redbook, Fitness, and The Federal Credit Union. Also, many trades run general business articles, so don't sweat it too much if you've written on business but not on the particular industry the magazine targets. For example, I've written on absenteeism for a couple of trades, and on general marketing topics for many of them. You just need to find expert sources in the right industry.
You can find trade magazines at And here's a secret: Most trades are published by companies that produce a LOT of trade magazines. Find out who published the trade you're interested in, Google their website address, and check out their list of magazines. For example, if you discover (say in Writer's Market) that Wide-Format Imaging is published by Cygnus and surf to their website, you'll see that they publish 40 or 50 other trades, including InkMaker, Modern Jeweler, and Airport Business. Sleuth out the publisher of Target Marketing, and you'll see that they publish 14 other magazines, including Publishing Executive and Book Business. So where before you had two magazines to pitch, now you have closer to 60! -Linda Formichelli,; blog:, Co-Author of The Renegade Writer's Query Letters That Rock! (Marion Street Press, November 2006)

-From my experience trade editors look for writers with expertise. My editors employ writers they hear speaking at trade food conferences or are marketing professors who may have been quoted in stories or have been covering the beat in some fashion. My example is that I used to be a metro food editor. However, that didn't quality me to write about trade stuff, so I had to scramble to find a whole other set of sources different from consumer food pieces.I've probably mentioned this before but my best advice is to get to trade conferences in your area of expertise. Unfortunately this is a catch-22 because it's hard to get press credentials unless you're already on the beat. A resourceful writer can do it, I'm sure. When you get to the trade conference, introduce yourself to everyone in the press room and grab every trade magazine you can. I'd pitch to the softer ones first. It's easier to write for say Food Products for Children than Microbes in the Food Chain (I'm making up these titles). - A food trade writer who asked to stay anonymous

-I wrote for trades in the urban planning field regularly. My advice is to be very familiar with the field so you can speak the language of the editor and of your sources. That requires a certain level of knowledge and immersion in the subject. You've got to be able to use the buzzwords correctly, or at least recognize them if someone else uses them. You need a passing acquaintance with major organizations and major names. (In the urban planning world, if someone mentions "Duany" or "CNU" I need to know who/what they mean.)
Things that aren't well known in the wider world can be old news within the trade. If I pitched a story to Planning about transit-oriented development as if it were a new phenomenon, I'd be ignored as a complete newbie. If I pitched a story about cities where transit-oriented development has been tried and failed and here's why, I'm presenting something of value that demonstrates I'm familiar with the field.
Gaining this level of knowledge is hard. I worked for an architecture firm for years, so I was able to go to magazines armed with that knowledge. If anything, my experience has made me hesitant to try to break into a trade magazine where I don't know the trade. The good news is that most people have some knowledge of at least some trade market and can educate themselves to learn more. I also think some editors are more willing to work with editors unfamiliar with their market than others. Urban design has enough writers floating around that editors can pick and choose those with some knowledge of the subject. -Elizabeth Lunday,

-I write for a lot of trades. My suggestion would be to pick your specialty and then target those markets that cover it. In my case, I was a lawyer before I became a writer. (I've been freelancing for 13 years.) Even that field is highly specialized, so I broke in by becoming the freelance editor of a publication on environmental law. (I'd been an environmental
lawyer.) From there I grew my business. I branched out into covering product liability (which was sort of related to environmental law in that there's a fair amount of monster litigation, and I covered toxic torts in the environmental field), and then I started covering marketing for lawyers (I began by covering a slowdown in the environmental field, and then broadened
my horizons to getting more legal business generally), and now I write about pretty much anything having to do with law.
I've never been a big querier (if that's even a word!). I got business by sending out lots of letters of introduction. That's still largely how I get more business. If I write about a particular topic for one publication, I try to spin a related topic that might be appropriate for other publications. For instance, right now I'm the editor of Gaming Law Review, which covers the law of gambling. After I got that gig, I wrote an article for Of Counsel (which covers law firm management) about law firms with gaming law practices. That way, momentum builds. - Lori Tripoli,

-I write for trades and I love it. The money can range from paltry to princely, but the real pay dirt is the amount of time it takes to put together a story.
The cons: Pay can be low. Not as much status as consumer magazines. ("You write for Toilet Paper Manufacturers Reports? Who the heck reads that?") The pros: You up the pay by your per hour rate, which in most trades works out to be as higher or, in some cases, higher, than consumer pubs. Factor in the PITA involved in revisions and your hourly rate can be much lower. Since I can't pay my bills with status, I don't really care about that. However, it is good to have some national clips so you can say, "I wrote for this, that and the other."
The easiest way to break in to trades is to have some degree of expertise in the field. So if you've worked in a grocery store or a bakery, find trades that cater to those industries. Trade editors love good writers who have a knowledge of their focus business (or audience). And revisions and edits are almost nonexistent. I can't remember the last time I had to rewrite a trade piece. I have a criminal justice background and write a monthly management column for Law Enforcement Technology and often write stories for them. It helps my credentials when I write criminal justice-related stories for other publications. I am also a CE there (website is: Find trade magazines either through professional associations or running a search on the Internet with writers guidelines and the type of trade (pipefitters writers guidelines). Might have to mix it around a bit to find everything, but it's worked for me. You can also use your expertise to write for other trades -- like I write employee theft pieces for other industries. Sometimes those are one-offs, but a lot of the time you can turn those into regulars, too. - Carole Moore, writer for Writer's Digest, FC, WaPo, Fox News, Harvard Magazine, CSM, Prevention,, Weekly Reader publications, as well as customs, trades and for the Net


Anonymous said...

Oh, Allison, great luck with the delivery. I loved being pregnant, nine months of morning sickness and all, but labor was my most favorite part. It was never easy, but those hours spent giving birth to my three children are my most treasured memories. I wish you both peace and health, and please know we'll miss you while you're otherwise besotted.

Anonymous said...

This is really helpful info, Allison. Thanks to your writer friends who responded. Good luck for a smooth delivery!

Sara Hantz said...

Okay... nothing to do with your post... hope everything goes well and can't wait to see the pics... it's a long time since mine were that small...

Anonymous said...

I have nothing to add about your post, either, but I wanted to wish you well with your delivery. Happy Bouncy Baby Time! Just remember to breathe. :)

Anonymous said...

I'll add something 'post related' -- you inspired me today. After reading this, I emailed four trades with a letter of intro (it's hard for me NOT to take Linda Formichelli's advice on anything); one editor already responded -- they are interested in working with me. One other editor passed it along to the person currently holding the torch. Could pan out. You helped me feel productive today. Thanks for that!

Larramie said...

Love that comment from Karen because you truly do inspire us, Allison.

Now, regarding your current WIP about to meet its deadline, please know that the pictures can wait until you're able to update your website. Otoh, my hope is that there's a substitute blogger lined up to announce the imminent debut. And just think, you'll get to do this all over again in six months! ;o)

Wishing you a happy, healthy baby very, very soon.

Allison Winn Scotch said...

Thanks everyone for the well-wishes! I promise to be back here asap after the delivery to fill you in. :)

Karen - what wonderful news! Congratulations!

Kristen King, Inkthinker said...

Allison, great post! I got a similar question recently and just added this to my list of "other resources" here:

Here's hoping you have a smooth and speedy delivery!

All the best,

Anonymous said...

[...(it's hard for me NOT to take Linda Formichelli's advice on anything...]

Send me ten dollars.

Just kidding! Allison, thanks for posting this, and I wantesd to wish you well for your delivery!

Anonymous said...

Dear Allison,
I am new at submitting to blogs, but I am getting my feet wet with yours. Very much enjoyed your question above. I will submit another comment later because I think your blog is really interesting and I want to be thorough.
I have a new book out titled How To Awaken the Writer Within that is on my website. My first book Cry of the Panther: Quest of a Species is also on my website. When my first book came out I was utterly amazed that it was on the New York Times bestseller list.
I hope my second book here will help other aspiring writers get their books published.
My website is
Thank you,
From the swamps of the Florida Everglades. . .
Jim McMullen