When you’re in line at the grocery store waiting to pay, do you casually thumb through the magazines on display?
Chances are you read about the latest royal gossip, celebrity rumors and home-decorating styles.
But covering celebrity affairs and nifty new placemats aren’t your only options if you’d like to write for magazines. Glossy newsstand publications are only a tiny fraction of the publications out there looking for writers.
If you’re interested in a corner of the magazine market that has less competition, higher rates, and a ton of prospective markets, consider trade magazine writing.
What is a trade magazine?
Most industries have magazines tailored to professionals in their field. From supermarket produce professionals to sign makers to nail salon owners to roofers, most fields have one or more magazines specifically for people in their profession.
These magazines can pay up to $1 per word or more. And they don’t receive as many pitches from up-and-coming writers as some of the household names you see on the newsstand.
You can pitch to magazines that cater to everyone from long-term care professionals to bowling alley managers to a wide array of other industry pros. I’ve written about everything from mango merchandising to how golf course managers maintain their greens despite herds of elk wandering through.
Who writes for trade publications?
In some industries, you’ll need specialized, advanced knowledge to write for industry publications, but other fields are far more open to writers who don’t have advanced knowledge of the field. Be sure to read the publication’s guidelines to see if you have to be an industry expert before spending your time pitching.
Linda Formichelli, cofounder of The Renegade Writer, has written for a wide variety of trade magazines over the years. Her trade clips include a pizza restaurant-owner publication, a magazine for credit-union executives, a publication for those who own in-plant print shops, and one that appeals to boat-related business owners.
“I admit it — with trades, the glamour factor is missing in action,” Linda wrote “You won’t get the same thrill seeing your byline in Boating Industry as you would in Glamour. But guess what? I’m not in this game for the bylines. I’m in it for the paychecks.”
And keep in mind, many industry publications also run articles that aren’t specifically related to their fields. Many business, finance and law publications include short sections to appeal to a broader spectrum of interests, such as stories about travel and dining.
Before pitching, thoroughly research the publication by reading back issues to see what types of topics they like to write about, as well as what they’ve covered recently. Tailor your pitch to their particular needs. Trade publications, even in the same industry, can vary widely in their coverage of similar topics.
How do you find trade magazines to pitch?
When I first looked into trade magazines several years ago, I turned to Writer’s Market and pored through its many pages of listings. Some love the online, subscription-based version, but I went the old-school, library-book route. I lugged the thick volume home and spent hours going through the huge “trade journal” section, making a note of every publication that seemed like a good match.
I spent a lot of time copying down crucial info from the guide and transferring it into a spreadsheet. But as soon as I went online to cross-reference the contact info, I realized some of the names from the print book were already out of date.
It’s often a better idea to use print publications and online directories to find the names and website addresses of publications that might be a good fit. Then, you can go directly to the source and find the writer’s guidelines online to get the most up-to-date information.
Another way to find trade magazines is simply to Google “[your favorite industry] + trade magazine” and see what comes up. You’ll find quite a few resources and options with a quick web search.
How do you decide which trade publications to approach?
If you have experience in a particular industry, that’s a great place to start. Say, if you have experience with horses, pitch to the horse magazines. If you were a realtor once, look for real estate publications. Be sure to mention your qualifications and relevant experience in your letter of inquiry.
But don’t feel like you have to be an expert in the field to write for a trade magazine. Many publications are happy to work with skilled, reliable writers who have some basic knowledge of a subject and can conduct research and interviews to fill in the gaps.
How do you pitch a trade publication?
Once you’ve chosen a few publications, you’re ready to reach out.
Double-check you’re following the freelancer contact instructions for each particular magazine. Some may prefer you pitch stories while others prefer a general “letter of inquiry.” If they don’t have specific information, a letter of inquiry is often a good place to start.
An LOI is a “letter of inquiry,” “letter of interest” or “letter of introduction.” Your LOI introduces yourself, demonstrates your familiarity with the magazine and topic, explains why you’re qualified to write for the publication, and presents some of your ideas as well as your credentials.
“You write it once, and you reap the rewards repeatedly. That’s why it’s important to get yours right from the get-go,” wrote Mridu Khullar Relph, who highlights the importance of having an LOI in your back pocket to demonstrate you’ll be the best person for the job.
She also emphasizes cultivating a niche can be key to succeeding in a given field. People want experts to write for their trade publication, and your LOI is a great opportunity to demonstrate your expertise.
After you send out some LOIs, mark your calendar for two to four weeks later. Follow up if you don’t hear back by then.
When I first pitched trade magazines, I put together a spreadsheet to keep track of when I contacted each publication. If I heard back for an editor saying to check back in a couple months, I’d be sure to write that date on my spreadsheet and calendar and make sure to check back in.
Even though an editor might not need you right away, if you check in occasionally, they may think of you when a suitable assignment comes up. But be sure not to be a pest. Everyone has different thoughts on the best frequency for check-ins, but I’ve found a quick email every three or four months after the initial email and follow up works well.
Once you have experience writing for one trade magazine, your clips may help you break into other trade and consumer publications.
Have you ever written for trade publications? What tips would you offer to new trade magazine writers?