You have a stellar article idea. Now comes the hard part: where to send your pitch?
You don’t know any good publications for your idea off the top of your head, so you slog over to the local Barnes & Noble and rifle through the newsstand.
And…you find only one magazine that fits your idea. Is it even worth writing up a query letter? You head home, despondent, scrap your previously promising idea, and vow to try again with another topic.
If this sounds like something you’ve done, I want to tell you a secret. Come closer… closer… no, not that close! Here it is:
By relying only on your local newsstand, you missed out on hundreds of publications you could have pitched.
There’s a metric buttload of publications out there, just waiting for enterprising writers who think beyond the newsstand. So leave the bookstore to the writers who don’t know any better, while you pitch these lesser-known but often well-paying markets.
Trade magazines: They’re not glamorous, but they pay well
For years, my stock in trade was, well, trade magazines. These are business-to-business publications that are read by people in a certain industry. For example, I’ve written for:
In-Plant Graphics, for owners of in-plant print shops
The Federal Credit Union, for CU execs
Pizza Today, which targets pizza restaurant owners and managers
Boating Industry, for businesses that make and sell boats and boat-related products
Independent Joe, a magazine for Dunkin’ Donuts franchise owners
I admit it — with trades, the glamour factor is missing in action. 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. (Agree? Click to tweet this idea.) Trades’ payment levels are all over the map, but the ones I wrote for typically paid from 30 to 50 cents per word.
Even better, trades are much easier to break into than newsstand pubs. Instead of crafting a fully fleshed-out query letter, you can often get your foot in the door with a query/letter of introduction hybrid — a letter that introduces you as a writer and quickly presents three or four ideas you have for the magazine.
Foreign magazines: Look around the world to find paying markets
Born in the USA! Proud to be an American! And all that jazz!
Sure, the United States is home to tons of magazines that hire freelancers. But other countries have paying markets too – and a lot of them need English-speaking writers, so your natural knowledge of your native tongue can be an advantage.
Because most American writers stick to U.S. publications, the competition for overseas gigs is a lot less fierce. And — hooray! — the pay can compare well to what you’d earn from an American market, depending on the country.
In terms of finding international magazines, Google is your friend: Just type in the country with your keywords and start surfing through the results. For example, if you write about architecture, a quick Google search comes up with this extensive list of English-speaking architecture magazines around the world.
Target international publication gigs the same way you would sell to U.S. markets: with a well-crafted query letter.
Custom publications: Hiding in plain sight
The magazine you get at Hannaford supermarkets. The publication your insurance company sends you in the mail. The one you pick up at your kid’s Taekwondo school while he’s working on his roundhouse kicks.
You may not even think of these as potential markets, but many of these magazines — called custom publications — assign articles to freelance writers. Not only that, they pay well: up to $1 per word and even more.
Custom publications are basically marketing vehicles, but you write for them in a journalistic style just as you would for a newsstand magazine. Some examples are:
ATA World, the magazine of the American Taekwondo Association
Fresh, for Hannaford supermarkets
WagWorld, for Purina’s Beneful dog food
Stronger, a magazine for Gold’s Gym members
Costco Connection, for customers of — guess what? — Costco
Keep an eye out at the businesses you frequent and in your mailbox for custom publications you can pitch, and also visit the Custom Content Council and search for companies that create materials in your niche.
Break in with a query/LOI hybrid or a well-researched query letter on a topic of interest to the publication’s readers. Don’t worry about trying to be “salesy” — these custom media projects are not at all about the hard sell, but instead aim to educate, entertain, and inform their readers.
Business communications: Go directly to the source
I’m going to say something crazy: You can find places to sell your articles by skipping magazines and online publications altogether.
So what’s left?
Actually, what’s left are the tons of businesses that need articles ghostwritten for magazines, newsletters, websites, and blogs. (I count blog posts as articles because of the popularity these days of long-form posts.)
For example, an online shoe retailer may need articles on how to find the best fit for its newsletter, or a consulting firm might want ghostwritten articles they can submit to trade magazines in their industry.
If you aim for successful, profitable, medium-to-large businesses, the pay can be pretty darn good: I’m talking $75 per hour or even more.
The trick to landing these business clients is to pick a niche where you have some experience — whether it’s through a previous job or your education — and write a letter of introduction where you show you’ve researched the company and have found something they’re missing. For example, the company may not have a compelling newsletter, or their blog might be stagnant. Then you sell the benefits of these projects — and yourself as the perfect writer.
The next time you have a brilliant article idea, sure, check out the local newsstand. But also widen your scope to trades, custom pubs, international magazines, and businesses — and watch your portfolio grow.