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Why You Should Try Writing for Trade Magazines (and How Much They Pay)

by | Sep 13, 2019

When we think of magazines, our minds typically go to the glossy newsstand publications: magazines about fitness, celebrity gossip, home decorating or recipes.

But covering parenting faux-pas and nifty new placemats aren’t your only options if you’d like to write for magazines. In fact, those glossies are only a tiny fraction of the publications out there looking for writers.

Today we’re going to talk about a corner of the magazine market that has less competition, higher rates, and a ton of prospective markets: trade publications.

What is a trade publication?

Most industries have trade 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.

For example, AdWeek is a trade publication that caters to advertising professionals. Aviation Week & Space Technology is a go-to resource for professionals in the aviation field. Animal Pharm News targets professionals in the animal health and nutrition space.

Trade magazines cover a specific industry for a specific group of professionals. They tend to use language those professionals are familiar with (and others might not understand), including jargon and acronyms.

How much do trade magazines pay? Often 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.

Your opportunities range from publications that cater to 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 crafting a pitch.

Linda Formichelli, a freelance content writer who has also taught others how to earn money writing, 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.

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 — not editors. Then go directly to that publication’s website and find the writers guidelines to get the most up-to-date information.

Google’s also an easy-to-use resource. Look for lists of trade publications like this one. Or 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.

For example, if you have experience with horses, pitch 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, as that can help you stand out from freelance writers who don’t have any background in the field.

If you write often for publications in a particular industry, you’ll develop a niche over time. That can be more lucrative, because you’ll have more experience and know-how than other writers.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to be an expert in a certain topic to write for a trade magazine. Many publications are happy to work with skilled, reliable writers who have basic knowledge of a subject and can conduct research and interviews to fill in the gaps.

How do you pitch a trade magazine?

Once you’ve chosen a few publications, you’re ready to reach out.

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. Your goal is to tailor your pitch to their particular needs. Trade publications, even in the same industry, can vary widely in their coverage of similar topics.

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 a letter of introduction in your back pocket to demonstrate you’re the best person for the job.

This is an updated version of a story that was previously published. We update our posts as often as possible to ensure they’re useful for our readers.

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