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How to Write for Pet Magazines

by Moira Allen

You've just gotten a new dog. Or perhaps it's a cat, a hamster, a ferret, an African grey parrot. Whatever the nature of your pet, as a writer you can't help but see a whole new range of article possibilities. And with good reason: The pet magazine market is wide open to freelancers, including those with little previous experience. All you need is an understanding of pets, a way with words-and an understanding of the markets themselves.

The very first thing you need to understand about these markets is that readers of pet magazines don't want to hear about your pet! That's right: No matter how cute, adorable, and intelligent your pet may be, readers don't want to hear about it. They want to hear about their own pets.

Specifically, they want to learn how to care for their pets, solve health and training problems, and enhance the pet/owner relationship. To get an editor's attention, your article must help a reader do just that.

That doesn't mean that you can't write about it your pet. Instead of writing about your experiences, however, it's far better to write from your experience. Use your experience as a springboard from which to explore one of the many topics pet magazines hunger for. You don't have to be an expert in pet care; you simply need to know what issues are important to pet owners like yourself.

Ten Hot Topics

Most pet magazines seek articles in the following categories:

  1. Health. You don't have to be a veterinarian to write about health topics! Instead, draw on your own concerns or experiences as a pet owner, to generate articles ranging from preventive care to ways of handling specific illnesses or injuries. For example, did your veterinarian recommend that you learn how to brush your cat's teeth? Write an article about it! Consider a life-stage approach to health topics, from the needs of the newborn to the aging pet. Try a seasonal focus, such as protecting your pet from the hazards of hot or cold weather. Explore breed-specific health topics, or health concerns relating to different types of activities.

  2. Basic Care. From grooming to dental care, basic care articles are always in demand. Readers are always interested in ways to keep their pets safer, healthier, and happier. They are also interested in articles that make pet care easier: "How to clip your cat's claws without getting scratched." If you've found a better way to do something, share it.

  3. Training. Most pet magazines have a need for this type of article. Again, focus on a specific area. Instead of proposing "Everything you need to know about training a dog," consider "Five live-saving commands to teach your puppy." Again, consider the life-stages of the pet, seasonal issues, or special activities that require special training. Give specific steps and show how they worked for you. Interview a local pet care professional: Humane society personnel often have a wealth of tips for pet owners.

  4. Environment. How do you protect your pet from its environment, and vice versa? An article in Cat Fancy discussed how to protect computers from cats (and cats from computers). How do you deal with hair, fleas, or pets on the furniture? Have you created the ideal indoor kitty playground, or the perfect doghouse? How can you help readers cope with special problems, such as pet hair allergies?

  5. Equipment. Equipment articles are particularly popular with horse and bird publications. Don't try to write equipment reviews; most magazines do that in-house. Instead, show the equipment in action. Rather than writing a generic article about dog crates, for example, consider writing "How the proper crate can save your dog's life." What supplies did you take when you went hiking or camping with your dog? What types of "kitty gyms" work best for older cats? How can you create a parrot playground?

  6. Activities. People want to do things with their pets. Dog magazines, for example, are always looking for new sports and activities: Hiking, camping, agility training, and so forth. Articles might range from a simple activity ("Frisbee-train your dog in your back yard") to the complex ("Lure coursing: It's not just for sighthounds"). Seasonal suggestions are always popular; have you ever taken your dog sledding or water-skiing? Consider writing about activities that involve specific family members, such as children or the elderly. Magazines also crave articles about activities that enhance the public perception of pets, such as temperament training or search and rescue work.

  7. Breed Profiles. Most pet magazines run at least one breed profile per issue, and some include shorter profiles of less well-known breeds. This is a good place to break in, but contact the magazine first: Profiles are often planned well in advance, and are frequently assigned to recognized experts on the breed. Don't assume that you don't have a chance, however: Sometimes the experts don't come through. Or, you could interview the experts yourself to develop a profile of your favorite breed. Let the magazine know that you are willing to do breed profiles on assignment (and on short notice!).

  8. Pets and People. Quality accounts of human/animal interactions are hard to come by, and always welcome. While stories of therapy dogs working wonders at nursing homes or children's hospitals have been somewhat overdone (though new angles are still possible), many other topics exist. Check the local papers for stories of special, unusual, heroic, or just plain wacky pets and their people.

  9. Unusual Topics. If you have a story about a rare breed, a unique event, a historical pet, or something else that isn't discussed every day, you have a good chance of selling it. Editors are always looking for coverage of events and topics off the beaten track, items they might not otherwise hear about. News items fit well into this category, such as an article Dog Fancy ran on the efforts of search-and-rescue dog teams in the aftermath of the Mexico City earthquake. Be aware, though, that due to the long lead time involved in magazine publishing, a story must have qualities that transcend mere "newsworthiness."

  10. Personal Experiences. I've listed this last for a reason: Personal experience stories make up as little as 10% of a pet magazine's content, yet compose as much as 80% of its unsolicited submissions. To beat those odds, your story must be truly exceptional. Perhaps it's the tale of a Korean war dog who flew in helicopters, or an owner's struggle with a canine "escape artist" who could chew through chain link fencing. If your pet has had a truly remarkable experience or made a substantial difference in someone's life, don't hesitate to share its story. But if you think your pet is exceptional simply because it's yours, don't be surprised if editors disagree.

Keep in mind that these categories are neither exclusive or mutually exclusive. In fact, they often overlap. For example, an article on winter activities might include tips on cold weather health hazards, training suggestions, or equipment needs. Editors love such "double-duty" pieces; adding an extra dimension to your article can greatly enhance its chances.

Whatever you write, remember that editors want to promote responsible, compassionate pet care. That can mean different things to different magazines, however. For example, while The AKC Gazette (targeting breeders and exhibitors) might welcome an article on building a whelping box, Dog Fancy (targeting pet owners) would not. Gazette readers believe in responsible breeding; Fancy readers believe in spaying and neutering.

Personal or Professional?

One question would-be pet writers often ask is "why would a magazine want to buy an article from me rather than from a professional?" If the topic is health, for example, you might wonder why the magazine wouldn't simply turn to a veterinarian.

The answer is simple: While some veterinarians are excellent writers, most are not giving James Herriot any competition. Also, most veterinarians are busy being veterinarians. They don't have time to write articles; you do.

More importantly, while professionals have the technical knowledge, you know the types of questions a pet owner like yourself would ask, and what sort of answers they will understand. You can turn dry facts into helpful articles.

The best approach is to offer the best of both worlds. Write from your perspective as a pet owner, and include interviews with the experts to flesh out the facts. Another advantage you have as a writer is the ability to interview more than one expert, and present more than one point of view. Most importantly, you can translate tech-talk into pet talk.

Finally, the inclusion of your personal experiences can bring an article to life. For example, a magazine that runs a medical article on canine diabetes might also include a sidebar about how an owner learned to handle her dog's disease and give it insulin shots by practicing on an orange. While the medical information was important, the personal story demonstrated that average pet owners could cope with this disease.

What Not to Write

Just as there are topics that appeal to editors, there are other articles that no pet editor ever wants to see. Chief among these are the following:

  • "My first pet." Many new pet owners are astonished and delighted by the unfamiliar antics of their new pet-and assume that readers will be equally amused. They forget that most readers have already been through this stage (often many times); to them, such stories are old news.

  • "My dead pet." When a pet dies, a writer will often memorialize its life in the form of a story, article, or poem. While this is an excellent cathartic experience and can be extremely helpful in the grieving process, such "cradle to grave" accounts of a pet's life make dull reading for anyone but the owner. Write it, by all means, but don't send it!

  • "Talking pets." I don't know of a single pet magazine that is interested in hearing your pet's life story-from its own lips. Particularly when presented by a writer who assumes that a poodle must speak with a French accent...

  • "Irresponsible owners." Watch out for stories that describe irresponsible pet care. I once received scathing criticism from readers for running a story about a dog that ran loose around the neighborhood. I had thought its escapades amusing, but readers reminded me that our policy was to promote responsible care-which means keeping dogs confined to a safe yard or on a leash.

  • "It's about me" stories. Some "pet" stories are about something else entirely (usually the author). Make sure your pet is the center of the story and not just a peripheral element.

Defining Your Market

Pet magazines exist for just about every type of pet you can imagine. In addition to magazines about dogs, cats, birds, and horses, you can now find publications about ferrets, "pocket pets" (hamsters, rats, gerbils, and rabbits), reptiles, and aquarium fish. Pay rates range from $50 to $500, based on the size of the magazine and your own reputation as a writer. Some magazines pay more for assigned articles (based on your query) than for unsolicited material, and some will no longer accept unsolicited articles at all.

Nor should you confine your efforts to pet magazines per se. Other markets are also open to pet-related articles. For example, articles about "traveling with your pet" constantly show up in family, travel, and insurance publications. "Hiking with dogs" might find a home in a pet magazine-or in a publication about outdoor sports, or even in your local paper. When you're developing a pet article, don't overlook its reprint or spin-off applications.

Following are a look at two major players in the pet market:

Fancy Publications

For decades, the "Fancy" magazines were limited to Cat Fancy, Dog Fancy, Horse Illustrated and Bird Talk. Today, however, its publications dominate the pet magazine market, covering ferrets, fish, rabbits, reptiles, and various "pocket pets" (e.g., hamsters, gerbils, chinchillas, etc.). It also produces several veterinary and pet product trade publications.

Fancy defines its market as the "average pet owner," and focuses on "responsible pet care." Its readers are primarily pet-owning families or individuals rather than breeders or exhibitors; consequently, Fancy accepts articles on mixed-breed pets as well as purebreds. Readers tend to be biased against articles that seem to encourage indiscriminate breeding, unsafe care practices (such as allowing a dog to roam loose) or hunting articles.

Material for these magazines should be reader-friendly. First-person accounts are common (though "my first dog" stories are shunned), and editors appreciate a warm, anecdotal style even in medical or technical pieces. Medical and technical terms should be defined (never assume, for example, that a reader knows what "hip dysplasia" is).

To some degree, Fancy publications are product-driven. While articles are by no means "advertorials," and Fancy editors are not averse to covering controversial topics, some editors may be uncomfortable about articles that discourage the purchase of the types of products advertised in the magazine.

Fancy Publications offers an array of over 25 magazines, of which nearly half are monthly or bimonthly; the remainder are annuals. (Any publication with "USA" in the title is an annual.) The company also offers a new line of annual publications in its "Popular Pets" series, each of which focuses upon a specific breed of dog or cat.

The annuals target the first-time or potential pet owner, providing information the beginning owner needs to know; advertising focuses on breeders. The annuals are sold primarily through point-of-purchase displays in pet stores, and remain available throughout the cover year. In addition to general annuals (Dogs USA, Cats USA, etc.), Fancy offers a selection of "Popular Pets" annuals -- publications focusing on a specific breed, offering a selection of articles on the background and care of that breed.

The monthlies target the more experienced pet owner and focus on ways to improve the owner's relationship with or care of a pet. They are distributed primarily by subscription. These publications are the best place to break in. The editor of a particular monthly (e.g., Dog Fancy) is likely to be the editor of the corresponding annual as well (e.g., DOGS USA), so becoming an established contributor to the monthly is the best way to be considered for the annual. (Fancy editors also "share" contributors, so once you establish a reputation with one magazine, you'll find it easier to pitch articles or even retailor a very similar article to another.) To break in, target one of the article categories that appear in each issue of each publication -- e.g., health and medical, basic care (including grooming, nutrition, and parasite control), training, activities and recreation, equipment, features (including history, current events, exceptional experiences, and examples of human/animal interaction such as "therapy pets"), and breed profiles. (A word of warning: Editors usually assign profiles to known breeders or breed writers, but they like to have writers on tap to "fill in" when necessary.)

The best way to approach any of the publications is through a well-written query. Most of the publications have a "queries only" policy; Cat Fancy and Dog Fancy return unsolicited articles unread. Those publications that still review unsolicited submissions tend to have lengthy response times.

Circulation levels for the publications range from around 50,000 for magazines covering less popular pets, to over 500,000 for Cat Fancy. The pay range for the various publications is also considerable; features may receive anywhere from $100 to $500, depending on the type of article, quality of the work and experience of the writer.

Most Fancy publications expect a new writer to work on spec for at least the first article, and sometimes for the second. As a former editor of Dog Fancy, I can attest that this policy is based upon painful experience: Too often, editors have received marginal or unusable articles even from experienced professionals. Fancy editors rarely divulge their editorial plans to writers, but there's a sneaky way around this: Request photographer's guidelines. This will give you an idea of the types of articles that are planned for future issues.

Fancy buys FNASR and pays on publication. It's wise to ask for an estimated publication date when negotiating a contract; the magazines have a less than perfect record of promptness. Fancy contracts are generally negotiable.

The American Kennel Club

Pure-Bred Dogs/The American Kennel Club Gazette (usually known as The AKC Gazette) is an excellent market for dog writers. It is, however, radically different from Dog Fancy, in that it focuses on breeders and exhibitors and other "professionals" rather than on "pet owners." In fact, the editors (and readers) of the Gazette tend to regard "pet owners" with a certain degree of scorn, and their attitude toward anything other than a purebred dog is one of contempt. The focus of the Gazette is on maintaining and improving purebred dogs, and training and showing those dogs.

While the Gazette's "must-have" articles also include health, care, training, events, and activities, the focus of these articles is far more technical than that of Dog Fancy. Gazette readers generally understand medical and technical terms; medical articles, for example, should sound as if they came straight from the veterinarian's mouth. The Gazette also welcomes coverage of major canine sporting events (e.g., the Westminster, Crufts, the Iditarod), but does not cover most hunting or field trials. The Gazette does not use breed profiles; breed issues are handled by regular "breed" columnists.

While contributors do not necessarily have to breed or show (or even own) dogs themselves, they must be sufficiently fluent with the interests and terminology of the dog-show world to convince readers that they know what they are talking about. Managing Editor Arliss Paddock prefers queries to unsolicited manuscripts, and pays on acceptance for FNASR. Feature articles typically run 2,000 to 3,000 words. The Gazette uses photos, but does not require them, and often illustrates articles with artwork instead.

Recently, the AKC has also entered the "pet" market with Family Dog, a publication oriented to pet owners rather than breeders and exhibitors. Unlike the Gazette, this publication will accept articles about mixed-breed dogs.

Writing about pets can be fun and lucrative. It's a wonderful way to break into the magazine market and build your portfolio. It's also rewarding, because when you improve the lives of pets, you also improve the lives of their owners. So step over the dog, take the cat off your keyboard, and get started!

Related Articles:

Pet Markets, by Moira Allen
http://www.writing-world.com/freelance/petmarts.shtml

Writing for Pet Magazines: An Interview with Moira Allen, by Kelly Milner
http://www.writing-world.com/freelance/pets2.shtml

Copyright © 2001 & 2012 Moira Allen
Portions of this article appeared in Byline and Freelance Success.

This article may be reprinted provided that the author's byline, bio, and copyright notice are retained in their entirety. For complete details on reprinting articles by Moira Allen, please click HERE.


Moira Allen is the editor of Writing-World.com, and has written nearly 400 articles, serving as a columnist and regular contributor for such publications as The Writer, Entrepreneur, Writer's Digest, and Byline. An award-winning writer, Allen is the author of eight books, including Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals, and Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests. In addition to Writing-World.com, Allen hosts Mostly-Victorian.com, a growing archive of articles from Victorian periodicals, and The Pet Loss Support Page, a resource for grieving pet owners. She lives in Maryland with her husband and the obligatory writer's cat. She can be contacted at editors "at" writing-world.com.

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