Being published frequently in foreign countries has taught me a lot of tricks on getting into the pages of a magazine without ever having read it. But don't be fooled. These methods aren't to be used to save time or because you're too lazy to get your own copy. Nothing beats researching magazines by reading through them, and that's the first method you should aim for if you can. If not, use a combination of these techniques that helped me break into Writer's Digest, College Bound, Next Step, Woman This Month and many others.
Read Reprints Online. When I wanted to break into Writer's Digest, I wasn't able to find many published articles online on their website, or glean important information from their writers' guidelines. I did know that WD focuses primarily on novelists, thanks to an interview with the editor-in-chief that I happened to catch on radio, but I was a nonfiction writer and that's where my expertise lay. So you know what I did? I read WD reprints on other writers' websites. For example, one regular contributor to WD often puts her clips on her personal website. I found others in writing websites with the text "Reprinted with permission from Writer's Digest" below them. I collected half a dozen or so of such articles and looked for common denominators among them. I noted the word lengths of each article, the way they would begin and the technique in which quotes and personal experiences were scattered through the article. That gave me enough information to pitch WD with my own ideas and sell them.
Browse through the Table of Contents and Cover. The articles featured on the cover of a magazine are a statement from the editor that these are the best articles in her magazine. These are the headlines that will convert browsers into buyers and buyers into subscribers. She wants a person in a grocery store or newsstand to look at a cover headline and think, "I have to read this!" Browsing through the cover titles is like taking a sneak preview of the best stuff in the magazine. And covers aren't that difficult to locate. You can find the latest cover of almost any magazine on its website, along with a table of contents for the issue. This is your next stop, by the way. Look through the contents closely and see the topics and slants. You'll soon figure out which article will hit a home run: "10 Ways to look Sexy in a Bikini" or "Top 10 Businesses you can Start on a Low Budget."
Visit the Website and Subscribe to the Newsletter. Visit the magazine's website and devour any and all information. You'll probably find a sampling of the articles, a complete table of contents for the current issue and, sometimes, the letter from the editor. Read it. Learn it by heart. Which articles does the editor refer to? Does she have any favorites from the issue? Does she mention what she may want to cover in the next? What are the topics that hold priority in her mind right now? A woman's magazine editor in Bahrain referred to her pregnancy recently. Guess who's about to propose a pregnancy feature?
Check out the Competition. Topics of interest to a magazine's competitors are likely to be of interest to your magazine of choice, too. After all, they're competing for the same audience; wouldn't they also be serving the same needs? But be careful not to pick up a competitor's article and pitch it as is. You need to find a unique slant to that idea so that while the basic premise remains the same, the presentation is unique.
Make Notes. I generally keep ten magazines in my want-to-be-published-in list. Whenever I hear a tidbit about any magazine in that list, I'll write it in the writers' guidelines file. For instance, a writer friend told me that Family Circle liked list ideas. I picked up somewhere else that fitness pieces are a must-have in each of their issues. Bingo. Every query I've sent to them since has been a list idea related in some way to fitness. I've never sold anything to them yet, but I've come pretty close. If I hadn't noted this tidbit down in my file, I would have forgotten it right away, and would have continued sending them general how-to-organize-your-closet ideas that may or may not have sold.
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