That dream magazine? You know, the one that arrives every month? The one whose pages you touch lightly, turning them carefully as you read every line, every paragraph, every advertisement?
You know that magazine that makes your knees go weak every time you think of having your name in it?
You know that newspaper you want to write for not because it’s a big name or because it’s tough to break into or because it pays well, but because being published in it would mean that you’ve achieved that level of writing ability that you can be proud of?
You know that dream publication of yours?
It’s likely that you haven’t already. Or perhaps you did and never received a response. Or worse, got rejected. Doesn’t matter. Pick out that dream magazine, newspaper or website, because today, we’re going to talk about how you’re going to start the process of breaking in.
Ready? Let’s do this.
Step 1: Read it
Read the publication. Read it so thoroughly that you could write in its style in your sleep. This is an easy thing to do, and considering that this is a dream publication for you, I’m going to assume that you read it already. If you don’t, seriously question why you categorize this is as a “dream” publication and if that’s just because it’s a cool byline, think about whether this is truly your dream or someone else’s.
If you’ve got a bunch of back issues, now is probably a good time to bring them out and start leafing through them. Become an expert in this magazine. Take it to bed with you. Carry it around with you everywhere. Become so obsessed that everyone around you knows you want to break in. That’s how I was with TIME magazine, by the way. When I first my now-husband, I talked about it incessantly. He said he knew I’d eventually break in because he couldn’t get me to shut up about it. I was published in the magazine six months later.
Step 2: Figure out which sections you want to write for
Yes, you love the whole magazine and don’t mind writing for any section, but if you’re serious about getting published—in this or any other publication—focus is key.
Play to your strengths here because that will help you reach your goal faster. What topics do you typically specialize in? What subject areas have you been covering recently that would also fit into this magazine? Is there a certain section that speaks to you more than others?
Once you’ve been published in one part of the magazine, the rest will open up to you as well. Bu for now, focus on the one area you’d be most qualified to write for and read that section to see what’s being published and how it’s packaged.
(Also read: How I Broke Into My Dream Magazine)
Step 3: Make a list of story ideas
While it may be tempting to throw all your time and resources into writing, reporting, and tweaking that one story idea until you have the perfect pitch, it’s mostly a waste of time.
First of all, there is no such thing as a perfect idea or perfect pitch, but secondly and more importantly, you want to have more than one idea in your pocket. When I started pitching TIME many years ago, I got quick and immediate rejections. But here’s why I believe I succeeded when many others didn’t: I turned around and sent another story idea within the day. I’d get another rejection, send another idea, get another rejection, send another idea. This went on for a while. (Read that whole story here.) Finally, I sent a pitch and it got accepted. I don’t know how many story ideas I sent in total before I got an acceptance, but I do know that had I just sat around waiting for the next idea to strike months later, it would have been a lot harder for me to be published.
The quality of your ideas and writing is important, but don’t underestimate the power of a quick turnaround.
Step 4: Pitch the right editor
Basic ground rules:
(1) Never send your pitches to a generic email address such as info@… or help@…
(2) Don’t pitch the editor-in-chief or managing editor unless you know for certain that they’re in charge of handling submission.
(3) Whenever possible, pitch the editor of the section you’re targeting and spell their name correctly.
(4) SPELL THEIR NAME CORRECTLY.
Step 5: Follow social media accounts of the publication and editor
Unlike many other writers, I don’t believe that having Twitter conversations with editors is any more likely to get you an assignment than sending a well-written pitch, but there are certain benefits to networking with publications and editors online.
One of the most obvious ones, of course, is that you learn more about the publication and the editor, what their needs are, what kind of stories they publish, and what they’re looking for.
There’s also the fact that often when editors are looking for stories or reporters to cover stories, they’ll mention it on their social media accounts.
Further, having a to-and-fro conversation with someone you respect and admire can build name recognition and when they see your name pop up in their Inbox later with a pitch, they may give it an extra bit of attention.
That said, I reserve this kind of following for certain publications and certain editors only because remember, you can lose entire days and weeks to social media and the point is to get more work and break into publications, not get sucked into a vortex of networking that serves no purpose.
Step 6: Follow up
Repeatedly, writers tell me that they have been assigned stories on the second, third, even fourth follow up. Repeatedly, writers tell me that they often don’t follow up.
Do I need to state the obvious?
Emails get lost. Pitches get forgotten. Editors get busy. Yes, it’s uncomfortable, and sure you’d much rather not feel like you’re hassling someone, but if you’re serious about making a career as a freelancer, then this is something you’re just going to have to learn to live with.
Create a follow-up template, copy and paste, tweak it to the publication. Done. It takes less than a minute and it can result in an assignment over silence.
Why wouldn’t you follow up?
Step 7: Repeat
Finally, keep going. Every time you get a rejection, send another idea. If you don’t hear back after a couple of follow-ups, send another idea.
Ask any successful freelancer and they will tell you that persistence is one of the biggest reasons that they got published, achieved their goals, and made an income. It all comes down to believing that you have something to offer and then continuing to knock on doors until others come to share that belief, too.
There is only one possible way in which you won’t ever break into your dream publication and that is if you stop trying.
Keep trying, keep pitching, keep getting better. That byline will soon be yours.
P.S. If you’re looking to break into more than just that one dream publication this year, you need to check out my course 30 Days, 30 Queries. It is hands-down one of the most recommended courses on pitching out there and my students get published in some of the top publications, including The New York Times, National Geographic Traveller, CNN, Vice, and many more, within weeks.
Check out the course here: http://writing-courses.teachable.com/p/30d30q
By popular demand, I’m also offering a personalized coaching version of 30 Days, 30 Queries. This 1:1 coaching will entail having me with you every step of the way as you work your way through the course and sending 30 queries in a month.
I will be on the phone with you regularly, looking at your pitches, suggesting ideas and angles, and helping you streamline the process as you work through it. I only have 10 spots left for this round, so email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested and I’ll send you more extensive details.
And if you haven’t had a chance to already, check out 30 Days, 30 Queries to take your freelancing career to the next level.