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Most magazine writers don't start out getting published in Cosmopolitan or Travel + Leisure. Breaking into the bigger magazine market typically comes after you've built a stable of clips from smaller publications that show you have the "chops" to handle a big assignment. Although it is certainly possible to get a gig in a mainstream mag, local magazines offer a great opportunity as well.
You may not even be aware of all the magazines that are in your area--and some places may have more than others. For example, I live just outside Chicago, so there are a ton of little local publications. If you are more remote, there will probably be less opportunities--or, you can shoot for a regional magazine to get started.
Look for these magazines in places where people congregate--waiting rooms, grocery stores, bookstores (usually in the entry area on stands), or ask about them at your local library. Most of these publications are free, and they cover every subject you can imagine. Some standard examples include childcare, local attractions, calendar-style publications, travel and pets.
One of the nicest parts about these magazines is that you don't have to pay for your research. Simply pick them up each month (or week, or whatever schedule they are on) and flip through to get a sense of their style and what subjects they are covering. Narrow the field to those you are interested in contacting, then reach out and inquire as to whether they accept freelance submissions.
Now--a word about pay.
Not all of these small mags will have a budget for freelancers, and if they do, it is often a small one. Still, if you are trying to get started, a nominal payment is better than no payment, and a clip that you can build on may be worth the sacrifice. In some cases, the magazine may pay a decent sum for freelance submissions. The only way to know for sure is to ask.
One of the best things about doing this type of work is the fact that you might be able to develop a regular submission schedule with the publication. This can mean steady pay, and even if it's not a lot of money--regular pay is a great, great thing in this industry. You may also be able to carve out a niche and develop a regular column or specialty with the magazine, thus paving the way for other work in bigger publications.
I still write for one of the local magazines I started with many years ago. I love the editor, we work well together, and I like the column that I've "grown" there. It's comfortable and buys me coffee and a few meals out each month. (And these days that's nothing to sneeze at!)
So now...a few quick details on how to approach a local magazine that you may be interested in writing for:
- Find the contact information for the editor or publisher.
- Send an e-mail if possible--keep it short. Mention that you are a writer, and you would like to know if the publication works with freelancers.
- Don't forget to let them know that you live in the area.
- Mention any areas of expertise you may have. Are you a mom? Try out a local parenting mag. A dog owner? Go for the pet publication. Sometimes it can be enough to get your foot in the door.
- Let the editor know that you have read the magazine.
Writing for local publications is a great way to build some clips and make some side cash. Keep your eyes peeled for new magazines in the area and see if you can connect with an editor in your town--or a nearby city. It's worth investigating!
Have you written for a local magazine? Got any good tips to share? Please feel free!