Writing magazine articles was one of my first gigs, and it remains one of my favorites. Like most gigs, it isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme, and it isn’t really suited to people who don’t enjoy writing. If you’re an avid writer who can turn fascinating facts into a coherent article, though, it’s a fairly fun and lucrative side gig.
The key to making money writing magazine articles is persistence. You’ll send out a lot of queries before you get an actual assignment- and your first assignments will all be “on spec”- which means you only get paid if the magazine decides to actually use your article.
Choosing a Market
Let’s be honest- you aren’t going to get a cush assignment from a major newsstand magazine right off the bat. My first publication was in a small magazine aimed at employees of a corporation (I wrote about taming your inner critic.) No one I knew had ever heard of the magazine- but that didn’t really matter when I cashed the $20 check and took myself out for ice cream. After developing a portfolio of work- which shows both your writing skills AND your ability to work with editors- I started getting more lucrative magazine writing gigs. After a while, I built up a stable of regular gigs- magazines that would accept a pitch or even assign me articles every month or two. I made sure to also query markets I had some familiarity with- editors are often more impressed by real-world experiences than any specific credentials you have, and there are magazines focused on almost every interest and hobby under the sun. Trade magazines- aimed at business owners in a specific field instead of the general public-are a really good place to start and tend to pay well.
Query Before Writing
When you’ve got an idea you think would be perfect for a particular market- send a pitch query first before writing the whole thing. A pitch is simply a letter to the editor of the department you’re aiming for, and it should describe the who, what, and why of your idea. There are plenty of good books about writing queries- The Writers Digest Guide to Query Letters is a good place to start – and if you’re serious about writing for magazines, you should aim to perfect your query letter before trying a full article.
The Downside to Writing Magazine Articles
There are a few disadvantages to using magazine writing as a gig. There isn’t a great response rate to queries. Many writers- even great writers who do it for a living- only get a go-ahead on 10% or fewer of their queries. If you can build up to a hit rate of 1 go-ahead per 7 pitches, then you’re doing pretty much everything right.
Another disadvantage is the long wait between turning in the article and getting paid. Many magazines don’t pay until after the article appears in the magazine- and you’ll sometimes wait months after that point. This isn’t a quick-money gig…but if you can cover bills and necessities with your regular job, getting an occasional check for a few hundred dollars makes for a nice chunk of “fun money.”