I spoke with a few writers this past weekend about how to get into magazines. I spoke with one friend who has a great start on a writing career and just needs to up her game a bit, and another younger writer who is certain that This Is Her Career but needs to know how to get started.
I tried to give the best advice I could and thought I'd share some of it here, maybe a bit better written (I hope) than spoken.
You are a writer, but you are also a salesperson. You are selling a product that is part YOU and part WORDS. About 3/4 of your pitch is about the product. 1/4 is why you are the writer for the job. If you are less experienced, you may need a little less space for YOU, but don't discredit what you have to offer: personal experience, schooling, work history, awards, accreditation, letters behind your name...
When you pitch a query, think of it as, well, a pitch. You are getting ready to throw a ball to a batter and that batter can hit it or not. You want the batter to hit it, so get ready. Perfect it, make it a nice round package, then lob it carefully. It may fall flat, it may get knocked out of the park.
You cannot control what the editor accepts, you can only control what you put out into the world. So work hard on developing your queries first in your niche area (whatever you decide that is) and then broadening out.
What the editor wants, is a great writer who pitches a great story with a unique angle and written in a compelling voice (one that compels the reader to continue reading), even if the topic is somewhat dry.
Here's a great post (hat/tip WordCount/by Michelle Vranizan Rafter) on the topic of what editors want from freelancers. One of my favourite bits:
What’s The Value? Unfortunately, the law of supply and demand dictates the market for freelancers. There are tons of freelancers out there. (I didn’t say they were good, just that they’re out there.) Everyone wants to write and thinks they can write. So, how valuable are freelancers? Valuable if they deliver. That means they meet deadlines, the copy is tight and bright, they follow the assignment sheet, they keep you abreast of developments, especially problems, and they contact you early – not the day before – when a sticky point develops.
One of my freelancers should probably get more money from me. I don’t want to lose him, but there’s something called a budget. So I pay him within one week (or less) when he turns in the assignment. And I have only sent one assignment back for a minor touch-up in about five years. Any follow-up, I do. What I’m doing is keeping his workload to a minimum and paying faster than anyone in the freelance universe. He loves working with me, and I enjoy working with him. I’m also appalled that the freelance market doesn’t pay any better today (per word) than it did 25 years ago. Supply and demand. There will always be more supply than demand – and the wages reflect that reality.
Go and check it out and start pitching those editors!