Monday, March 15, 2010

Deconstructing magazines

You might have noticed a recurrent theme in my posts: where to find Anglophone magazines while abroad. If you're new to freelancing, you might wonder why this is important: if you have access to a magazine name and its website, why is it so important to see the magazine itself?

Pretty much all books on freelancing agree that it is essential to take a good long look at a magazine before pitching to it. Editors hate with a burning white passion to receive pitches that clearly do not fit into their publication. I'm not just talking about sending a pitch about sports cars to a fishing magazine. I'm talking about sending a pitch about fly fishing in New Hampshire to a magazine that only writes about boat fishing in Wisconsin. A freelancer should deconstruct a magazine before pitching to it: she should know the exact kind of articles the magazine publishes, have an idea about which department the article would work well in, and understand the writing style of the publication. When you can, you should even look at several issues of the magazine to make sure your intended topic hasn’t been recently covered.

Of course, you can still land an assignment without having deconstructed or even seen the target magazine first. These days, you can get a lot of the information you need from the magazine’s website. But the more prestigious the magazine and the less experienced you are, the better it is to show the editor that you’ve done your homework. Even if the query is rejected, the editor may remember your professionalism. You definitely don’t want to send a pitch that stands out in the editor’s memory for its failure to adhere to the magazine’s concept – or because it details a story that was on the magazine’s cover last month.

As I’ve written previously, I often go to the American Library of Paris to check out the periodicals there. I also stock up on certain magazines whenever I’m in the U.S. Sometimes I ask friends who are in the U.S. to brings pubs to me when they visit. And of course there are a couple of magazines I subscribe to. I would subscribe to more, purely for research purposes, but that gets expensive. But recently I learned a way to make it a bit cheaper: sign up for free subscriptions.

Did you know that there are tons of free magazine subscriptions out there? Take a look at this site. And this one. All you need is a North American address and the pub is yours! Sure, that’s only part of the problem solved for us expat freelancers: the magazine still has to reach us. But it’s a lot cheaper to pay for postage rather than paying for postage and the magazine. I've gotten subscriptions to a few top parenting magazines this way, in addition to a couple of health magazines I'd like to write for.

Most of the time I don’t have the magazines sent to me: I just ask my mother to do a quick title check to make sure that the topic I’m pitching hasn’t been written about recently. If there’s an article of particular interest to me, I ask her to scan it and email it to me. So, okay, yes, you need an assistant in your home country. But personally, I feel more confident sending off a query knowing that, whatever the editor ultimately decides, I’ve done all that I could to fit my article into the magazine.

If anyone out there has a better way (or just a different way) of approaching this problem, please tell me because this is the aspect of expat freelancing that bugs me the most!


  1. I just discovered your blog on AW & am bookmarking it for future reference, as I am thinking about heading in this direction. I balance writing with motherhood, too & have been working on a novel but need something in the short term.

    Thanks for posting so many tips!

  2. Thanks for visiting, Disobedientwriter. Freelancing is a great way to supplement your family's income as you work on your novel. I am also working on a book project (though non-fiction) and it feels good to bring in a bit of money while working on something that won't pay off until later (here's hoping anyway!) Come again soon!

  3. Hey there! It's Monica from AW and Writer's Residence - glad to see that this blog is going strong. You've really filled it with some great stuff. Count me in as a regular reader. As for this magazine issue, I'm lazy - I don't usually pitch to magazines that don't have online editions. Naughty me, though, I'm probably missing out on lots of opportunities as a result!

  4. Hi Monica! Good to see you here. Believe me, I'm forever checking out digital editions, but it seems like I'm especially attracted to pubs that don't have articles online. What is wrong with me?! :)

  5. Wow! I am so excited to have found your blog. I'm an Anglophone (wanna-be) freelancer in Paris, too! Thanks for sharing your tips. I too am always looking for ways to get my hands on more magazines. Quick question: how did you hook up with I used to be a content writer at Expedia and am now looking to go freelance. (Plus write my Paris blog, plus write short stories, plus, well you get it :)

    I'll be back for sure!

  6. Hi Sion! Thanks for reading. Oh, I definitely get the allure of different types of writing. It's a terrible addiction. As for, I got in contact with them through a Craig's list ad ages ago. I'll email you with more info.


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