How Successful Writers Read Magazines


by Eva Shaw, Ph.D.

Those with little experience in writing get so tied up with methods to bulletproof their submittals that they forget they have to get those queries out to get assignments. Analyzing magazines and their needs is simple.
In a perfect world you'd review a magazine and plenty of its back issues before you sent a query. I can hear your writing teacher telling you so. Although I teach writing, this is one golden rule I've never accepted because sometimes you simply cannot get a copy of the publication.
Should that stop you from sending a query? Absolutely not. Even the really big city libraries have just a tiny margin of the thousands of publications found in the marketplace. If you do have access to magazines, that's wonderful. If you don't, query anyhow because there may be times when even reviewing one issue of a magazine is impossible.
How so? It might be a new magazine or a trade publication. It could be a regional publication. It could be a limited edition magazine. Novice writers will not query because they think it's futile to write a query letter without a copy.
Make no mistake, it's not the easiest way, but it is possible. Recently, I received an advertisement about a new magazine just for people who enjoy visiting health resorts. I have written for the fitness market and done spa-oriented articles for years. I knew the topic and the lingo. The magazine's ad said it would start publication in the fall and it listed names of forthcoming articles. No, there was no editorial office listed in the advertisement, so I tracked down the address of the head office through their distribution center. I wanted to query this magazine.
After locating the office address, I called and got the editor's name. She wasn't in, but I had enough to start. I wrote a query about "Spa-ing in Finland." As we go to press with this book, the editor is editing my article. All from an advertisement for a magazine that hasn't been published yet. Remember, if I can do this, so can you.
Of course there are easier ways. Read about the magazine's wants and needs, such as found in various periodical listings, then follow the description carefully. For instance, if the magazine uses only interview articles with landscape experts, or articles about products strictly for libraries, a how-to piece about North African cooking or an interview with Sting is going to be rejected pretty quick.
The secret's in the masthead. Inside the first few pages of any publication is a listing of the employees who produce the magazine along with their job titles. This is the masthead. Look at this area closely.
If the magazine you're analyzing is small, like Feedlot Magazine, it might only have an editor/publisher, production editor, art director, a writer, subscription director, and account (advertising) director.
Large publications, such as Time, have a masthead that lists a variety of editors and creative personnel.
Your job is to be able to translate this information to help you sell articles. Why? You want to direct your query to the right individual or it may forever be placed in a black hole and lost. So when there's a choice of editors, as with the example above, send queries to the most appropriate individual on the masthead.
Keep in mind that "editor" does not necessarily mean this individual reads queries and assigns articles. A few years back, I worked with a trade magazine for the beauty and barbering industry. It was a small publication (about 10,000 subscribers). The editor-in-chief served as the real editor, i.e., he edited the copy for the magazine. The production editor worked with layout and the design crew. And you've probably guessed, I wrote all the copy that went through this process.
In large publications, a publisher or editor-in-chief rarely works with writers; she or he is in charge of the magazine's administration. A managing editor might work with writers or might not. A feature editor might really only write copy and not edit others' work. A production editor could, like at "my" trade magazine, be responsible for production of the magazine page, cover, and any other ads or copy.
That said and confusion understood, what does a writer do? Look for titles such as editor, articles editor or a specific editor (such as features editor, parenting editor, landscape editor) for clues.
Then contact the magazine by phone and double check your guessing ability. You can speak with the receptionist and get even more information, but make note, it's wise to know what you're going to say before you dial the phone. While it's your dime, find out the spelling of the editor's name. We all appreciate having our name spelled correctly.
So what if you don't take this time to figure out the real editor to query? If you're lucky, your query will eventually land on the appropriate editor's desk. If you're not, it will be lost. Reduce the odds of the second happening by targeting the most appropriate editor. You'll help an editor make a decision on your material in the shortest amount of time. If that magazine editor passes on your query, you can send it to another.

From The Successful Writer's Guide to Publishing Magazine Articles, by Eva Shaw, Ph.D. Copyright 1998 by Eva Shaw. Excerpted by arrangement with Rodgers & Nelsen Publishing Co. $15.95. Available in local bookstores, or call 800-593-9557, or click here.

Editor's Note: Grand Times is no longer using freelance written material and therefore we do not review manuscripts or query letters. We wish you the best of luck in locating a venue for your work.