Tips on Getting Published in Trade Magazines
Writing for trade magazines is a great way for beginning freelance writers to learn the ropes and gain some clips for their portfolios. The competition is often much lower at trade magazines and I have found that editors are much more responsive and open to offering freelance writing jobs to beginners. I interviewed Melissa Breau, associate/web editor for Pet Business magazine, to ask for an editor's tips on how newbies can successfully win assignments.
Melissa is also a freelance writer/editor herself since January of 2010. She chronicles her freelance journey on her blog, Jargon Writer.
Freelance Write Now: How long have you been an editor at Pet Business?
Melissa Breau: I've been working there for three years now, but I've been an editor for approximately five years.
FWN: Do you work with freelancers?
MB: I'm not one of the assigning editors, but we do work with freelancers and I have recommended several writers to our editor-in-chief who assigns the projects out.
Most of our magazine (as with most trade publications) is freelanced out. Most trade publications have fairly small staffs. However, large portions of the freelance assignments are given to columnists who write for us monthly. We have columns for each animal "type." Those columns have the same writers from month to month.
But we also have sections of the magazine where we don't have set writers; and we're always looking for solid writers who can understand our audience and tone, and write strong pieces that are appropriate for our publication.
FWN: What are you looking for in a new freelance writer? How can someone with little experience stand out?
MB: Since we're primarily read by pet store retailers we need writers to demonstrate that they have sources or can find sources within our industry (mention companies, or say something like "I will interview someone like X from Pet Food Company" in your query). We also want to see that you understand that you're presenting information to retailers who are fairly knowledgeable already about the basics of the subject matter. Instead, [writers must understand that our readers] need tips for things like merchandising dog collars or an update on the latest trends. Marketing pieces are good too (although we're overwhelmed with pitches on social media so don't even bother there). Other ideas include pieces on managing, selling products, etc.
FWN: If someone has zero clips, would you consider them? Why or why not?
MB: I'm fairly certain the two writers I recently helped land pitches with our magazine were not asked for clips, but that may be because I recommended them. However, basically, as I mentioned above, showing an ability to find good sources and talk from the correct point of view is more important than having clips.
FWN: What are a few examples of mistakes that writers make in their query/pitch letters?
MB: The single biggest mistake is not understanding who we're talking to – our magazine is not for pet owners or pet lovers. It's for people who own pet stores. And a trade magazine can mean any number of things–it can be for anyone within an industry, for a specific audience like ours, or for manufacturers, etc. Make sure you understand that before querying.
FWN: Do you have any additional tips for new freelancers looking to wow magazine editors?
MB: Before pitching look at a few back issues and figure out which columns are written by the same writers every month. Columns that are written by different people every month are more likely to be freelanced out and available, should you choose to pitch them.
Also, as I mentioned, most trade magazines have a fairly small staff. Call an editor and ask questions about the magazine if there's something you don't understand. Tell them you have a few story ideas but that you want to make sure they're appropriate so you don't waste his or her time. Most of the time they'll listen.
Thanks so much for the tips, Melissa!