Getting Published: How to Study A Magazine

When visiting recently, I happened across an article with some good advice on studying magazines. “Studying the Magazine Market,” was drawn from a Writer’s Digest workshop that focused on nonfiction magazine writing. This article, and others like it, should be a must-read before sending a query to a magazine, especially one you haven’t sold to before.

Studying a magazine can keep you from approaching a magazine that wouldn’t be right for your article idea. Most guidelines for writers suggest that you read the magazine before submitting. That alone would make a lot of editors happy — editors say they get far too many articles completely unsuited to their publications. Heed the editors’ mantra: “Read the magazine before submitting to us.”

Reading the magazine before submitting is a basic requirement, but that’s just the beginning. If you want to increase your chances of acceptance, go beyond the basics. Study the magazine in detail.

You can find out a lot about a magazine just by spending time at a newsstand. By looking at the cover, you can usually learn a publication’s topic, but you can find out much more by scanning the coverlines. According to the un-bylined Writer’s Digest article:

Look at the coverlines, those ‘teaser’ phrases that tell newsstand browsers what articles are inside. The publishers believe these articles would be the most appealing to their readers.”

Try to assess how your article’s teaser would appear on the cover and how it would appeal to readers of the publication.

The WD article also suggested that you read through each article, examine the advertising, and study the contents page. The contents page will not only clue you in to all the articles in the publication, it will also show you the various departments. I think you should explore the departments thoroughly because it’s usually easier to break into a new magazine by submitting to one of its departments. Check the masthead (no, it’s not the magazine’s cover page — it’s the page inside with staff names and editorial, advertising and publication information). The masthead will show who edits those departments so you can zero in on the one most appropriate for your article.

Read all the articles in at least three issues. That’s easy to do now that most magazines have an Internet presence. Does the publication use first person articles or are most written in third person? Does it use statistics to back up statements? Does it have a lot of how-to articles? Does it appeal to younger readers or the over-50 crowd? Ordinary people or highly affluent individuals?

The ads can also tell you a lot about who reads the magazine (the writer’s guidelines often do, too) but articles will help you determine what grade level articles are written to and how the articles are constructed.

Check out the quotes. See how many are used in each article and see who is being quoted. Are they university professors, business experts, working people? Check out the sidebars, too. Editors are very big on sidebars, and you want to be able to suggest the right kind of sidebars to accompany your article.

With all that information assembled, and if you have an idea that you think is right for the publication, you are in a good position to craft a query that will grab the editor’s interest.

But wait. One more thing to do before you sit down to write that query. Carefully read over the writer’s guidelines and follow them exactly. You can often find guidelines at the publication’s web site, or sometimes receive them by email from the publication. If the magazine wants queries sent by regular mail, send them that way. If e-mail queries are preferred, go that route. If the guidelines want queries directed to a specific editor, send them there. And make sure you get the editor’s name and title right.

If you follow this plan, you have a good shot at having your article accepted. You may still be rejected — it happens to all of us, for any number of reasons. Don’t give up. Hit the newsstand again and get ready to study and query another magazine.

Please leave a comment.

©2007 by Laverne Daley


One Comment on “Getting Published: How to Study A Magazine”

  1. Cyndia Zumpft says:

    thank you!

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