One of the pitfalls of freelance writing is you might have the perfect idea for a section of a magazine, but never stand a chance at breaking into that spot because it’s covered by someone on staff. How can you tell? Do a little homework before you pitch.
Check the writer’s guidelines
You’ve probably noticed I say this a lot. That’s because short of risking an editor’s ire by calling and saying “Hey! Is your so-and-so section written by a staff member?” this is the easiest way to find the answer to this question (plus a lot of others). Tip: If a section isn’t mentioned in the guidelines, assume it is staff-written.
Dig a little
Compare the bylines of the pieces in the section you want to write for with the masthead. Are they all listed there? What about last month’s issue? If so, chances are good the section is covered by staff writers. Don’t be discouraged, though. If you have a sure hit idea, send a polite query. Sometimes round-up type sections written by staff will include the occasional freelance idea if it’s a perfect fit.
Read the fine print
While you’re digging, turn back to the masthead and read the fine print. You’ll usually find information about subscription rates, telephone numbers, and a physical mailing address. Most mastheads also include information about whether or not the magazine accepts queries or unsolicited material. Sometimes that same section will include a line that says something like Magazine X is “produced in house” or “staff-written.” If that’s the case, move along to another market.
Call the editorial office
Notice I said editorial office and NOT editor? Unless an editor has indicated that questions are welcome, your best bet is to talk to the nice friendly receptionist. Put on your best phone manners and inquire if the section you want to pitch accepts queries. If so, (and you don’t already know the answer), this is the prime time to find out who edits the section so you can direct your pitch to the correct party.
Update your information regularly
One last bit of advice before I go. The economy has turvy-topsied many the editorial staff at publications across the board. Staff cuts mean that many sections once faithfully produced in house are now open ground for freelancers. As magazines struggle to do more with less, this trend may continue (though I cringe at what it is likely to mean for freelance pay rates). Before you write off a market, or even if it’s one you know used only staff-produced pieces in the past, verify your information. The times are a changin’ and he who keeps current gets the assignments.