On Tuesday, Nov. 12, we hosted our latest #ConnectChat, "Breaking Into Freelancing for Magazines" with Linda Formichelli (@LFormichelli), a full-time freelancer who has written for more than 150 magazines and websites.
Linda discussed everything from starting out, query letters, pay, if you need your own blog and much more. If you're new to freelancing or have some experience, you need to read this recap.
Our guest today is Linda Formichelli, a full-time freelancer who has written for more than 150 magazines and websites.
Hi, Linda! Thanks for being our guest on today's #connectchat!
Hi, everyone -- thanks for being here! I'm excited and a bit nervous! :)
Can you please tell us about yourself and how you started your career as a professional freelance writer?
Finished MA degree in 97 in Slavic Linguistics but really wanted to be a writer. I taught myself how to write pitches and got started. Now been freelancing full-time for 16 years: Mag writing, copywriting, content marketing, blogging, teaching.
What is the biggest mistake people make when trying to break into freelancing for magazines?
Writing for content mills like Demand Studios to gain experience and clips. They pay badly & DON’T make good clips. You CAN get great clips without writing for bottom-feeders. 1 way is to pitch small & local magazines, other is to write for free for nonprofit or hobby magazines you love. Also, don’t be afraid to pitch big magazines right off. A kick-ass query can get you in the door. I had one student in my Write for Magazines class who broke into SELF with NO clips at all.
No clips? Is that really possible?
Yes. Sometimes a GREAT idea and pitch trumps clips. Also, your blog or website can be a sample. We all start with no clips!
What should be the first step made?
Build a writer website, get a LinkedIn profile set up and start pitching. No need to know everything there is to know. Too many writers want to learn and learn before they pitch - but you learn best from experience!
Many people fear writing query letters -- what are they and what do they do?
Query letters are sales letters that tell an editor what your article idea is and why you’re the best person to write it. It’s an art form that takes a while to learn but once you get the hang of it you can write them fairly quickly. In most cases you would write a query, not a whole article - that way editor can give you specs.
What should a query letter include and never include?
A great query includes an eyeball-grabbing lede just like one you’d write for your proposed article. A query should have a “nut graf” - paragraph after the lede that summarizes what you want to write. A great query shows your research with stats and quotes from pre-interviews you did with experts. Whatever credentials you have that make YOU the perfect person to write this, include near the end. You need to ask for the sale: Can I write “Title” for you? OR: Thanks for considering my article idea for Magazine-I look forward to your reaction! A query should NEVER tell an editor what you CAN’T do -- only what you CAN. No clips? Don’t bring it up.
Can you pitch different magazines with the same idea?
Yes, it’s called simultaneous querying. You HAVE to do this because often editors don’t answer when they’re not interested - or they take weeks to get back. May want to pitch your A-list magazines first, then B-list etc. That way you don't risk selling to C-list first then hear from A-list.
What happens if two editors want to take you up on your idea? What do you do then?
That happened to me only one time in 16 years, with Family Circle and Woman's Day. Told 2nd editor it sold and they said "I better be faster next time!" But in short, it happens RARELY so don't worry about it. More common you don't hear back at all.
How many query letters should be sent?
It depends on your success rate. But when you’re starting, ALL the time you have available you should be pitching and marketing.
How is a letter of introduction (LOI) different from a query letter?
LOI introduces yourself and your credentials and works best with trades and custom publications. Never had one work for consumer/national magazine. FYI, custom pub is mag published FOR a company - like mag you get from your bank or insurance company. Find a ton at customcontentcouncill.org
What do you do when you don't have any published articles to show that you can write?
First, your query IS a sample of your writing, so make sure it’s great. No clips? You can go without and at first pitch topics you have some credentials in. For ex, if you’re an RN, pitch health topics. Or send the editor to your best blog posts or guest posts you’ve done. Chances your article will be exactly what magazines need are slim. If you wait till you get an assignment, editor will tell you what she wants so you don’t have to guess.
How do you go about writing an article? Do you have one prepared in case someone likes it or do you wait for someone to tell you to write something?
No, in most cases write a query before you spend time writing an article that may not sell. But if you're passionate about it and just want to write it, go ahead! This is called a "spec query." Article is written on spec.
Lisa Glover sent in this question last week: Is it possible to be a travel publicist and a freelancer at the same time?
Yes, but you have to set clear boundaries. DON'T pitch articles re: the destination you represent. Also, how does your employer feel if you pitch articles about other destinations? Could be sticky.
Does it take long to get paid?
Often, yes. Redbook took 9 months. Typical terms are net 30 but magazines are often late. Once you have a lot of clients, it's not so bad because you have steady stream of checks, though.
How long can the cycle take from start to finish, from query letter to acceptance to writing and finally being published?
Varies greatly, but big magazines have 6-month lead time, so you need to pitch 6 months in advance Smaller magazines and trades are less.
How do you make yourself stand out?
By not being crazy! Seriously, editors run into some crazy &^%$ from writers. Be professional, be on time and write well. That’s it.
Should you create your own website? That takes me back a bit to what do you do when you don't really have enough to create a site yet if you're just starting out?
You DO need a site. Ed once told me if he’s on the fence re: giving writer assignment, he checks their site. No site=no sale. If you have no money and a lot of time, you can create something simple on Wordpress. It does NOT need to be fancy. Your site IS a sample of your writing, so don’t worry if you have no clips yet. Put up a great About Me page, Hire me, Contact. Add clips when you have them.
Is a blog better?
Blogs are good clips but you have to be really committed to it because no editor likes seeing a dead blog, so make sure you like your topic enough to write about it consistently for a long time.
If you haven't been published before, is the content you write for your blog acceptable?
I always say “You gotta use what you have.” So if a blog is all you have, that’s what you use. The BEST clips are published articles from established magazines but what you have you use and don't forget your pitch is a sample
How can a PR person target a freelancer and develop a relationship with them?
Learn the freelancer’s beat. I couldn’t stand it when I used to get press releases on, say, travel destinations when I was a health writer. Don’t add freelancers to a press list without their permission. When you offer a source to a freelancer, follow through. Can’t count how many times a PR rep suggested a source who then wasn’t available. That puts the freelancer in a tough spot with their assignment!
How do you personally work with PR reps?
I’m now focusing on blogging, coaching and e-books, but in the past I liked to approach reps when I needed a source. Only once did I work with a representative who sent me a random pitch. Usually liked to come up with my own ideas and find sources.
If a publication asks you for a free article, what do you recommend?
Ask self: WHY would you write for free? Do you really want/need this clip? DON'T be fooled into writing for exposure. People die from exposure. You get better exposure from paying magazines, which tend to be bigger and more respected. But sometimes writing for free makes sense if you have 0 clips and want some fast.
Please tell us about your latest book and where we can find it.
It’s called Write Your Way Out of the Rat Race...And Step Into a Career You Love & will help you quit your job to write. Buy Write Your Way Out of the Rat Race...And Step Into a Career You Love on Amazon for just $2.99: qub.me/bGwkqC Or check out more on the Write Your Way website: www.therenegadewriter.com/write-your-way....
How do you find the right person to email for magazine pitches?
The editor of the department you’re pitching - for ex., Health Ed, Features Ed, Science Ed. If in doubt, a senior or associate editor is often a good bet. For small magazines and trade magazines, can sometimes have luck w/EIC or managing editor.
Any tips or tricks for crafting the best email subject line to get your query read?
The trick is to let editor know you're a freelancer not a PR rep and want to grab the editor’s attention. I like to write "Query from Freelancer: KickButt Title.”
What is an average word count for clips?
Clips can be any word count - it depends on the assignment you had. Don't worry re: clip length!
Do you have a different approach to the way you pitch ideas for consumer vs. trade publications?
For consumer magazines I write full researched query and with trades usually a letter of introduction with a few quick ideas.
I have a LinkedIn profile for my day job. Should I create a second one for freelance writing? Have writer site, no LinkedIn.
I think LinkedIn wants you to have just 1 profile. Would need to combine your experience but I'm not a LinkedIn expert. You may want to check to see what other freelancers do.
I'm a science journalist with clips. Want to write A LOT for trades in STEM, recs to find and pitch/LOI?
For trade pubs, try tradepub.com . Also Google "trade mag" plus your keywords - simple but powerful!
It feels like everything has been done. Any ideas to inspire fresh writing ideas?
True, they HAVE all been done. You need to put your personal slant on it. For example, what's the OPPOSITE of the idea? Can you broaden a narrow idea into a round up or take round-up and expand each part into an article? Make a local idea national & vice versa?
Do you include clips with the query, or wait to be asked? And how are they sent: pdf attachments, links, both?
Mention your clips but don't include – editors may ditch emails with unasked-for attachments. When asked for them, you can send PDFs, Word files, links to your online articles...whatever works! BUT I've heard editors don't like to be sent to your website - why put it on them to find and download your clips?
I want my niche to be health and wellness, what advice do you have for becoming a good writer on a certain topic?
It really is about practice. Keep pitching and eventually you'll have a niche and will develop a list of sources, etc. When you develop a niche, pitching will be faster and you'll be in many editors' "stables" of freelancers they turn to.
Can I offer to take my own photos? Or does editor make decisions on his own about photos?
It depends on publication. You could offer but most big magazines have their own photographers.
My niche is becoming geocaching and I'm not sure how I like that but I keep getting paid assignments. How to break the niche rut?
Pitch outside your niche! A great query plus good clips in ANY topic shows you can write on anything.
Do you recommend starting w/ magazines w/ a high rate of freelancers?
I wouldn't bother trying to figure out freelance rates. It’s better to spend time pitching ANY magazine you're interested in.
I'm a freelance writer/blogger and have been trying to pitch women's magazines but haven't had luck. Any advice?
Women's magazines are a TOUGH nut to crack. It took me tons of pitches. If you're getting "nice rejections" you're on the right track. No-answers & form rejections=not quite right.
Do you recommend pitching same/similar story idea to numerous pubs at one time or spacing a few weeks in between?
All at once, but I divide up into tiers: A-list magazines first, then B-list, etc.
After Writer's Market, what is your next favorite source for finding magazine markets?
Is there at professional title for writers most appealing to editors and publications? Freelance writer vs. writer vs. content creator, for ex.?
Not sure it matters. Don't over think! I just have "Freelance writer" on my website.
Do you ask for some pay up front?
Only for copywriting clients, never magazines - they just don't work that way.
How do you handle raising rates with existing clients?
With magazines, every once in a while I asked for a raise. If they said no, considered whether I wanted to keep writing for them or wanted to spend that time looking for better-paying clients.
Do you write a working title before crafting an article or do you work on title after?
DEFINITELY need an awesome title. You want editor to be able to picture your article on her cover. Also, title gives editor instant view of what your article is about and draws her into pitch.
We're calling it a day for today's #ConnectChat! Linda thanks so much for an incredible chat this afternoon!
Thanks so much for having me, and THANK you to all the writers who participated!
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