The American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) held its annual Writers Conference last week at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York. The conference featured more than 80 sessions covering a wide variety of topics, from how to write a book proposal to how to break into magazines.
I was fortunate to attend the conference and have been recapping several of the sessions over the last few days: Breaking into Women’s Markets, How to Look and Sound Great on Camera, Writing for the Health Market and Tricks of the Trade: Online Tools and Apps for Writers.
While the sessions were targeted to freelance writers, the information is also helpful to PR professionals looking to get their clients in these publications. Not only does it give you an inside look into what the publications look for, but it also gives you an idea of what freelancers need in order to pitch these publications successfully.
Every profession, field, and interest group has an association, and all these organizations need good, well-written copy for magazines, websites or newsletters. In this panel, editors at these organizations talked about what they look for and how writers can break in.
- Samantha Whitehorne, managing editor of ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership.
- Susan Urbanczyk, director of marketing and communications for the Association Forum of Chicagoland.
Writer Winnie Yu moderated the discussion. Yu is the author of the upcoming book, “Autism: What Every Parent Needs to Know,” for the American Academy of Pediatrics. Her work has appeared in numerous publications and websites, including Woman’s Day, Diabetic Living, Prevention, VIVMag, WebMD and AARP Bulletin.
Following are highlights of the discussion:
ASAE represents more than 21,000 association executives and industry partners representing 10,000 organizations. Members manage leading trade associations, individual membership societies, and voluntary organizations across the United States and in nearly 50 countries around the world.
ASAE publishes Associations Now, a monthly publication for association executives. The main coverage area is leadership – how ASAE members can be better leaders. The magazine also profiles a lot of association CEOs and team leaders that have done something innovative, said Whitehorne, adding, “Members love case studies.”
In addition, ASAE also publishes 14 e-newsletters and 19 supplements, a good opportunity for freelancers.
For the newsletters, Whitehorne looks for how-to, practical, 100-level articles, and says she often uses freelancers for those, as well as for 1-2 features per month.
She suggests reading their editorial calendar to see what they have planned and pitch accordingly.
Another good way to break in is to write for the ASAE website, which publishes at least one new article per day, and the magazine’s front-of-book sections.
When pitching, be very specific. Pitches about “social media” are not as effective as pitches about how association executives can use Twitter to reach a specific goal.
Whitehorne can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Association Forum of Chicagoland is a regional association supporting association executives and suppliers with continuing education, advocacy and career development resources.
The Association Forum of Chicagoland also publishes Forum, which is distributed nine times per year to its 3,000-plus members at associations in Chicago. Forum’s mission is to provide association professionals with the ideas and knowledge they need to better do their jobs. The magazine tries to provide practical information and “Aha!” ideas they can then take back to their jobs. In addition to the magazine, there are also opportunities to write white papers and position papers.
In addition, writing for an association magazine can mean more work from association members.
“Our members are in marketing departments, publishing departments, etc., and they are always looking for referrals of people who have written for us that did a good job,” said Urbanczyk. “There are a lot of organizations that need extensions of their teams.”
Urbanczyk offered these tips for pitching to association magazines:
Be specific: The best way to break into the magazine is to be specific with your pitch and how it relates to the association industry.
“I get a lot of pitches,” she explained, “and the ones I remember are the ones that are specific – they have an idea, already have sources lined up.”
To do that, you really have to have an understanding of the association world and who their members are. If you can demonstrate a good understanding of the audience, that will go a long way.
You don’t have to write the entire article in advance, added Urbanczyk. You can pitch just an outline.
Think features. Urbanczyk said freelancers should pitch feature articles vs. cover stories. “I want to work with a freelancer before assigning a cover story,” she explained.
It also helps if you can think about how the story can be re-used on the association’s website.
Read the magazine. Not only will it help you know who to pitch, but it will also give you an idea of the stories they cover. “Think of an article that a busy association professional would rip out of the magazine and hand to their team,” said Urbanczyk.
Go with what you know. Urbanczyk suggests targeting associations that fit with your background area. For example, if you have a healthcare writing background, target healthcare associations.
One thing to remember is that association publications have longer budget cycles. Payment can often take six months.
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