Thinking about a home-based business? Magazine feature writing is one home business idea that can earn you money. Breaking into magazine writing can be hard, but if you can develop resilience, stick to deadlines and give magazine editors what they want, you’re well on your way to becoming a freelance writer. Get started by following these five easy steps to writing success…
For more home-based business ideas, read 7 Foolproof Ideas to Make Money from Home.
Step One: Invest in Your Future
Everyone imagines that they can make money from home as a writer, but the truth is few people produce work that is good enough to secure freelance writing jobs – writing is both a natural talent and a skill which must be developed. If you’re serious about writing for magazines for money – and you believe you do have the talent – invest in an accredited qualification in journalism. Studying your trade will give you a solid understanding of the publishing arena, develop your language and interviewing skills, teach you how to reference sources, how to structure news stories in the Inverted Pyramid and how to present stories to editors and publishers in the correct format. Submissions from people without an appropriate background are easily spotted and, unfortunately, are more likely to end up in File 13.
There are a variety of journalism courses out there, offered on either a part-time or full-time basis. Explore these Journalism Courses in South Africa:
- Wits Journalism
- Rhodes School of Journalism and Media Studies
- UNISA Community Journalism for Beginners
- INTEC Freelance Journalism Certificate
Step Two: Building a Writing Portfolio
Your writing portfolio is your ticket to landing freelance writing jobs. Writers are hired on the basis of their previous work and clientele – it’s nigh impossible to be make money from home as a writer without a track record. This is because commissioning unknown writers is a financial risk, and with budget spend so tightly controlled by publishers, magazine editors need to be sure that their writers deliver the goods.
It’s ideal to spend some years working in-house at a newspaper, magazine or publishing house to learn about the business from the inside and to build your credibility and portfolio, but if you already have a day job, approach community publications and suggest you write articles for them for free. Select a niche for which you have a flair and in which you’re interested, whether it be a focus on IT, health and wellness or consumer issues. Keep up to speed with current affairs and developments in your areas of interest – read widely, listen to the radio, watch TV, monitor RSS feeds and scan the net.
Organise your stories in a collection which is easily accessible. While print media editors do like hard copy portfolios, having an online portfolio is also a smart move. In addition to having your own website to showcase your work, post your portfolio and contact details to these sites:
Step Three: Know your Audience
Magazines appeal to very particular audiences. For example, Cosmopolitan Magazine appeals to young urban women, who are primarily child-free and career oriented. Your Family, on the other hand, is geared towards moms with children of school-going age. Not only does different subject matter appeal to these two very different groups, but so does the style in which the story is presented. Crafting stories which speak directly to the magazine’s primary target audience will stand you a better chance of getting freelance writing jobs. Familiarise yourself with the title for which you wish to write by examining the magazine over several months. Ask yourself these questions:
- What is the magazine’s target demographic?
- What stories does the magazine publish?
- What is the house style and format?
- What is the word count of the articles under different editorial sections (often referred to as straps)?
- Who is the Editor? Who is the Features Editor?
Step Four: Know Your Editor
To get commissioned, your article needs to appeal, not only to readers, but to the magazine’s editor and features editor. Establishing relationships with editors is vital if you want to establish a writing career and make money from home. The magazine editor is a strange beast – each has his or her own particular likes and dislikes, and you will need to take these personal quirks into consideration when presenting pitches to them. Remember that theirs are high-pressured and demanding jobs – if you can simplify their lives by providing quality content which fills pages and sells copies, you will become the go-to writer and get more freelance writing jobs from them.
Step Four: Write a Query Letter
Researching and writing an entire story before you have a buyer for it is risky. If your story isn’t accepted for publication, you’ve wasted the precious resources of time, money and energy – not a great tactic to make money from home. Instead of submitting entire stories, which editors may not be interested in, for a variety of reasons, send a query letter. A query letter is a concise sales pitch, one page max, in which you sell your story to an editor. This is your chance to impress the editor, so make sure you use it effectively. Your pitch should draw the editor in and convince him or her to give you the freelance writing job. Make sure that that it has a well-thought-out hook, write an engaging lead, followed by an outline of the article – set out word count, style and tone and suggest the editorial section it will fit. Point out which focus areas will be covered and what sources you have lined up. Back your pitch up with hard facts and figures which support your argument, along with the reasons why the story should be published. Lastly, reference your online portfolio, highlight in which publications your work has been featured and provide writing clips in a similar style to the story you’re pitching. Stick to business – don’t wax lyrical about how badly you want to be published. After sending your pitch, wait politely for the Features Editor to get back to you. If you hear nothing after two weeks, follow up via email. If you still get no response a week after that, follow up via phone. If you’re rejected, or hear nothing, move on. Remember, if an editor wants your story, they will call you.
Step Five – Deliver the Product
Never forget that writing and publishing is a business and, like any business, you need to deliver quality products on time, every time. Being reliable and consistent will earn you the editors’ trust. Being able to take editor’s directions well will earn their respect. Don’t be precious about your writing; if you have to rework it, accept the changes with humility. You will be remembered as a gracious writer who is willing to go the extra mile. All of which will lead to endorsements and more freelance writing jobs. Keep on writing!
BONUS TIP: You’re going to need plenty of help and support along the way. Access useful writer resources, list on writer directories, find freelance writing jobs and exchange ideas on these great freelance writer sites:
- Freelance Switch is a community of expert freelancers from around the world
- South African Writers Network is a platform for authors and aspirant writers to explore the world of freelance writing
- South African Freelancers Association is a professional association of freelance workers in the communications field, including writers and editors.