Publishing is said to be a dying industry, so it may come as a surprise that there are over 7,300 magazines published in the United States—and that total has increased by more than 200 in the past decade. Given these numbers, if you have an article you wish to submit to a magazine, it seems you have a good chance of getting it published. But the wide variety of publications, from news to general interest to niche to literary, also means that there is no one right way of submitting your work.
If you are a new writer, think big but start small. You may have a blockbuster idea for a long-form feature that you think would look great in, say, the New Yorker, but your chances of getting it published by such a mainstream title are close to zero. First, you need to make a name for yourself, gain experience by working with smaller publications, and acquire a reputation as a qualified writer. But how do you do that?
One route is to attend journalism school, become an intern at a magazine, and work your way up the masthead ladder. But most writers come from more humble beginnings. My own entry into journalism came as the volunteer press secretary for a small sports club, submitting event reports to my local weekly. I developed this into a regular column about the sport—unpaid, of course. And this experience emboldened me to write a story about a promising young clubmate and send it to a national magazine. It proved to be just the type of story the editor was looking for.
Today, there are many ways to get started, thanks to the internet and online editions of most magazines. You can begin by writing a blog, developing your own website, and gradually growing your number of followers on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. With an established name and a blog that could be of interest to a niche magazine, you have a good chance of getting your work accepted—online publications are always looking for free content—especially if your copy is clean (it’s a good idea to get help from a professional copyeditor or proofreader). Not being paid may not sound too attractive, but it can be a good route toward getting your work accepted by a print magazine.
The internet also provides you with a roadmap to your goal. If you search for, say, “getting published in a magazine,” you will see thousands of suggestions on how to achieve that. You will also find that virtually every magazine you check has different guidelines on how to submit an article and how long before you can expect a reply (if any). Most publications first request a query letter that briefly details the subject of your story and your credentials, including links to pieces you have had published. The better your platform (your visibility as a writer), the better your chances of being considered—though one of the best ways of getting through to a magazine editor can be an introduction from a mutual contact.
If you are not yet a published writer, your best chance of getting published could be with an unconventional magazine—perhaps one produced by a trade organization, a nonprofit, a state, or a city. Such titles normally have small staffs and rely on freelance contributors for content. To see a selection of titles, you could visit a library or bookstore for ideas or do some research online. But whichever magazine you choose to pitch a story to, you should first study its contents and decide to which section you could best contribute (if at all). It would also be helpful and pleasing to the editors if you praise an article they already published and point out how your submission would complement it.
To help you on your way, here are some links to the submission guidelines of magazines in different categories: a popular national magazine, a specialist title, a regional publication, an international trade journal, and a title dedicated to long-form writing.
In addition to reading the submission guidelines of a particular magazine, it’s helpful to examine the demographics of its readership. This can often be detemined by looking at materials the publication prepares for potential advertisers, which can be found by Googling “advertising in X magazine.” Spirituality & Health magazine is a good example. As this link shows, advertising guidelines often include a reader profile that lists topics the magazine’s readers are most interested in. And the more you can tailor your article to their readers’ desires, the better your chances of being published.
Yes, there are thousands of magazines in the United States, but that doesn’t mean that every one is profitable. Editors are always looking at budgets, lowering staff expenses, reducing payments to contributors, or cutting the number of issues produced each year. Even the largest-circulation titles have made cuts in recent years: Sports Illustrated moved from weekly to a monthly schedule and ESPN The Magazine went from print to digital. As a result of cutbacks, payments to writers have remained static or have steadily decreased over the past two decades. Depending on the size of the magazine, per-word rates can vary from as little as 10¢ (e.g., Lacuna Voices) to $2 (e.g., Cosmopolitan) or even $3 (e.g., Brides), though very few titles have rates greater than 25¢ a word. However, since choosing to be a writer is rarely a choice made for financial reasons, this should not deter you from submitting away. And with persistence and a bit of luck, you should soon have the satisfaction of seeing your article in print.
For more guidance on this subject, one of the most informative articles I’ve found is this one by international nonprofit SME NEWS.