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3 tips for becoming a successful freelance magazine article writer

As a freelance success story, Linda Formichelli walks the talk. She’s written for more than 120 magazines, including Woman’s Day, Health, Writer’s Digest, Redbook, Business Start-Ups, Fortune Small Business, and Family Circle. She’s also the author of two books, The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success and The Renegade Writer’s Query Letters That Rock.

So who better to go to for advice on breaking into magazines? Here are three “from the front” tips she gave me to pass along:

1. Frame your idea effectively. When an editor considers your idea, she’ll think, “Why us? Why now?” You need to be able to explain why your idea is perfect for the magazine’s readers; for example, I might end an idea pitch letter with something like, “Family Circle’s readers are busy from dawn to dusk, but they want to stress less so they can enjoy their time with their families. My article ’15 Surprising Ways to Bust Stress’ won’t disappoint them.”

As for “Why now?” you need to be able to hook your idea into something that’s going on right now, such as a news story, a new book, a statistic, or a trend. For example, I might write, “According to a September 2009 study by the Stress Institute, women are 45% more stressed now than they were a decade ago.” (Okay, so I made that stat up! But for your pitch letter you will obviously dig up a real number.)

2. Help the editor envision your idea in the magazine. To do this, you can lead your pitch letter with the same paragraph you would write if you were writing the actual article, and then go on to give the editor a few examples and quotes that show how you plan to structure the article and the kind of information you’ll share. You can also come up with a cover-worthy title, suggest sidebars, and even suggest a graphical treatment if you happen to have an idea for one.

3. You need to be fearless! Fear is the number one thing holding back new writers from breaking into magazines. Don’t stall by thinking you can’t send out your pitch letter until it’s perfect. There’s no such thing as perfect, so just give it your best shot and get that thing out the door! If you make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world – I’ve sold article ideas with pitch letters that had a typo in the very first sentence! And you’ll learn and get better as you go along. The important thing is to start.

Jennifer Carsen, J.D. is a “recovering lawyer” and the founder of Big Juicy Life. Her specialty is turning lawyers into writers. Go to http://www.bigjuicylifecoaching.com for a copy of the free report, “6 Myths About Leaving the Law for Writing.”

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