Standard strategies for breaking into a magazine of your dreams may not be adequate.
Submitting front-of-book proposals, figuring out whether it is the deputy editor or the managing editor who normally fields across-the-transom queries…these and other approaches may be valid but are not necessarily as likely to succeed in the long run as is the stratagem I describe below.
Most magazines feature a Letter from the Editor in each issue. You can establish a rapport with the editors-in-chief of your dream magazines by writing a letter in response to their every issue. That rapport, once well-established, can lead to your receiving regular assignments with the publication.
It is essential to understand that a magazine is a brand, a business, and unique in its field. Even when magazines are relatively similar, they have an unmistakable, individual flavor. Think of Mountain Dew and Seven-Up. They are more like each other than either is like root beer, but, if you are familiar with them, you can tell one from the other after just one sip. As a writer, you will benefit from understanding that between magazines in the same category, there are similarly differentiating characteristics. Ladies Home Journal for example, is entirely distinct from Better Homes and Gardens.
When you start writing a regular letter to the editor-in-chief of one of your dream publications, you must have studied that editor’s publication so thoroughly that you comprehend in great detail just what makes the publication stand out from every other publication. You are aiming, after all, to join the brand on a professional level, and so you must be able to demonstrate that you grasp all qualities and nuances of the brand.
Assuming, now, that your knowledge of your dream magazine is solid, what should go into your regular letter to its editor-in-chief? For starters, at least ten times more thought than would immediately appear evident to a person casually reading the letters you wind up sending. On the one hand, you should not say anything critical of the publication. On the other hand, you should not, in your letter, appear as a fawning sycophant. You should, rather, express honestly your greatest enthusiasms for the contents of the most recent issue. It can be especially meaningful to engage the editor-in-chief in a substantive manner about one or more articles s/he mentioned in the Letter from the Editor. For instance, ” Point A in such-and-such an article intrigued me because last summer when I visited West Virginia, I noted something similar along the banks of the mountain brooks in the central part of the state.
Above all, nothing in your letter to the editor-in-chief should sound phony or forced. If you find yourself manufacturing enthusiasm, then you should not employ this strategy, because the editor-in-chief will see right through your phoniness. You should, furthermore, be driven by a passion to write for the magazine of your dreams, not by the thought that writing for it will make you rich. Additionally, with your letters, you must make a consistently professional impression. They may not contain even one typographical error, spelling or grammar mistake, or any such kindergarten nonsense, unless you hope for the editor-in-chief to use them to line the bottom of a parakeet cage. I recommend initiating a relationship with an editor-in-chief via snail mail, not e-mail, and using high quality white business stationery, not junk copy paper. We are talking about breaking into one of your dream magazines; its editor-in-chief should see you representing yourself professionally. Center your name and contact information at the top of each letter; under your phone number you may place your e-mail address. The editor-in-chief then has choices, if s/he should elect to contact you.
A first, second, or third such letter may not get any response, but after you have sent a professional-level communication consistently for a year, that editor-in-chief will know who you are, and realize you have a professional grasp of the magazine, its contents and its readership. There is, you can be sure, no editor-in-chief uninterested in quality feedback about their publication. By delivering high-quality feedback over time to the editor-in-chief of one of your dream magazines, you are opening doors in ways that front-of-book article proposals and other small-fry carryings-on most likely never will.
In sum, to insure that your regular letters to the editor-in-chief of one of your dream publications are met with pleasure and not disgust, you should 1) know the publication backwards and forwards; 2) be genuine in expressing your enthusiasms for the publication to its editor-in-chief; 3) go beyond thorough professionalism in your presentation, writing on a world-class level and placing that writing on elegant paper inside an elegant envelope. Should this method not work for you with one particular magazine, it will fine-hone your skills for grasping what makes any given publication unique, and that, in time, can only help result in writing contracts for you.
The first time anybody asked Scott Rose what he wanted to be when he grew up, he said “A writer.” There’s some debate as to whether he’s actually grown up, but none over whether he calls himself a writer, though others may arch their eyebrows at the appellation. Appalachian; appellation — Scott knows the difference, ergo, he must be a good writer. Read his satirical mystery Death in Hawaii; it will transport you to a land of balmy Pacific breezes, attempted murder and delicious frozen drinks.