A lot of writers go freelance because they like the independence of working alone. But to write for trade magazines, you’ve got to be a team player.
I’ve spent the better part of my career writing for trades. Out of journalism grad school, I spent four years as an associate editor and then editor of a health-care trade magazine. After that I worked at a daily newspaper, but during the past dozen years of freelancing, I’ve written extensively for industry and technology trades.
Here’s what I’ve learned: writing for the trades is demanding, and but the work definitely pays off. In the late 1990s one tech trade magazine paid me a four-figure monthly retainer – on top of fees for assignments – to keep me happy and away from the competition. Last year, a client asked me to fill in on features and special projects when a staff writer went on maternity leave, and again when another staff writer took a sabbatical, a partnership that continues to result in at least two feature assignments a month at $1/word. Another editor of a tech industry Website gives me as much work as I can handle.
The key is to being a successful trade magazine writer to think like a team player. Learn the subject and the audience, then make yourself so indispensable the editor automatically turns to you when she needs outside help.
Here are my 8 secrets to becoming a successful a trade magazine team player:
1. Learn about the industry. If you want to write for the trades, you have to know the industry, specialty or subject as well as the staff writers, the editor and the people reading the publication. Thanks to the Internet, that’s not as hard as it used to be. You can find a wealth of information on any given profession or industry by studing Websites, blogs, magazines, trade associations, industry market research and white papers. The vast majority of it is online and free, though you may have to register to subscribe.
2. Read the magazine. Scout back issues or the publication’s Website to familiarize yourself with how they go about reporting on the subject, sections to write for, etc.
3. Learn the audience. One easy way to do this is to study a publication’s media kit and rate card. You’ll typically be able to find editorial calendars – good for pitching stories for special sections or reports – plus statistics about circulation, readership and more.
4. Be available. If you want to write for a trade on a regular basis, carve out time for them on your schedule and let the editor(s) you deal with know you’re interested in working for them on a regular basis. It could help cement your working relationship to be on call for a quick turn-around assignment or two, and the more you write, the more you’re learning about the publication and the industry you’re covering.
5. Check in with the editor on a regular basis. When you do, squeeze in a couple story ideas. I sometimes email editors items I’ve seen in the news with a line like “I saw this and thought of you…” or “Are you guys tracking this? If not, is it something you’d like me to look into?” Sometimes they’re already on it, sometimes the editor will call me or email me to discuss how we could turn it into a story and assign something on the spot, and sometimes she’ll ask for a bit more information or ask me to hang onto the info for the next time we have a story conference.
6. Keep a running file of story ideas. If you write enough about an industry, you can become well-versed on the subject and that makes generating story ideas a lot easier. One easy way to do this: tack a question onto the end of an interview about a related or unrelated subject, then use what you learn to craft pitches for additional stories.
7. Visit editors. I just got back from visiting magazines in New York, some I already work with and some I’m trying to break into. By letting editors put a face with a name, and getting first-hand information from them about what they’re looking for and what sections of their publications are open to freelancers, I’m hoping to break into some new-to-me publications, and increase the amount of work I do for the others.
8. Go to industry conventions. It’s not cheap or convenient to take a couple days off from your regular schedule, but attending a convention, seminar or expo is a great way to immerse yourself in an industry. Attend panel discussions and walk through the exhibits. Pick up product literature and business cards. If you’re already working for a trade and they produce a show daily offer to help: it’s a trial by fire but there’s no better way to learn.
What are your suggestions for working for the trades?