Lately, a few people have dropped me a line, asking how they go about approaching magazines for journalistic work. This year, I will celebrate (or, alternatively, be depressed by realising I've done) two decades of freelance journalism, so may be able to shed a soupcon of light over what can seem like an intimidating, impenetrable fortress, but is actually fairly simple. So here's a potted guide which, clearly, shouldn't be taken as gospel. Like anything else, your success at securing journo commissions will be partly influenced by luck, the changing moods of office-bound, bleary-eyed staffers and possibly the moon. So here goes...
KNOW YOUR ENEMY
The first thing to do, when preparing to approach a mag, is know its style from top to bottom. Both in terms of tonal style/attitude and its literal formatting, right down to whether it prints album titles in inverted commas. Detail counts.
WHO TO TARGET?
Next, single out the appropriate Section Editor from looking at the mag's masthead (you know, that column with all the staff names on). I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s best to approach the Section Editor rather than The Editor, for a very good reason. If you approach the Editor and they like your work, and pass you on to the Section Editor, then there’s a chance that the Section Editor will feel bypassed and resent being handed a new writer (I once had the editor of a UK film mag happily telling me to contact the Reviews Ed, which I did, only to never hear back). But if you go to the SE first, they’ll be happy to scamper over to the Editor with their new discovery. Politics and ego are rife in this area, just like anywhere else. People always want to put their own stamp on things, or indeed freelancers. Incidentally, yes, it does help if you know the Section Ed on some level before approaching them. So check and see if they're on Facebook. If they're not stalker-phobic and accept you as a friend, then buy some fish for their fishtank. Hey, can't hurt. Just don't ask them for work via Facebook. Business, pleasure and all that.
So. Write the Section Editor a brief and to-the-point e-mail, or a letter (don't phone them, or you'll invariably be greeted like an annoying ear-wasp - in this cyber-age most people hate phone calls from strangers) casually asking if they are looking for new writers - perhaps in a certain field which you specialise in. If an Editor has a gap of knowledge on their team, you can bet they’ll want to plug it. If they're open to new contributors, they may ask for exactly what kinda sample material they want to see. If they're more vague, just send them some sample work - not too much - in the exact same style as the mag, in every way.
GIVE 'EM WHAT THEY WANT
Here’s the absolutely vital, yet fiendishly simple, bit. Editors, whether Reviews, Features or anything else, want two things more than anything else:
(1) Work they'll have to do the minimum of editing on. If your stuff arrives good-to-go, they'll love that. You may even get a Christmas card.
(2) Work that's delivered when it's supposed to be. Miss deadlines, and you can guarantee the Section Ed won't miss you.
These things add up to an easy life for the harassed Section Editor. So consistently deliver them, and you’ll see the re-commissions roll in…