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Apr 24, 2005 05:19 PM

getting essays published in magazines

  • k


How do you go about getting essays (travel or food-related) published by magazines?

I'm interested in doing free-lancing, as I've amassed quite a few pieces on food in Northern Italy (where I am currently living). Is it very hard to break into this field without connections, agents, etc? Journalists have to start SOMEWHERE, I imagine...

I was thinking about emailing the editors of American food magazines, with a sample piece included as an attachment, but have no idea if this sort of thing is ever successful in the industry, or whether I will be dismissed as an inexperienced dilettante. I don't mind being rejected if the quality of my writing isn't good enough, but I'd like to know if this kind of approach is frowned upon regardless of the essay!

The essays are more about Italian culture, experiences with Italian foods, etc. than recipes, but I suppose I could try to do those too. I also have some travel pieces, focusing on certain towns, etc.

Any idea of ideal lengths, and any other advice for, well, an inexperienced dilettante? Many thanks...

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  1. I've been a freelancer for 13 years, and here are some random thoughts.

    1. Read the magazines first. Find out the tone. Read the essays that have been published. A lot of them.

    2. Go to the front of the magazine and match up the bylines with the staff names. Some magazines only run staff-written items. Some rely on freelancers. Some do both.

    3. Somewhere in the front of the magazine, in very small print, you may find submission guidelines. Or you may not. If no, look for the assistant editor or junior editor or editorial assistant's email. Send a very short, very polite email asking if they a)accept unsolicited manuscripts and/or queries, b) and how they prefer to receive them. Do not send this email to the publisher or the big editor unless there are no other editors listed.

    4. Thank the person for any help they are willing to offer you. If they don't, send a final email thanking junior editor for his/her time. You may wish to add that if they are ever in the need for essays on Italy, you'd be happy to send yours in for consideration. Then don't bother them anymore.

    4a. If they are willing to accept your submission,follow their guidelines to a T. Don't send ALL of your work. Send one - the best written or most appropriate one - and say you have more. Maybe say why you think your work is well suited for their publication.

    5. Don't worry about being unpublished. As you said, everybody starts somewhere. The first time, it's a mix of your quality of writing and what they are looking for.

    6. You can also request an editorial calendar. Maybe they have an issue devoted to Italy coming up. Remember that pubs work months ahead of time. If the big Italy collector's issue is coming out in July, don't query at the end of June. At the very least, query five-six months ahead (or more) for a national pub. You may also find the editorial calendar on their web site in an online press kit (normally in the "for advertisers" section of the web site).

    7. Consider trying your nearest local "big" metro newspaper's food section as well. It may not be as sexy as a big national glossy, but the clips will give you experience that you can list when you try to seduce the big-budget boys (or girls).

    8. Don't start negotiating your rate up front. Most pubs are pretty fair, even to newbies. It will either be a flat rate, i.e., "We pay $400 for personal essays" or a per-word count. Don't make a big deal about rights - they'll likely buy one time rights to use it.

    Hope that helps!

    3 Replies
    1. re: MkeLaurie

      Thank you, this is exactly the stuff I need to know.

      I am a bit undecided on whether I should send my CV attached, since nothing in it has anything to do with writing, or culinary experience. I think I will probably give a brief description of who and where I am, my pertinent interests, and the sort of things I write about. In that case, do you think it would be a bad idea to include one essay as an attachment? This way, they could find out more instantly without having to send me an email first.I was thinking that if junior editors were interested, having a sample right there would help then in their response to me ("No, go away"/"Yes, we are interested in this piece and others you may have written"). What do you think? Keep it simple, or give them a bit more info? Thanks!

      1. re: kate

        In my humble opinion, the only thing that should be on a cover letter is any pertinent experience. I read sumbissions to my college literary journal for a semester and there was a running joke - the longer the CV on the cover letter, the worse the writing. I remember I once ended up with an attorney who had a three-page cover letter that listed all his legal qualifications and then his three-page short story. The CV was more interesting that his fiction.

        I guess you can attach a writing sample, but it's not something I would do with email being so instantaneous. I'd be afraid of offending a militant editor who doesn't like dealing with unsolicited submissions.

        1. re: kate

          What I've learned from a class taught by an editor at a major American food mag is -- better to send a pitch letter than the whole article. In the letter you sell your idea for a piece. Make it short, sweet, and to the point. Editors receive too many pitches every day to give yours (or anyone's) more than a couple minutes. The letter should include an attention-getting opener, a *brief* description of what you'll incude in the article (including word count), and a close with why you're the one to write it (eg. if your article is about tajarin and you live in Piemonte and speak Italian and have watched chefs make it or made it yourself this is enough).
          What's most important is that the idea be original, timely, and well pitched. This is less important than experience.

          One more thing -- make sure that you know the magazine/newspaper section you're pitching to. That means perusing back issues (or the website) so you'll know what's been covered, so you'll understand the different sections of the magazine (and therefore can include in your pitch letter the section that you intend the article for), so you'll know the voice or tone of the magazine and can write accordingly, so you understand the reader and can write an article appropriate to that readership (eg the Bon Appetit reader and the Saveur reader are two different animals, don't pitch a Saveur-type article to Bon Appetit).

          Also suggest pitching short articles for front-of-book sections (500 words or so) at the beginning ... easier to "break in" with a short article than a long one.

      2. Many magazines have writer's or submission guidelines on their websites. -- David Leite hosted a "short course" and Q&A about food writing last year on the *other* food site (rhymes with "wee mullet") ... you can link to the Q&A via either culinaria or the site offers internet courses on food writing -- last 8 wks and have gotten good reviews. Next "Basics" course -- taught by David Leite -- starts April 26, I think

        1. You should definitely check out the Writers' Market (2005). Lots of advice. Lists of magazines appropriate for your articles. Information on what they want in an article, and whether they accept freelance articles. Contact information, etc.