Writing for women’s magazines…

Writing for the UK’s women’s magazine market is much harder than many people imagine. Here, as writers with 30 years in this industry, we give our top ten tips if you are considering breaking into this competitive sector … shopping

1. Research the publication

Women’s magazines are definitely not all the same. They are extremely individual and are highly focused on their readers. For example, many are targeted at women in different age groups or at different stages of life (such as having a baby, career orientated or retiring.) So if you are planning to send a story or story idea to one, buy copies of the magazine you are thinking of approaching and digest them avidly. Your idea MUST be unique enough to be commissioned, yet fit in with the style of the magazine.

2. Look out for niches you could contribute to

Many magazines run different weekly slots. If your experience or idea fits one of these slots then that can be a good way of getting a piece in. Even if you are already a journalist, writing about yourself or a point of view you have is a good initial way of getting a foot in the door.

3. Send your idea to the right person.

Ring the magazine and ask for the commissions editor. Most will ask you to send your idea in on email. Keep it short (they are far too busy to read lots) and don’t write in riddles (‘I will tell you what my story is when you ring’ is a no). Don’t forget to include your daytime contact number and if the story is about you, a snapshot.

4. Be persistent but not a pest

If a few days go by and there’s no reply, then there’s no harm in emailing to remind them. If you still don’t hear, then try another (researched magazine and commissions editor) on your list. If you hear back and it’s a no, don’t ask ‘why’ as editors do not have the time to discuss it. Never ring as you will undoubtedly pick a bad time and you will just catch that editor on the hop (very awkward.)

5. Don’t send your complete written story

It is pointless to write a whole story out and then send it round to editors. You must precis it in a few paragraphs. If it is written, then you can ask if it’s ok to send in. Remember though that however wonderful your writing is it will often be re-written. All magazines have very definite styles and if someone does want your story (unless you are a seasoned magazine feature writer) even book authors are often required to be interviewed and your story will be rewritten in their house style.

6. Real Life stories

Many women’s magazines rely on readers sending their stories to them. Some magazines have a form either online or inside the magazine for you to fill in and advertise that they will pay for stories. However, most real-life stories – if they are not sourced directly by in-house journalists – are sourced from long-established agencies and journalists who regularly supply publications day in, day out with these types of stories. We believe if you have a real life story to tell about yourself, then you must get expert advice. For example, our sister site, Featureworld is a specialist site and sends all stories out to multiple magazines to gain the best deal. Interviewees with real life stories are usually required by magazines to sign contracts, which can be deceptively simple (it is pretty easy to sign all your rights away…) and multiple magazine deals are best left to an agent. Even if you are already a journalist wanting to sell a real life story to a magazine, if you are inexperienced in this area it can be fraught with pitfalls. Your story must be exclusively signed and tied up to you, and your interviewee willing to appear/be photographed/supply personal photos/not have any legal issues to impede publication/might expect to be paid. If your real life story ticks these boxes, you should then pitch as above.

7. Get everything in writing

Ensure you sort out a fee (or credit for your blog/book/charity) before you write any article. Also be sure to ask how many words, first or third person (this is why it is pointless to have written your story first…) and to study the style of the magazine. Always double check how it should be written – even if it is for a regular slot as the magazine might recently have decided to change the way they present that slot. The way the magazine writes is how your story must be written – it cannot be changed for you. Don’t be too precious either over your copy as editors in magazines are pedantic and will often write and rewrite copy until it is just right for them. The vast majority of magazines, however, do read copy back to interviewees prior to publication.

8. Get your timing right

Many magazines are news led – or alternatively they are setting the agenda for the news. So magazines are often looking for stories to lead on from the week’s headlines. If for example, a celebrity husband has just had an affair and you want to talk about how your husband did the same, that can be a great way to get your story in. But be quick – magazines will soon be onto the next headlines to follow up.

Don’t forget too that many monthly magazines (and even some weeklies) do literally plan months in advance. So a Christmas story will need to be put up to them in August (ring to find the exact edition they are currently working on.)

9. The waiting game

Although some weekly magazines are able to get something into print within a week or two the vast majority will take weeks – or even months – to get a story in. Unfortunately there is little you can do except wait. Although some pay as soon as you send your copy in, a number pay on publication and then take at least four to six weeks to pay from publication.

10. A word about fiction.

Many writers are keen to get a short fiction story into print. But the same rules as above will apply. Firstly, identify the correct magazine (many do not run any fiction stories so it is truly wasting your time even sending it in) and then study the style. Often fiction stories are written in the same style as the real life stories. And the story you are writing (to an exact word count and in the exact style) must appeal to their readers (ie: age, stage in life as above.) To add to this, Editors often have a long list of storylines they will not accept – these include the story was a dream, the story is being narrated by the pet dog, the woman you thought the attractive guy was with turns out to be his sister to name a few. In fact, it is a good idea to contact the magazine you intend to send a fiction story to and ask for their guidelines so you don’t waste your time and theirs.

Finally … do not underestimate women’s magazines. Incredibly, we often receive limply written ideas with the suggestion they ‘might be suitable for a women’s magazine’ from someone who has clearly not read one for years! Women’s magazines are looking for fresh ideas, quirky real life stories, news-led opinion pieces (although they like to set the news too) and they are often hugely loyal to their readers. If anything, writing for magazines – especially the UK women’s weekly magazine market – is the hardest, most cut-throat and competitive of all journalism. It is also already very well covered by very established agencies and freelancers. We therefore suggest as there are so many other magazines around that the best way in is to first target a niche magazine or blog and gain lots of experience that way before going this route.

Do you have any other tips to add? If so we would love you to add them below…

Alison Smith-Squire

Alison Smith-Squire is a writer, journalist and media agent selling exclusive real life stories to newspapers, magazines and TV. She owns the sell my story website, which was set up to help ordinary people sell their stories to the press.

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