I keep about eight magazine subscriptions going at all times. It's difficult to read them, and I'm a very fast reader. They pile on a table next to my recliner, and I peruse them during commercials or boring parts of television programs. It's rare when I can just sit and stare at TV.
One of my favorites is Hobby Farm Home. Here are the writer guidelines along with Hobby Farm Magazine. It's a solid magazine, part of the BowTie, Inc. family, which also includes Urban Farm, Dog Channel, Cat Channel, Bird Channel, Horse Channel, Fish Channel, Reptile Channel and so on. I've read Hobby Farm and Hobby Farm Home for so long I feel like I'm on the editorial staff.
And that's what an editor wants.
That doesn't mean you have to subscribe for three years before you submit. However, it does mean you have to study the periodical, understanding what is freelance written and what isn't, sensing the voice of the publication. Let me tell you what you can learn from spending a solid hour with one issue of one magazine that's on your bucket list of queries.
1. By reading the articles, you sense personality.
Is the voice informal or journalistically formal? Is first person allowed in some departments and not others? Which columns are how-to and which are feel-good?
2. Learn the word count.
Yes, count the words. And if you can get your hands on one or two more issues, count those, too. Don't rely upon guidelines verbatim. See what's actually made it to print. Guidelines are often forgotten by the editors putting the magazine together.
3. Read the bylines and bios of the writers.
I now recognize FundsforWriters readers as the authors of some pieces. If I want to know what it's like to work with the publication or the editor, I can contact those who've walked before me. If their email isn't posted, Google their names along with an item or two out of the bio. You'll find them. Connect. Learn how to break in.
4. Study what is freelance and what is in-staff written.
Most magazines reserve some features and departments for staff. The masthead lists the staff. Compare the bylines with the staff members. Sometimes staff pieces have no byline. And if you have several issues of the magazine (easy to find in the library, and sometimes online, depending up on the magazine), you can definitely nail down which section and which editor to comfortable pitch. Remember that contributing writers listed in the masthead are just freelancers who've written more than once for the publication.
5. Study the website, too.
When I visit a magazine's website for the first time, I go to the About Us page. I want to know what they are about, and what they think of themselves. This page reeks attitude and flavor of the publication. Sometimes it tells you more particulars on their preferences and needs than the Writers Guidelines. Some guidelines are years old. Of course search for the guidelines, but as you probably already know, many mags don't post guidelines because they want to make you read the mag.
Then take a peek at the Contact Us page. Some guidelines spin off this page, plus here you learn who to specifically query. Which editor handles the column you want to write for? And finally, read the Media page. I've scoured websites before that had no Writers Guidelines or About Us page, and the Contact Us page led to a cold, generic form. Since advertisers visit the Media page, you'll often find the editorial calendar, contacts, and summary of the magazine's mission.
6. Watch for the filler stuff.
Does the magazine have small insertions that contain how-to instructions, website references, jokes, events or guides? These are fillers, and few guidelines mention them. You can pitch fillers separately, or you can pitch them in addition to your feature.
7. Identify the publisher.
I already mentioned that Hobby Farm Magazine belongs to BowTie, Inc. At the publisher's site, you learn of other magazines that are kissin' cousins to the one in your hands. Sometimes the publisher's site has generic guidelines, or like Ogden Publications, lists all its magazines and their guidelines on one page. Once you win an assignment from one editor, you gain an insider's advantage to the others.
Many magazines also publish books. BowTie, Inc. is one of those companies. The magazines advertise them. If you regularly write the type of material one of the magazines emphasizes, you might have a book that falls in line with their focus.
8. Find other story ideas.
Hobby Farm Home interviews and writes about farmers, cooks, gardeners, equipment specialists, ranchers, educators, and so on. Nothing says you can't connect with one of these people as a resource for another feature you had in mind for a separate magazine.
9. Pay attention to the advertising.
Advertising screams readership identification. If you looked at nothing but ads, you could eventually pinpoint the demographics of a mag's subscriber base. That not only tells you how to write the piece, but helps you target your pitch to the editor.
Become intimate with one issue of one magazine in one hour, and you'll walk away with a list of stories . . . and become well-armed to query them.