How to Read a Publication Like Your Future Editor Wants You To


Not sure why your story ideas aren't selling? If you ask an editor for advice on the best way for a freelance writer to break in to his or her publication, they often have the same response: "Read it first."

Unfortunately, some writers don't take that super simple advice to heart. Maybe it's the case that you have been pitching a publication you've never read.

But some writers, even after having read a given magazine, still can't figure out what it is that differentiates it from its competitors. See if one of these cases sounds familiar:

1. You haven't read it recently.

I know, you used to subscribe. But a lot can happen in a few months, let alone a few years, in terms of editorial direction.

2. You haven't read enough issues.

Get to know the recurring departments, themes, and style.

3. You haven't listened to the voice and tone of the writers.

Are articles written with an authoritative, collective voice, like the Economist? Or fiercely independent ones like the New York Review of Books?

4. You haven't read it like a contributing member of the editorial team.

Each issue has lots of information both about the readers, what they're interested in, what questions and problems they have, as well as the editors and writers who work out appropriate angles and packaging.

5.You haven't broken it apart and analyzed all its bits before putting it back together.

Reverse-engineering published pieces lets you figure out how to conceive, pitch, and write an article that is a perfect fit.

Even when I'm not looking for markets to pitch, when I pick up a magazine, I automatically analyze it and start prepping a little market guide. On a recent trip to Australia, lots of passengers spent the hours reading print magazines and newspapers for pleasure. In the same amount of time, I'd compiled several market guides in my head.

I've made a little video for you with some of the questions I ask when I'm checking out a possible new market.

In this case, it's a walk-through of the Singapore Airlines in-flight magazine, and I'm specifically looking out for which places might be most freelance-friendly. Most of these questions are universal, though some of it is specific to content marketing and travel.

Sometimes writers who want to sell more story ideas think they need to invent some metaphorical special sauce and squirt it into their queries. Guess what? Special sauce is ketchup, mustard, and mayo. Once you know the recipe, it's easy.

If you want to dip your toe into the world of reading a magazine like your future editor hopes you will, check out the video here: