Writing for trade magazines
They pay well, the work is regular and often the editors come to you with story ideas. So what is the best way to get into writing for trade magazines and industry publications?
Writing for trade magazines and industry publications
There tend to be three types of magazines that pay freelance writers:
Consumer – “glossy” magazines aimed at the public and general readership that you traditionally buy from a newsstand
Custom – these are the original content marketing magazines. Inflight magazines are the perfect example of a custom publication
Trade/Industry – these are magazines relevant for people working within a certain industry (such as human resources, dentistry, hospitality and so on). These publications tend to have a small circulation and those who receive copies of the magazine are typically members of the associated professional organisation.
With publications covering industries from architecture to construction to horticulture to real estate, there are so many opportunities to get published in trade magazines. There are over 150 different trade and industry publications in Australia and in the United Kingdom, and over 350 in the United States.
And even better, many trade magazines use freelance writers because it’s cost effective.
How do you get started writing for trade magazines and what do you need to know about writing for these kinds of publications?
I don't write for any industry publications, and the one time I pitched to a trade magazine, I made a rookie error (more about that later) and I realised I could do with learning more before I sent another query letter.
Here I speak to three freelancers about their thoughts and experiences about writing for trade publications.
Laura McGeoch is a freelance writer and editor who writes feature articles for both consumer and trade magazines. Laura regularly writes for an HR industry magazine, as well as working on two health-related magazines published by industry associations.
Lee Mylne describes herself as a career journalist who stumbled into travel writing around 20 years ago. Lee has been freelancing for 25 years, and her very first freelance gig was for a trade magazine.
In 2016, Lee won the Best Travel & Tourism News Story category of the Australian Society of Travel Writers Awards for Excellence, for a story on drive tourism in Australia, published in the national trade magazine Travel Bulletin.
Rachel Smith is a writer who specialises in health, entertainment, travel, food and interiors. Rachel also co-owns and runs the stellar Rachel’s List - a recruitment site, blog and general all-round-good-place for freelance writers.
Rachel currently writes for three trade magazines under Engage Media (BITE magazine for dentists, Vet Practice, and Restaurant and Catering).
The general format of trade magazines
While all trade or industry publications are different, most usually run similar kinds of articles in each issue. They tend to cover:
- Industry news/news briefs
- Business-management stories
- Marketing stories
- Broader stories about the industry
“I think you need to research the magazine and read as many of its articles as you can,” says Rachel. “You want a thorough understanding of who the client / audience is and the issues specific to them. A good editor will often include this information in the brief and guide you so you don’t write something that is way off base.”
The advantages of writing for trade magazines
Industry publications often pay well and there's lots of work
Rachel has found it hard to find as much consumer magazine writing work as she used to, whereas she says there is still plenty of trade and industry opportunities. “The word rate can often be higher and the work more consistent,” she says. “[Writing for trade] also extends your abilities and gives you another income stream you can build on.”
The editor of a trade magazine will often come to you with ideas
After having originally pitched ideas and written stories for particular trade editors, Laura, Lee and Rachel have all had those editors approach them with commissions. “It is a mix [of me pitching and being approached] but with trade, I find that often it’s the editors who come to me with the brief,” says Lee. “Once I’ve started working regularly with a trade outlet, then I have a better idea of what they want and can pitch to them with confidence that my ideas are likely to be accepted.”
Why your trade magazine pitch doesn't get commissioned
Last year, in my build up to full time freelancing, I pitched to an editor of a food industry magazine. While the editor liked my idea, he didn't commission it because none of the case studies I proposed were members of the food industry association that the magazine was tied to. This is what he said:
As the official magazine of the Association, we strive to ensure that the restaurants we cover are all members of the association. I looked up the restaurants you suggested in the member list and couldn't find them, I'm afraid.
If you could find members of the association who also fit the bill for the story, that might work.
I was in a bit of a bind because he couldn't provide me with a list of members and apart from asking restaurants and cafe owners if they were members of the association (which I did and they weren't), I didn't know where to start. So I dropped the idea.
The editor also mentioned to me that the main reason he turns down stories pitched by writers is because they send him newsstand ideas rather than industry ones. This means that freelancers often make the mistake of pitching consumer stories to trade magazines. They may pitch “Matcha is on trend!” to a restaurant industry magazine, rather than a story of interest to restaurateurs like “How to monetise the matcha trend”.
Writing for trade magazines is different from writing for other publications
“Pretty much all the trade magazines I’ve written for are ‘business’ mags,” says Rachel. “The audience are business owners in that industry. So you’re often writing about topics pertinent to those business owners. How to get more clients. How to prevent high staff turnover with unique staff perks or morale-raising. How to raise your brand awareness using social media.”
While Rachel says this kind of business writing may seem boring, it’s anything but. “If you’re writing for the right outlets it can be really quite fascinating seeing how entrepreneurs grow and run their businesses,” she says. “Business owners who are passionate about what they do are some of the most fascinating people to interview, in my opinion. That’s why this kind of writing can actually be really fun.”
While you get to delve further into topics than you might otherwise for a general audience, the hard bit is pitching a new idea or finding a new angle on an old topic, says Laura. “This is because the publication has already covered the A-Z of topics relevant to its industry,” she says. “I’ve found it helps to be able to tie-in a topic with something big happening in the news. For example, I tied a recent article on workplace personality traits to Donald Trump’s unprecedented climb to the top.”
For Lee, writing for trade is similar to writing for consumer or custom magazines in several ways. “Both require accuracy, good sources and good angles,” she says. However, trade magazines are more news-based she says, while travel magazines run destination pieces and require a different style. “There’s also a greater need for specialist sources to quote, and [trade writing] is much more business-oriented,” she adds.
Before you pitch a trade magazine, consider this:
For Lee, it’s important to ask yourself these three questions:
- Do you have contacts (or the ability to develop them) in that industry?
- Do you have any knowledge and experience of it yourself?
- Can you meet fairly detailed briefs from editors in specialist areas?
Laura adds that it helps to know at least bit about the industry and to read past issues if you can. “As with any pitch, you really need to find a new angle or piece of information,” she says.
Laura advises freelancers to be prepared for a few rounds of conversations and edits with the editor. “Because the articles can be quite long – up to 2,000 words – there is sometimes a bit more back and forth with the editor,” she says. “This gives me the chance to talk through ideas and angles with industry editors more than I have with newspaper editors who may be dealing with many more writers and articles, and tighter deadlines.”
Trade magazines also tend to attract editors who really know their stuff. “Often editors can help with suggesting contacts for interviews, and make very valid suggestions on ways to improve a story,” Laura says. “Nothing gets by them!”
In addition to all this, Rachel thinks it’s important to honestly assess whether you are the right writer for certain articles. “Don’t take on a commission if you feel it’s really out of your depth,” she says. “It can mean you’re working on it a lot longer than you want to be, and in doing so it becomes not as cost effective for you.”
Rachel has a final tip for writers (and this applies equally to writing for consumer, custom or industry magazines). “Make the extra effort to pitch to an editor, especially when filing copy,” she says. “If you can file a piece and include a great, targeted pitch in your email for another article you’d like to tackle, that makes it a no-brainer for them to keep feeding you work.”
Make sure you're pitching industry ideas rather than consumer articles
Tie pitches in with current news events or trends in that industry
Read back issues of the magazine or publication
When you file your copy, pitch another idea at the same time
Do you write for trade magazines? Do you have any questions about writing for industry publications?