Many new and aspiring writers don’t know that there are three categories of magazines: consumer, trade and custom. That means more publications and editors in need of contributors—great! But how do you get started? Let’s look at the different types:
Consumer: These are the magazines already on your radar. They’re the glossy titles that fill newsstands and pile up in doctors’ waiting rooms. You’ll find subcategories like health, women’s, men’s, sports, tech, personal finance, decor (or shelter, in industry-speak), etc. Major publishing companies own several consumer magazines across subcategories. For example, Rogers Media publishes Chatelaine, Flare, Maclean’s, Hello! Canada, MoneySense, Sportsnet and other titles. There are many smaller publishers out there too, with anywhere from one magazine to a dozen. Pay rates range accordingly, from as low as 10 cents a word to $1 a word or more. Check out my tips for pitching consumer mags.
Trade: These magazines serve a profession or an association (in the U.S., they’re often called “association magazines” or “organization magazines”). Once you start looking, you’ll be amazed at the breadth—there are magazines for teachers, veterinary technicians, contractors, hair stylists, accountants, café owners, graphic designers…you get the idea. These publications are rich hunting grounds for writers, especially those with expertise in a certain field. The tricky part is getting your hands on them, since they aren’t available on newsstands. Google, your circle of friends and your city’s library system are good places to get started. Canada’s major media companies publish trade mags in addition to their consumer titles, and there are companies that specialize in trade. Pay rates vary depending on the size of the publisher, and in my experience they’re on par with consumer magazine rates.
Custom: These publications are marketing tools for major brands—retailers, airlines, car makers, universities, etc. They have the look and feel of consumer magazines, and the articles are often general-interest pieces that don’t mention the brand at all. The editorial process is similar to that of consumer and trade mags, except there’s an added layer of approvals from your client’s client, and custom work is generally work for hire, i.e., the magazine buys all rights associated with the articles (though this is increasingly true for other mags, too). Custom mags are both easy and difficult to find. You probably receive some already, and you can find them at some major retailers. Others are only available to a brand’s customers. Several of Canada’s major media companies have a custom division, while other publishers do custom and nothing else. I’ve found the pay rates in this category a bit better on the lower end, starting from 50 cents a word up to $1 a word.
No matter which category you’re targeting, the same tips apply: do your research, pitch short pieces (say, for the front or back of the book) and build a relationship with an editor, working your way up to longer features. It’s not impossible for a new writer to break into a big magazine, but it’s a good idea to set your sights wider, especially while you’re building up your portfolio and improving your craft. The same caveats apply, too: read your contract and understand what you’re agreeing to.
Do you have tips on working with trade or custom magazines?