How To Be A Magazine Writer

by | Mar 15, 2016 | Commentary | 2 comments

In the last chapter of my life story, I was editor of a South African men’s business and lifestyle magazine. I also had a stint with a lifestyle magazine before that. An occupational hazard related to being an editor is that you receive countless requests to either write for the publication or for mentorship advice.

Having left my previous job, I still continue to receive emails, tweets, Facebook and LinkedIn messages, etc. asking me for assistance in getting into the magazine writing world. I must say, as a quick side note, that my biggest gripe in this regard is that very few messages are written well. Writing badly requesting advice on how to write for publications just does not cut it. If you want to write, learn how to write. Learn how to spell. Learn grammar. Learn what words mean.

Now that I am freelancing a bit more, I have taken the approach I used before becoming employed full time by a publication:

  1. Know What You Know – Be clear on what you can write about. It can be broad, but you have to know what you know. Also, realise that, particularly with print publications where space is at a premium, you won’t just be given a column. Yes, I know you have a story to tell, that you have thoughts and insights, but so does everything other one of us trying to get into the same spaces. You want to write about what you want to write about? Start a blog.
  2. Make A List – Identify the different platforms, whether print or digital, that you believe your writing would be suited for. Look at their editorial direction and tone and be honest about whether there is a fit. Get contact details for editorial team.
  3. Match Your Know With Their Flow – Put together a pack for them that incorporates your bio as well as, where possible, sample writing that is in line with their editorial direction. Most publications decide on what their article topics will be and, depending on number of in-house writers, they will commission out some of these. If they know you can handle, for example, business profiles, or motoring, or food, they may commission you. When you’ve built a relationship, you can also pitch story ideas, but you have to start to build that relationship.
  4. They Won’t Always Call Back – It is very hit or miss. They may not even reply your email. The reality is their inboxes, schedules and overall time is often overloaded. Sadly, when it comes to deadlines and other priorities, you’ll generally down towards the end of the food chain. It isn’t an indictment of you as a human being.
  5. Persistence Versus Irritation – No-one has ever succeeded without perseverance and persistence. But, there comes a time when it is irritating. Perhaps, when chatting to them (if they eventually reply your email), find out what would be a decent “follow-up” frequency. Touch base every now and then but don’t become work by chasing every week.
  6. You Won’t Become Rich – Freelance writing will not make you lots of money. Word rates are such that you would have to write several thousand words every month for it to have an impact on your bank account.

This isn’t cast in stone and there may be others who feel otherwise. Generally, the advice I give and the approach I try to live by. The jury is still out on how effective it is.


  1. Yanga

    Iyho! OKAY!

  2. Mothepa Masina

    Thank you Kojo for writing this piece…wish I had seen it before some of my recent endeavours. But it’s all good, we learn.

    I promise one thing and one thing only, I will not be an irritation ?.


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