The Pros and Cons of Writing Magazine and Newspaper Articles
Getting High on the Byline
There is nothing quite like getting a byline in a magazine if you are a writer. If you don’t feel that high then check your pulse because you may not be breathing.
The first byline I earned had me glowing for days, so I understand.
And I think all of you understand as well, whether you have experienced it or are still dreaming of it.
My first byline was in a small regional magazine. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have a byline in a national publication like “Better Homes and Gardens” or “The New Yorker.” And then if we factor in the money….fifty bucks for a small magazine….five-hundred or more for the big boys…well, let’s just say it is understandable why so many writers seek that particular brass ring.
There’s always a but, isn’t there?
For those of you who are considering chasing this cash cow, I think it might be helpful to take a look at the cons as well as the pros. Having all the facts is helpful, right?
So what do you want first, the good news or the bad?
Let’s start with the good and get all you optimists out of the way.
The Good News About Writing for Magazines and Newspapers
We should start with money because, well, money talks and b.s. walks.
There is money to be made writing for magazines. Even small publications pay thirty to fifty bucks per article, and over time that can add up. Get a few of those published each month and you have a good supplemental income. If you are just starting out my first word of advice is to start small. Actually, you have very little choice in the matter. The major publications won’t consider you because you are unknown, so start with local and state publications and move your way up the food chain. Once you have moved up that food chain, then the major publications will pay attention to you, and they will pay anywhere from five-hundred to a couple thousand dollars for quality work.
And that leads us to the next pro in this discussion, namely moving up the food chain. Getting a byline is huge for a freelance writer, and each byline adds to your platform and your credibility. It may seem like no big deal getting published by an online publication few have heard about, but the reality is that every byline further establishes you as a serious writer who has game. Rack up enough small bylines and you move up the ladder of success. Build your platform one small byline at a time and pretty soon your platform is standing tall and can be seen for miles.
Writing for magazines also teaches you to write query letters. It helps you to learn how to deal with editors. It expands your networking skills and makes you a name in the writing business.
Writing for mags (or newspapers) is also a great stepping stone for book writing in the future. Agents and publishers are much more impressed with writers who have credentials, and credentials are all about bylines.
And, finally, writing for magazines increases your creativity and helps you to improve your writing skills.
I’m sure there are other pros to this discussion (like business expense deductions on your tax forms), but that’s enough to get you started. Now let’s move on to the bad news.
The Cons of Writing for Magazines and Newspapers
Let’s begin this section with some brutal truth: If you can’t handle rejection then stop reading right now.
This is a numbers game, and you are going to have your query letters rejected often. If you have thin skin then don’t bother trying this freelance pursuit. It will crush your spirit and we don’t want that.
Secondly, starting out is tough. It took me eight months to get my first acceptance, and three more months to get my second. In other words, don’t quit your day job and assume you will make a living doing this. You’ll starve if you do and you’ll only have your passion for writing to keep you warm.
Thirdly, magazine editors are notoriously slow and inconsistent about paying writers. Many mags only send out checks twice each year. You need to learn how to make a spreadsheet and keep track of your proposals, acceptances and completed projects, and quite often you need to learn how to chase down a payment.
Fourthly, although it is true that good money can be made writing for magazines, what many people don’t seem to realize is that you have to keep writing to keep making income. This isn’t like writing books where you get royalties three times per year. With mags, if you don’t write you don’t earn. Resting on your laurels will put you in the bread line fairly quickly.
Lastly, as a freelance writer, you are responsible for paying taxes, something many writers don’t seem to comprehend. Let’s say you have a great year writing for magazines. You make ten-thousand bucks and you are on your way to stardom….just remember that come April 15th, you owe taxes on that income. Believe me when I tell you that lump sum tax payments are a real slap in the face if you aren’t expecting it.
Are you considering writing for magazines?
I Could Go on but Why Further Discourage You?
“I have a fear of poverty in old age. I have this vision of myself living in a skip and eating cat food. It's because I'm freelance, and I've never had a proper job. I don't have a pension, and my savings are dwindling. I always thought someone would just come along and look after me.”
The point is not to discourage you but rather to open your eyes to the reality of the situation. I have no regrets about my experience. I racked up some bylines and they have helped me over time. I made some money and I’ll never turn down the green…but….
I would still be pitching ideas today except for one truth: I don’t want to have to pitch ideas to editors for the next twenty years. I would rather take my chances writing books in hopes that I hit the big time that way. The idea of sending a query letter to some snot-nosed editor when I’m eighty-five just does not appeal to me. If it appeals to you then I say go for it!
I think there is great value in writing for magazines, and newspapers, and I think the pros far outweigh the cons. Just go into it with your eyes wide-open. I have a friend on HubPages who started out with an online series of articles about Boomer Lake, Oklahoma, and she has parlayed that into two weekly newspaper columns, so success can be had if you work at it.
2015 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”