The road to becoming a freelance writer is far from being easy.  But if you have a niche area that you are passionate about and aren’t easily discouraged by the first mention of “No, thanks!” by editors (and several more nos after that) — then you have the basics: thick skin and determination, which are key to beginning your journey toward a career in writing.

Like many aspiring magazine writers, I had no published articles under my belt.  And without any academic or work experience in journalism and publishing, I had to start from scratch.  All I had to start with was my health background and interest in writing.

The idea of breaking into magazine writing has been a trying experience: Well, I tried and nothing happened.  But, once I took the time to collect myself and get organized things started to work out.  I developed a strategy and committed myself to following through with my plan. So, how did I get an editor to take a chance on me when I had no clips?

Here are the practices I used to build my writing samples.

BECOME INFORMED: First, I signed up with Writer’s Market and MediaBistro.  Being able to access information on various publications has been a huge time saver.  As I’ve learned not every section of a magazine is available to freelance writers since some are reserved for staff writers.  Rather than blindly pitching to a magazine, I can use these member websites and the magazine’s guidelines for writers to get pertinent information.  This allows me to craft tighter queries, get updated information about editorial staff changes, and include the section where I think my piece would work well (e.g. front of book).  I’ve found that adding a particular section shows that I am familiar with the magazine and that I’ve done my research.

KNOW THE MAGAZINE: What works for one publication may not work for another.  So research shouldn’t be limited to online resources alone.  Walk into any Borders or Barnes and Nobles and take a look at the magazine section.  There are so many magazines out there that the idea of researching them sounds crazy.  But, it is an important skill that will save you a lot of time.   Reading magazines provides me with a sense for its style.  My writing focuses mostly on health and family topics.  So when I visit a bookstore I pretty much know what magazines I like to check out.  Also, libraries are a great place to review magazines you’re interested in because you can look at many back issues.  I did this for a magazine I was interested in pitching a story to and realized they had previously covered a similar topic.  I saved a lot of time and energy by researching because I didn’t send off a query about a topic that was already covered a few months before.

SPREAD YOUR WINGS: Consumer magazines are hard to break into without clips.  That’s why it’s a good idea to reach out to smaller publications.  Linda Formichelli has a couple of posts on her website on breaking into smaller publications, click here to check one of them out.  Another option is to do an internship to build your clips.  While most of these are for college credit, some internships may apply to those of you who aren’t in college.  Mediabistro and Ed2010 are two websites that may help you find an internship or writing opportunities to get you started.

By being flexible in my options and aiming for trade magazines, I have been able to make more progress in getting work.  I have contributed a few articles to a local magazine and it has been helpful in building my clips. If you’re worried about how long it’ll take to break into magazine writing the answer is – it varies and depends on the type of markets you’re trying to break into.  But I’m positive that with the proper focus, goals, and a healthy dose of reality (meaning be patient given today’s job market) you can still achieve your goal of writing for magazines.

Jumping into the trenches of freelance writing doesn’t have to be this endless journey of rejections.  With a little patience, preparation and practice you’ll get that first clip and the next one after that.  Getting your first clip requires that you clue yourself into the dos and don’ts of magazine writing, and remain flexible regarding the markets you target.  Once you’re a pro you can command the scene more and just drop a line to an editor (I hope) about an idea for their next issue.  But, until then keep working to secure good clips!

And if you’re in need of a good laugh or a chuckle, check out my comic today on coping with rejection.