Secrets of a Trade Editor

I know you’ve heard it before, but editors are just people. How do I know this? Because until last month I was an editor. I worked for Pet Business Magazine, a trade magazine covering the pet industry for independent mom and pop pet storeowners.

 

Trade magazines, also known as business-to-business publications, are an under-exploited opportunity for freelancers. Many have an itty-bitty staff, which means a large portion of the magazine is freelanced.

For example, Pet Business’ editorial team was three people strong, and we produced Pet Business (the company’s main pet publication and a monthly), Grooming Business (a sister publication for pet grooming businesses and a bi-monthly), The Pet Elite (a quarterly publication for elite pet boutiques) and The Pet Aisle (targeted at mass and grocery channels and produced three times a year). In addition to handling a variety of magazines, we were responsible for producing supplemental editions–five annual publications that mailed along with Pet Business covering niches within the industry in greater detail.

That’s a lot of articles and a lot of words for three people to produce. In fact, it’s more than three people CAN produce. So the majority of each of our issues was freelanced out.

Writers can figure out if this is a case at a trade magazine by checking out the publication’s masthead. This also serves another purpose–it tells you who to send your pitch to.

Every publication handles things a little differently, but generally trade magazines don’t try to hide their editor’s emails nearly as well as consumer magazines do; they are often printed right there in the masthead.

Once you’ve found the editors’ email addresses, you can figure out which sections of the magazine to pitch by checking the Table of Contents (TOC). Most magazines include each article’s byline right there in the TOC–compare a few issues and see which sections are always written by the same person and which change from month-to-month. The more often and varied the byline for a section, the more likely it’s open to freelancers.

Once you’ve figured out who to pitch and what sections you can pitch pieces for, you need to figure out what kind of stories to pitch. Hopefully, if you’ve figured out which sections you can pitch for, this step is fairly easy, but the number one mistake freelancers make when pitching trade magazines is misunderstanding the audience.

Not all trade magazines go out to all types of professionals within that industry. For example, Pet Business was not targeted at veterinarians and we had a separate magazine for grooming businesses. We were also not targeted at publically traded major chain stores, like PetSmart or Petco–although independently owned chains were considered within our audience.

If you can get your hands on a magazine’s media kit it will likely tell you exactly who the magazine’s audience is. If you can’t, check out the company’s website and look for any information targeted at advertisers. The magazine will typically include information on its readers there.

Finally, when you pitch the editors remember: they’re just people. Some prefer to hear from you via email while others prefer a phone call. Try one thing and if it doesn’t work, try the other. Be friendly, but professional–and before you know it, they may be calling you with assignments.

Anything you want to know about pitching trade pubs or what it’s like working for one? Ask away in the comments’ section!

 

Photo Credit: B R E N T

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Melissa Breau spent the last three years as an editor at a magazine but in 2011 decided to launch full speed ahead into the freelance life. She currently offers copywriting for small businesses and professional editing for authors, as well as blog posts on each of the above, over at melissabreau.com.

28 Comments

  1. Thanks PJ for letting me guest post! Ladies and gents, I’m here all day to answer any questions you may have….
    Melissa recently posted..Sh!t Happens

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  2. First off, I don’t think I ever congratulated officially on being a full-time freelancer. So “Congrats!”

    Secondly,how would you go about finding a publication’s media kit? Is it hidden on the website?
    P.S. Jones recently posted..Boob Stories Book Updates

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    • Media kits can be tucked away under a variety of titles. Look for anything like news, media, press, newsroom, press room, etc. I’ve even seen clients tuck PR contacts and background like this under their About section (sub-pages not linked to sitewide, so you might have to dig a little).
      Jenn Mattern recently posted..Networking Events – Three Questions for Potential Clients

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    • Jenn’s answer is a good one. But if all else fails, email and ask for one. All of the editors at my publication or at any of the other mags in our company would happily send along a media kit.

      Perhaps even pair asking for the media kit with an LOI….
      Melissa recently posted..Sh!t Happens

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  3. Great post, Melissa! I’ve written for about two dozen trades, from In-Plant Graphics to The Federal Credit Union, and they’re my favorite clients. I almost always broke in with a letter of introduction, though I do pitch if I happen to come up with a great idea.
    Linda Formichelli recently posted..The ADHD Writer: Making Distraction Work for You

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    • Hi Linda,

      The majority of our new writers started with a pitch, but once they were on our radar (even if we didn’t use the piece they pitched) they were very likely to receive assignments directly from our editor-in-chief.

      I think many trade editors assign pieces out; but having been behind the scenes, editors who have been with the magazine for a long time begin to have trouble finding new angles to cover the same topics. We used to pow-wow regularly to try and come up with ideas… so if a freelance waltzed in with an email that got our audience and worked for our pub, and it was something we hadn’t tried, they stand a really good chance of getting the assignment even if they had no clips or little experience.
      Melissa recently posted..Sh!t Happens

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      • That’s actually something I tell my students! I say that if they can come up with great ideas, trade editors are happy to get them, but if they feel a little unsure (because sometimes these mags are so niche), they can try starting out with an LOI. When I’ve sent an LOI, sometimes editors have invited me to pitch and even given me tips, which opens the door.
        Linda Formichelli recently posted..The ADHD Writer: Making Distraction Work for You

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        • Yes! I couldn’t agree with you more. I served as a point of contact for several writer friends who were looking to get new gigs; I passed along info for our magazine so they could send in an LOI and/or pitch.
          Melissa recently posted..Sh!t Happens

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  4. In the past I’ve taken a different route with trades. I don’t pitch the publications directly.

    Many accept free contributions from people in their industries (like a business owner) as long as the content itself is informative rather than promotional. These business owners often already have contacts with the publications or are in a better position to make them.

    Instead of pitching freelance submissions to the trade editors, I ghostwrite them for business owners who want to be published there. The articles are published under the client’s name or that of their business (based on information they provide or interviews I conduct with them — I just clean things up in feature format).

    It’s fairly common for PR folks to be involved with these projects, and as a writer they can be very lucrative. The trades get free articles based on information provided by and approved by expert sources who just don’t happen to be great writers. The business owner gets exposure in industry publications. And the writer is often paid much more for their work than a smaller trade could afford directly.

    This isn’t a tactic for someone who wants a byline (unless they’re the industry expert simply writing on behalf of the client’s company). But it can be a great way for commercial writers to move into features. Not all publications will accept these submissions, so you should get the process approved before committing to writing anything for the client. But in my experience, in most cases they will.

    It’s just another option for those wanting to move into a new style of writing if writing for publications isn’t already their focus.
    Jenn Mattern recently posted..Networking Events – Three Questions for Potential Clients

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    • Hi Jenn,

      Gee, I wish some of our industry experts when I was working at the Pet Business did that… We did publish some “free” from the expert columns, but none of our experts had ghost writers (at least I hope they didn’t).

      It’s a great idea, thanks for sharing it.
      Melissa recently posted..Sh!t Happens

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    • I’ve ghostwritten for trades for clients but only after they had already pitched a story and needed a writer. I never thought to pitch that to the client starting off. But now that you mention it, it sounds perfectly reasonable and a good way to service clients I’m already copywriting for.

      Reply
    • Jenn, what a cool idea! If you ever would like to write about this in a guest post, I’d love to run it on the Renegade Writer blog because I’m ALL about trades. If it’s okay with P.S….I don’t want to steal ideas off her blog comments! :)
      Linda Formichelli recently posted..The ADHD Writer: Making Distraction Work for You

      Reply
  5. I have not written for magazines, so this is probably a very n00bie question, but: how do you FIND trade magazines? There must be tons of them out there…
    dava recently posted..Appreciating a Past Mistake

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    • Hi Dava,

      There are TONS of trade pubs out there! Basically, they exist for anything you could ever want to write about. Writer’s Market is a great source of trade pubs, but not every trade pub is in there (our magazine isn’t).

      Hopefully some of the other writers here will weigh in too, but the best way I’ve found to find trade pubs is to look for a specific industry and then look for trade magazines within in. So for example, for retail trade magazines (which I’m targeting now) I’d just do a google search for “retail trade magazines.” If you search “pet trade magazines” the first several results are all magazines within that industry.

      Hope that helps!
      Melissa recently posted..Sh!t Happens

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      • Here’s one of my top-secret tips…well, not really top secret since I put it on my blog! If you’re reading Writers Market and you find a magazine called Concrete Producer…

        *** (Excerpted from the blog post) ***
        Here’s a secret tactic of mine. Notice that The Concrete Producer is published by Hanley-Wood. Now, you may or may not be interested in writing about concrete, but if Hanley-Wood is a trade magazine publisher, they may print other magazines that are more up your alley. You can see from the editor’s e-mail address that the company’s URL is hanleywood.com. Go to that website, click on magazines, and — whoa! They list 20 or so magazines, some of which are probably not in Writer’s Market, from Apartment Finance to Residential Architect. Now you have 20 markets to check out. (Writer’s Market is big, but if they were to print a guide to every magazine in the U.S. you wouldn’t be able to lift it!)
        ***
        Linda Formichelli recently posted..The ADHD Writer: Making Distraction Work for You

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    • Linda and Melissa offered some great info. Here’s another idea I refer to writers — something picked up from my PR days.

      Don’t only resort to writer’s market listings. The competition all know about that resource. Instead try media databases targeting PR firms.

      These can be far more extensive than resources directed at writers. They can also be much more expensive which means fewer competitors are likely to use them in this field.

      That said, if you do a bit of digging you might be able to find free access. Some libraries keep print versions of the Gale database for example. If you’re near a university library you might also be able to access digital copies of directories from Burrelles-Luce or other media directory companies. Even if you find an outdated print version, you can find publications there that are still in print. Just look them up online and you’ll likely be able to find current contact information.
      Jenn Mattern recently posted..Networking Events – Three Questions for Potential Clients

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      • Thanks so much! These are great ideas. I have ghostwritten articles for clients that ended up being published in trade magazines, but like PJ, it was because the client submitted them (and in one case because the magazine contacted the client and asked to publish an article). I’ve spent so much time marketing to small business owners, I never really considered writing for magazines…It might be time to try it out.
        dava recently posted..Appreciating a Past Mistake

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  6. I’ve never learned so much at one time from reading blog comments. Thank you Melissa, P.S., Jenn and Linda for all the juicy info.

    Reply
  7. Great advice, I think most freelancers tend to forget about other sources of work (with traditional magazines) and those involved full time should consider any possible resources they can get their hands on. I believe that more unique and untapped markets offer greater creative and financial freedom. So get there first, stay there forever.
    Neeraj Sachdeva recently posted..Why I Cannot Live Without An iPod

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