When you are a Freelance Writer, one of the most important aspects of your job is querying magazines for article assignments. Here is an overview of how the system tends to work.
1. Think of an idea for an article that you would like to write. Do a little preliminary research on your topic and be sure that you can write a good solid article.
2. Grab a copy of Writer's Market and look through magazine listings to find a magazine that you feel would be interested in this article.
3. Write a short pitch for the article, usually about a page. Explain what the article is about, how it fits the magazines current readers and include a couple of quotes from a source if you have one. Be sure to make your pitch interesting and professional and include what rights are available and estimate a word count. If you are using Writer's Market, it will usually tell you what word count range the magazine normally prints. Be sure that you are pitching an article within this range.
4. Call the magazine to verify contact details for the editor that you will be sending your query to. Also verify the correct mailing address. You don't need to speak to the editor for this, the receptionist should be able to answer this question.
5. Mail the query with a Self Adressed and Stamped Envelope enclosed so that it makes them easy to get back in touch with you. I would recommend investing in some nice paper to print your query on. Some magazines do accept email queries, but I tend to shy away from this because I am always concerned that my email will be missed or ignored.
6. Anxiously check the mail every day in case one of your queries comes back. Remember that it can take anywhere from a week to six months or more for a magazine to get back to you. Editors are busy people.
From this point, several things can happen. You could be assigned the article and given a contract. You could be asked to write the article "on spec", which means that they want to see the whole thing before they commit to buying it. You could be told that they are keeping your query on file for later. You could be told that they aren't interested in this article, but would like to see more ideas. You could be told that they just aren't interested.
If you do get assigned an article, be sure to sign a contract. Also be very clear on your deadline, word count and the format with which they would like you to submit your article. I would recommend submitting an article at least 10% over the allotted word count to give them room to edit it down, and submit the article three days early. This will show your diligence and professionalism.
Things to remember about article payment:
-Some magazines pay on acceptance. This means that they should cut you a check within about thirty days of you submitting your article.
-Some magazines pay on publication. This can be months and months. Don't spend the money before you have received it.
I would recommend sending out queries often. I work on Freelance Writing in my spare time, and I send out a query a week. If I were doing this full time, I would be sending a query a day. Even if you have articles to write, I would still recommend sending out queries because when those articles are done, you won't have any more work and you'll have to go through the waiting process all over again.
Queries can be a little tedious, but they are a wonderful way of getting assigned the fun stuff!