So you want to write and sell articles in New Zealand? Writing is an excellent way for Kiwis to earn extra income from home. If you write for your own website or blog, it’s an effective way of generating traffic back to your site. More importantly – it helps you to share knowledge with others.
Here are 10 answers to your burning questions about breaking into the industry.
1. How much scope is there for work in the writing industry?
There are hundreds of publications, speciality and others, looking for freelance contributions. Apart from shelves loaded with consumer magazines, there are trade and inflight magazines that offer opportunities for freelancers. (These may pay slightly less per word, though.)
Furthermore, there are thousands of reputable webzines and blogs online. Some of these publications don’t pay for writing. You generally get paid a flat fee for a 300- to 500-word article for those publications that do pay.
2. What makes for a good freelance writer?
Good journalism demands more than just decent writing skills. Five qualities and abilities that editors identify as key among their top writers are:
- writing that captures the unique tone, style and content of the magazine. In addition, good writing also meets the needs of the target readers.
- reliability in meeting deadlines.
- an undertaking to do sound, thorough research supported by accurate facts.
- correct spelling, grammar and punctuation, alongside carefully crafted sentences.
- professional and accountable conduct all round, from submitting well-written cover letters to proper, honest invoicing.
3. How do I submit my first magazine or webzine article?
You have two options: ‘On spec’, or by querying.
The ‘on spec’ route: The first step to getting your article published is to write it, and then to email it with a cover letter to the features editor of a magazine or webzine. You can find the editor’s contact information on the masthead page in any given magazine, or alternatively, on the ‘contact us’ page of a webzine.
If you’re a novice writer, sending articles ‘on spec’ may be your best option; this works well when you don’t have any other clips to publish.
A magazine editor can immediately evaluate whether the tone, content and quality of a writer’s work is what the publication is looking for.
Understanding the magazine style is key to writing articles that will appeal to a particular publication. Requesting the style guide of the publication from the features editor will improve your chances of writing an article that gets you that opportunity to write for them.
‘Querying or pitching’: The other option is to pitch your idea directly to the features editor through a query letter.
If the features editor likes your idea and gives you the go-ahead to write the article, then you just need to submit it on time. This method works well if you have successfully written articles for them before, and they trust you to produce what you offered in your query letter.
4. How do I get a commission to write an article?
Once an editor knows you and likes your work, it won’t be long before you receive your first commission.
What is a commission though? Basically, this is when the editor asks you to write a piece on a particular topic and gives you a brief to follow. You need to follow the specifications in the brief, and meet the deadline of course. It’s easier to work this way, instead of going through the more work-intensive process of querying or writing on spec. However
5. How much money can I make as a magazine writer?
To make money as a freelancer, you need to work hard, present article ideas that are well researched, and write well too.
Rates vary depending on the country and publication circulation. Contacting a publication is probably the best way to find out their rates.
Rates may be calculated in different ways. You can be paid:
- Per word:
Most often, you are paid by the word. For a beginner, 60 cents per word is the minimum rate in New Zealand and Australia. If you are writing for a webzine, the fee can be lower. Some webzines offer a fixed rate per 500-word article — sadly, pay is often as shockingly low as $50 per short article.
- Per month:
As most feature articles are around 1,500 words in length, you will need to work out the total fee per article. And remember that you’ll be paying 25% tax on any revenue made from these articles too. Seasoned journalists write about 13 pieces per month: this can include columns, advertorials and other content writing.
6. How do I get paid for articles?
As a freelance journalist, you are in charge of your own ‘media business’. As such, you are responsible for invoicing the publishing houses.
The features editor will let you know when you need to email your invoice to the accounts department. They’ll do this either upon acceptance or upon publication of your article. You are usually paid by electronic transfer directly into your bank account.
7. When do I get paid for articles?
A common misconception is that once you sign a contract with a publication company, your articles will immediately generate income. And while it’s true that publishing houses can offer payment upon publication, magazines typically take up to 6 months before they are printed and ready for distribution, making payment time even longer.
Nonetheless, a few publishing houses pay upon acceptance of your piece, which means you get paid roughly one month after acceptance.
8. What skills do I need to increase my chances of making it in the magazine journalism industry?
Apart from the essential skills already mentioned, you will also need:
- Networking skills: Landing commissions (in any field) is largely dependent on your networking abilities. Make mingling and schmoozing your part-time career!
- Integrity: Accuracy is paramount when it comes to writing and selling articles; plagiarism and faulty research will likely ruin your reputation, so always take the time to do proper research before publishing any work.
- Determination: You might receive a flat ‘No’ from one magazine, and a definite ‘Yes’ from another. Keep trying and keep writing!
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9. How do I know if my article is publishable?
Even the best of writers can question the quality of their article! However, if your article is rejected, there could be many reasons why. The magazine may recently have published something on the topic you’ve covered, or the article doesn’t fit the magazine’s style. You can politely ask a features editor why they’ve declined to buy your piece. Then, send it on to another magazine for possible publication.
However, if an article is not up to par, you will have to edit and rewrite it before you can try selling it again.
10. What rights do I have as a writer?
As a writer, you retain copyright over your piece, as long as you don’t sign these rights away in a contract with the publisher. This means that a magazine has no legal right to resell your piece, in any form or fashion, without paying you again. Every country has writers’ guilds or groups of writers that can support you if you run into any legal trouble. All freelancers are highly advised to join one of these guilds, not just for invaluable advice but also for ongoing support from other journalists.
In New Zealand, you can try the following guilds, depending on your area of speciality:
If you are interested in travel writing, web writing or freelance journalism, our journalism courses can help you launch your writing career. With one-to-one tutoring by award-winning journalists, our comprehensive courses fast-track your progress, improve your writing skills, and help you avoid rookie errors.