Early in 2015, after I had self-published Downsize with Style the year before, I realised how much I enjoyed (interior) design writing and started looking into the process of getting published and pitching stories to design magazines.
As I had done a couple of creative writing courses at the Australian Writers' Centre, I decided to enrol in an interior design writing course with Nigel Bartlett, which provided all the necessary tools to get started.
Not long after I had finished the course, I ran into one of the editors of houzz Australia at a networking event. I heard that they were looking for writers to write up selected houzz projects for their blog. I thought that this was an excellent opportunity to build a design writing portfolio and applied to be one of their writers. They took me on board, which allowed me to connect with interior designers and architects. If you work for one of these content mills, you have to be prepared that the payment is not great. However, they allow you to build a body of work, which is helpful if you approach one of the big publishing houses.
One of the architects I met through houzz had quite a few interesting projects on his website. I decided to contact him and offered to pitch a new house they had just completed to one of the interior design magazines. He (and, most importantly, the owners of the house) agreed, and this was the beginning of an eight-month project until the feature was finally published in Australian House & Garden. One thing I learned during this process was patience and not to give up.
Here are my five tips for aspiring freelance writers who want to get published in magazines:
1. Do a course and plug into the industry
When I decided to write about my life, the first thing I researched was life- writing classes. I enrolled at the Australian Writers' Centre (AWC) and finished my first memoir manuscript the same year. Before I started pitching to interior design editors, I attended an Interior Design Writing course at AWC. It was run by a freelance design writer, who provided valuable tips on how to find suitable projects, the right magazine, and how to approach the editors. Overall, a worthwhile investment.
Apart from the AWC, I recommend Writing NSW (or any of the other state writers' centres) for courses, workshops, and great industry events. Since I started my creative writing journey, I attended many industry events, which are fantastic platforms to connect with editors and publishers and the writing industry.
2. Read the magazine
The sounds obvious but is often neglected because it takes some effort. The best way to find out what an editor is looking for is to read the magazine. And not only the current issue but at least the last three. When I started writing for design magazines, I was subscribed to several titles to keep track of their content over the course of a year. This is costly and might not work for everyone. Check out your local library or friends to borrow the titles you are interested in.
3. Write a pitch
How to write a pitch to interior design editors was my main reason to sign up for the course I did. As I my previous work experience was overseas, I had no experience in working with Australian editors and wanted to learn how to do it in a professional way that opens the door to connecting with them and building rapport. Luckily, the Interior Design Writing course at AWC delivered exactly that. I left with a template that sums up the most important points for the editor to make a decision to go ahead with this story or not. The pitch document should answer the 'W' questions (who, what, when, why) and provide a link to selected low-res images in a file storage program such as Dropbox. Do not send high-res pictures attached to your email to an editor! Some of the editors are ok with a couple of low-res images attached to your email, but they will usually tell you so.
4. Find the right editor
Always try and find the right person who can make a decision regarding your pitch. If you can't find them in the magazine imprint, call the editorial assistant and ask to whom you should send your pitch. Unfortunately, many magazines use the editorial assistant as a gatekeeper, which is hard to pass. They tell you that they will forward your pitch to the editor and you never hear from them again. Plus, they often do not answer the phone. I don't know how many messages I left on the voice boxes of editorial assistants. The only way around this is to build a relationship with the editor and ask them to give you their direct email address, which alleviates the process of pitching future projects significantly. My main tip in dealing with the editorial staff is to be polite and professional - always. No matter how they respond.
5. Follow up, act professionally, and be kind
Once you have sent your pitch, follow up after a week. I always call first and try to talk to them. If that is unsuccessful, and it is often the case, I send a friendly email asking them if they had the chance to look at my pitch. I also keep contacting the editorial assistant and ask to get back to me even if they decline the story so that I won't keep following up. One thing I learned is to have patience. Monthly or bi-monthly titles have a three-month lead-time, which means that the road to publication can be a long one. Never give up, deliver professional input and be kind to everyone, which will result in building relationships and hopefully a published article. Good luck!