Many successful authors began their publishing careers by starting small--specifically, writing filler pieces for magazines, establishing a readership, and endearing themselves to editors by always being professional and punctual. Here's how to get started.
Study three to six months worth of back issues of the magazines where you want placement. This exercise will familiarize you with the topics that have recently been covered, the overall tone of the magazine (i.e., humorous, warm and fuzzy, inspirational, scholarly, etc.) and its target demographics. Pay close attention to what types of filler pieces they use the most. These will be things such as puzzles, quizzes, short humor, book and film reviews, recipes, resource information and lists.
Review the submission guidelines located on the editorial page. While a magazine's regular department features are written by full-time staffers, freelance opportunities are available for articles and fillers. Breaking in with a full-fledged article will be a challenge if you've never written anything before or aren't considered an expert with a unique point of view. Fillers, however, are always in demand (even from beginners) because there are invariably "holes" that need to be filled as a magazine edges toward its publication due date. These occur when an advertising slot falls through or an assigned writer pens a shorter piece than was originally planned for.
Jot down a beginning list of topics that you feel especially well versed on. If you're a parent, for instance, you may have lots of ideas regarding how to balance a happy home and a successful career, rainy day activities for toddlers and children, or economical meals to feed growing families. If you've traveled a lot, perhaps you'd like to write about hidden gems you've discovered that are off the usual tourist path, reviews of restaurants for travelers with adventurous taste buds, or 10 easy tips on how to pack everything for a three-week vacation in just one carry-on. If you're a new bride, why not share advice on how to find the best caterer, florist or limousine service?
Evaluate which publications would be the best match for what you'd like to write about. Whether you are submitting your filler on-line or submitting via snail mail, it's important that you be able to briefly explain why you feel the material is suitable for the magazine and what your personal qualifications are to write it. While many of today's magazines are now accepting email submissions because they can turn around responses much faster, there are quite a few that still prefer the formality of a letter. In the case of the latter, your correspondence should be brief but engaging and include a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
Compose your query letter. This starts with identifying the correct department editor to whom the material should be directed. This can be found on the same page as the submission guidelines. If a specific editor's name is not listed, identify at the very least the name of the appropriate department. The query itself should consist of no more than three short paragraphs. The first paragraph introduces the gist of the filler content you are submitting. The second paragraph should explain how you came to write this particular piece and felt it would resonate with the magazine's readership. The third paragraph should briefly summarize your writing experience and/or professional background. Conclude with your complete contact information (address, phone number, email and website).
Paste your filler material directly into the body of your email if you are submitting online. Editors are just as wary as the rest of us in opening attachments from individuals that they don't know. If you are submitting your filler via regular mail, it should be typed on a separate page and stapled to your query letter. Unlike feature-length articles that are initially queried via a proposal before they are actually written, fillers are short enough that they are submitted as completed works.
Be open to criticism. If an editor takes the time to explain why your submission isn't being accepted, study it closely so that your next submission will be closer to the mark.
If you are asked to make revisions, do so cheerfully and as promptly as possible. This isn't the time or place to get defensive or argue about why you think your original version is perfect. Editors don't like arrogance! If you are given a deadline to turn the material around, make this your priority. One of the best ways to establish a long-term relationship with an editor is to show that you are responsible, flexible and are respectful of her deadlines.
Shorter fillers have a higher success rate of placement than those that exceed the recommended word count. Editors love lists and so do readers. Experiment with whether the best way to present your filler is in a narrative format or as a short, snappy series of bullet points that deliver their message as quickly as possible.
Send only one filler at a time to prospective editors. Even if you have 37 humorous anecdotes up your sleeve, you don't want to inundate an editor by sending all of them at once.
Keep meticulous records on where and when you have submitted material. Nothing can be more embarrassing than sending a filler to an editor who has already told you "No."
Always observe the formalities whether your inquiry is submitted electronically or by mail. Editors should be addressed as "Mr." or "Ms." until you are invited to call them otherwise. A chatty "Hi, Bob!" or "Hey there, Emily!" assumes a familiarity that has not been established and will not win you any points.
Don't be a pest by following up with repeated phone calls to see if your material was received. If you have not heard anything back within six weeks, it's permissible to send a short follow-up note. If the follow-up doesn't garner a response, you are then free to start shopping the material elsewhere.
Don't submit exactly the same material to competitive markets. Nothing grates on an editor more than to find out that the filler he just fell in love with is no longer available because someone else grabbed it up first.
Don't submit handwritten queries under any circumstances.
Never send anything out without thoroughly proofreading it. Better yet, recruit friends to read it first and ensure that it is error-free.