Sarah Jio's Four Smart Do’s for Aspiring Freelance Writers

Sarah Jio, author of this month's mainstream tale The Violets of March, shares her tips for aspiring authors who are interested in writing for magazines. 

I’m the author of the debut novel, The Violets of March, published recently by Penguin (Plume), but I haven’t always been a novelist. I started my career in magazines, and a lot of people ask me how to break into magazine writing, and many wonder if they have to live in New York City to do so. My answer: no! I live in Seattle and have made it work just fine. I’m the health and fitness writer for Glamour.com, and I have written for Real Simple, Redbook, O, The Oprah Magazine, Health, Cooking Light and many other publications.

Here are my top tips for launching your own career:

1) Get a web site: When I was first starting out, I found that having a professional writer’s web site where I could showcase my past work was a great way to show editors that I was a legitimate writer. I know it sounds silly, but image is important and when an editor can’t meet you in person, having a well-put-together web site can help.

2) Be idea-crazed: I credit my success in magazines to my voracious collection of ideas early on. I was always, and I mean, always collecting story ideas—at restaurants, over dinner with friends, in books, or even overheard conversations out shopping. I pitched a lot of ideas and eventually I started getting assignments. Now I rarely pitch ideas—most are assigned. But I still love the idea-generation process. Writer who prove to be great at coming up with good ideas get the good assignments.

3) Be friendly: Duh, right? Well, you wouldn’t believe how many stories I’ve heard from editors about writers who are difficult to work with. Put simply, if you want to sustain a career in this biz, you have to do it with a smile on your face. Yes, that means making edits to a story at 10 PM at night—for the 99th time—because your editor is on deadline. There is no room for being a diva if you want repeat assignments from magazines. No, that doesn’t mean taking abuse from editors either, but being friendly and going the extra mile always pays off. 

4) Write a good pitch: The best way to land a great assignment is to write a great pitch—and I don’t mean anything long and drawn out. I’ve sold a ton of stories by simply sending a two-paragraph email pitch that gets to the heart, and to the most exciting nugget, of the story. Editors are busy and don’t want to read a tome about your story idea—they want to be hooked quickly and will often write you for more info if they need it. Also, very important: A grabbing headline can seal the deal. I encourage new writers to focus on writing a snappy headline to their pitch, thinking of it in the same way that the story may appear in the magazine. 

Good luck! Writing for magazines is a fast-paced, creative and rewarding career. With work, and passion, you can get there. 

- Sarah Jio

You can pick up your own copy of The Violets of March, which is in stores now, or learn about her revision process here. And fans of Jio's writing will be excited to learn that her next novel, The Bungalow, is scheduled to hit shelves in April 2012!