Ask Wendy: How do you work with magazine lead times?


TOPIC: Lead times

Question: I can’t get the hang of this lead-time stuff. I’m supposed to be thinking about Xmas in spring

and Mother’s day in fall? I can only write about a season when I’m actually in the mood. How do you make

this work?


Answer: Indeed, it’s tough to write about snowmen and hot cocoa when it’s 95 degrees outside your

office window! But I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is, if you want to be a professional

writer, you have to be ready to write about anything when you’re NOT in the mood. I’ve had hellish days

where I wanted to climb back into bed but I had a batch of happy, cutesy, isn’t-life-PURRfect kitten

greeting cards due. Was I in the mood? Heck no! Did I do the assignment? Heck yes!

I remember reading a quote by a writer (his name escapes me) who when asked how he got inspired

responded, “Luckily, inspiration strikes at 9 a.m. every morning,” implying that real writers sit down and

do the work – whether they’re in the mood or not. (Told you it was bad news!)

The good news is, there are plenty of markets out there that don’t require an 8-month lead time. As I’ve

said before, in general, the “bigger” the publication, the longer the lead time. This means that while

Family Circle might look for holiday pieces a year in advance, your local monthly parenting newspaper

might buy that same holiday piece on November 15 – two weeks before they go to print – because they

need filler. Sure, the smaller publications pay less, but A) You can build up your credentials faster

because they’re easier to break into; B) There’s generally a lot less competition; and C) You’re generally

selling more writer-friendly rights (i.e. one-time rights vs. all-rights).

So here’s one possible solution: write a summer-themed piece now and sell it to a local publication. Then

submit the same piece to a big magazine that’s buying summer pieces for NEXT year!


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