How to Write For Fitness Mags

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Q: Tony…love the blog!

Real quick, what would your suggestions be on how to get featured in magazines like Mens Health? I have a blog and am going to be writing locally in Philadelphia.

I wrote a Masters Thesis on Golf Biomechanics…and now I love to write about physiology and fat loss….any advice is much appreciated!

A: Great question, and it’s a topic that I’ve been meaning to dive into for quite some time now since I receive one of these emails every few weeks or so.

In light of this, and before I offer my own thoughts, two of my good friends – Mike Robertson and John Romaniell0 – recently wrote similar posts that I feel would be great starting points.

HERE Mike offers some sage advice to a young up and comer with some lofty goals.

And HERE, Roman writes an amazing response to someone who clearly made a major boo boo.

Now, I am in no way insinuating that either of the two scenarios above are relevant to YOU – I checked out your blog and you seem like a good dude who’s approaching things the right way, and with a sense of humbleness I might add. A rarity nowadays – but I felt it was a nice way to open up the conversation to other fitness professionals who may be reading this and wondering the same thing:

How can I become more of a bigger deal?

In all honesty, it comes down to one simple fact: When it’s ready for you, the industry will let you know. In other words, when you’ve put out enough great (good doesn’t cut it here) content, and have put in the time and effort to hone your craft, the higher ups in the industry will seek you out.

Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t happen over night. I had my first article published on t-nation.com in the spring/summer of 2006 (a big deal in it’s own right) after having been rejected a handful of times.  Before that, I had been writing articles FOR FREE for various websites in an effort to just get my name out there.

In fact, my first article ever published was a two-parter titled You Are What You Eat that appeared on a small, no-longer existing website called RuggedMag (which, coincidentally enough, was run by a few dudes you may have heard of:  Joel Marion, Eric Cressey, and John Romaniello).

Trust me, don’t read it.  It sucked.

Which brings me to my first piece of advice.  While a blog is a nice start (more on this below), it’s in your best interest to reach out to other sites/publications/local newspapers/etc to write for them…….FOR FREE.  Editors are ALWAYS looking for unique content, and if you approach them with some solid ideas, you’ll undoubtedly garner some attention.

An important note however: PLEASE actually take the time to familiarize yourself with whatever publication you’re going to pitch to. The last thing you want to do is pitch an article idea on How to Swolify Your Biceps when their target demographic is middle-aged women who train on BOSU balls.

That said, above all, content is king. Having a blog that’s informative and consistent is important!!!!  People need easy access to YOU and what you have to say. In my case, I did it backwards.  I was published on t-nation before I started a blog.

I think I had a handful of articles published before I put two and two together and realized that everyone who read them had no way to contact me.  Yeah, that was a brain-fart moment if there ever was one.

I started small, opening an account on blogspot. On a good day I had like 30 views.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised if 25 of them were my mom.

Soon thereafter, an opportunity came up where I “graduated” to The Boston Herald (a client of mine worked for them and she reached out to me when they needed someone to write their fitness/health blog).  Those who are long time readers of this site may remember the good ol’ Step-Up Blog days.

And this is where Men’s Health comes in.  You see, not surprisingly, you don’t just say “Hey, Men’s Health, I want to write for you!”  It’s not quite that easy.  Remember what I said above:

When it’s ready for you, the industry will let you know.

I had been writing a blog for close to two years (and had a handful of articles on t-nation) before MH even gave me the time of day. I liken it to the hot chick in high school whom I sat next to in “Home Room” for four years, but never had the balls to ask out.  Then, one day, I had a “get your damn hands off her” moment.

Except, that’s a horrible analogy and instead of punching Bif in the face, all I did was respond to an email one of their writers sent asking me if I’d provide a short blurb on an article he was writing on gynecomastia (AKA:  man boobs).

I know, not the sexiest topic in the world……but I was in baby!!!!

Apparently their then fitness editor, Adam Bornstein, had been reading my stuff for a while and eventually reached out and asked if I’d be down with providing some expert insight? Does Dolly Parton sleep on her back?  Hell yeah I’d be down.

What started as a blurb here and there (holy shit, my name is in the second paragraph of page 57!!!!) turned into writing a handful of 15-Minute workouts, which then turned into my first full-blown article that should appear in the mag in a month or two.

The key points to remember, though, are that when you ARE given the opportunity, you need to do a few things:

1.  Be concise and, I can’t stress this enough, know the target audience.  For instance, how I write on t-nation (as well as this blog) is completely different than how I write for publications like MH or Livestrong.  You won’t find me making any references to poop or drop kicking kittens with the latter examples.  Believe me, I tried. They weren’t fans.

2.  When given a deadline, do your best to meet it – especially in the beginning.  I’m sure both of my editors – Adam Bornstein (now at Livestrong) and Bryan Krahn (for t-nation) are LOL’ing right now, because I’m notorious for procrastinating.

But they also know I’m coaching 8-10 hours per day as well as have other responsibilities like writing programs, running my own side business (blog, consulting, other writing endeavors, crushing protein shakes), as well as being the best boyfriend in the history of the world.

Needless to say, they’re both VERY accommodating and understanding (not to mention ungodly good looking and smart).

Of course, all of that is jumping the gun a bit.  The real question is how do you get your foot in the door in the first place?

  • Keep up with the blog. The only way to get better at writing, is to write.  At the expense of sounding like a broken record, content is where it’s at.  If you write amazing content, people will find it and read it.
  • Again, write for free. It seems you’re already doing that, so run with it.
  • Moreover, it never hurts to reach out to editors. Hey, you never know! Pitch them ideas that you feel would be a good match for their respective publications, but at the same time, you need to be unique and as to the point as possible.  Remember, they get dozens (if not hundreds) of inquires a day.  So, in the end, you need to somehow separate yourself from the masses.
  • If you choose to go down that road, though, I’d highly encourage you to be professional, to-the-point (don’t write a dissertation), and maybe most important of all, don’t make any grammatical errors. As an example, nothing turns an editor off more (and makes you come across as a little douchy) than not knowing the difference between their/there/they’re or you’re/your.

  • Do a search on Google for “query letter,” and start there.
  • As well, as far as ideas are concerned, make sure you have several to share rather that just one or two. Editors like to have several options to choose from.
  • Additionally, in terms of exposure and how it relates to income, LOCAL media trumps national media any day of the week.  The fact that you’ve already got an “in” in the Philly area is pretty freaking baller.  This isn’t to say that MH isn’t something to strive for, but don’t underestimate the power of local media and the exposure that that can bring you.

And that’s about all I have to say at the moment.  My apologies if my thoughts were kind of all over the place on this one, but hopefully I was able to shed some light and point you in the right direction.  I’m sure there are some major points I forgot to mention, and maybe others would like to chime in, but like I said, you’re definitely on the right track, and you’re doing the right things. Hopefully, in the end, it will all work out.

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  • Lars Krogstad

    speaking of writing, when will you appear on t-nation again?

  • Anonymous

    Lars:  HA!  Yeah, we’re just coming out of our busy time of year at CP, so I should be able to bang out a string of articles for the next few months.  Fingers crossed:  I should have one submitted by the end of the month.

  • Thanks for this Tony.  I like your analogy, like the buddhist saying: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”.  

    Looking forward to meeting you Tues 🙂

    Sirena

    • Anonymous

      Well, I can’t take full credit for that saying. I first heard it about two years ago listening to Lou Schuler.

      Looking forward to seeing you Tuesday as well!

  • Kellie Davis

    Great insight. I didn’t read the recommended two articles above (will do in a bit), but I have a few tips to add…

    1. Read several back issues of the publication prior to coming up with your idea. You don’t want to query (getting to that in a minute) the editor with a topic that they wrote about 3 months ago. If you do go over a topic previously discussed, make sure you come at it in a different light, give new insight, ideas, ect. 

    2. Learn the editorial guidelines of the magazine like the back of your hand. Some editors are nicer than others, but for the most part they want you to know what they are looking for prior to you sending in a query (almost to that).

    3. Find out who the editor for the exact department you want to write for and query that person. If you want to write a fitness article, don’t query the op/ed editor, the chief editor, or the medical editor. 

    4. Craft a query letter that lets your personality shine through, engages the editor in 2 seconds, and tells what you plan to write about, how you plan to get the info, who you plan to interview, and why you are qualified to write the article. I highly recommend reading Linda Formacelli’s Query Letters That Rock. You can buy it on Amazon. 

    5. Start small. As Tony mentioned, find local publications that you can write for to get your feet wet. This will help you build clips. Clips are basically publications that prove to the writing world you know how it’s done and that you are publish-worthy. Your blog serves you well to get in the door with small local magazines and newspapers. But for the most part, larger publications are not going to bat an eyelash at it. Find the fitness mags that sit outside your local markets and restaurants and query the editors. Also, it’s a good idea to find out the editorial calendar for publications to see if you can fill a gap for the editor who is in need of an article for the future (ie. now is the time that editors start looking for timely articles 6 months down the road… winter articles). 

    6. Get a membership to Writer’s Market if you are serious about this. It is a wealth of knowledge that every serious writer should have in his back pocket. 

    Okay, if I write any more, Tony will have to turn this into a guest blog post. 

    Thanks for letting me high jack!

    Kellie

    • Kellie Davis

      Also, be a really great self-editor… like knowing the word hijacked, as opposed to high jacked… Epic fail. 

      • Anonymous

        Like whoa!!!!! Kellie, THANK YOU for all the insight. See? I knew I forgot to mention a few things.

        I’m intrigued by the Writers Market reference……can you expound on that?

    • I agree with checking out Linda Formicelli’s products (plenty of free info too) at 
      http://www.therenegadewriter.com/ I have learned a lot about query letters from reading her blog and free downloads.

  • Great Article Tony! You deserve all of your success.

  • Lauren L

    Thanks for the post Tony. I keep finding myself wondering how you squeeze in all the stuff you do in a week. Would it be weird for you to write a post about how in the world you find time to write, work out, do speaking engagements, be in a relationship, etc after coaching for 10 hrs?

  • Bret Contreras

    Good stuff Tony!!!

  • Awesome post Tony, answered a few questions I had been thinking about.
    Just wondered if the articles written by yourself, EC, JM & JR from RuggedMag still exist somewhere???

    • Anonymous

      they might actually, not really sure.

  • Thanks Tony for sharing your beneficial tips. You made some very strong points and alerted from making a very common mistake that beginners do, that is they offer to write ONLY for money when no one even knows about them. It’s as you very correctly said, a time consuming process that takes shape as you continue to put in the hard work. Again, a pleasure to read your stuff, keep up the great work Tony.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Arnav, glad to see you agreed with me! It’s definitely something I feel is a natural progression………write for free – don’t suck – get a little better – more people inquire about your stuff – THEN you get paid.

      Seems pretty logical to me….;o)

  • Awesome post Tony, a great insight. Thank you!

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