A writer who wants to carefully target a magazine in order to make a sale will study samples of the magazine, as many writer’s guidelines suggest you do. But this can get expensive. Having gone through this experience several times, and being frugal to the core, I have a few recommendations of how to familiarize yourself with a magazine publisher’s style and preferences by getting article and magazine samples at bargain prices. My focus is on children’s magazines, but these tips work just as well for all kinds of magazines.
Free Online Articles
You can find a lot of free samples of the articles that a magazine publishes on websites. The best resource I’ve found for children is the group of Cricket/Cobblestone magazines, who have a webpage of free articles, as well as an entire sample issue you can read online, for each of their magazines. I signed up for their emailed newsletter, which has links to free articles, and have gathered about a hundred of them to study so far. Highlights for Children is another magazine that has archives online. At HighlightsKids.com, click “Read It” and select Stories or Articles. You’ll see a few, and then click “Read More”, where you’ll find plenty of their past stories, articles and more.
A subscription to a database of articles can be pricey, and a lot of my online searches for magazine back issues and articles led me to these. But as a help for teachers and parents, CobblestoneOnline.net has an incredible searchable database containing all their articles. It costs $35 per year for a Single User membership. There are also online databases you can access through your library (see below).
Writer’s Forums and Critique Groups
I found some helpful information and magazine samples on a writer’s forum I belong to, and I hit the mother lode when the leader of my in-person writing critique group gave me a pile of magazines she no longer needed!
Buying Single Issues or Subscriptions
With any luck, you can find issues at your local newsstand or book store. But I find the selection of periodicals in the stores shrinking, especially the ones I’m interested in. Many magazine publishers in their writer’s guidelines offer sample issues for just the cost of shipping, at a reduced price, or as a download.
If you are buying several back issues—because the more issues you study, the better you’ll understand the publisher’s needs and style—it can get expensive, so you might find it worthwhile to buy a subscription. Do check the added cost of shipping so you are prepared. I am interested in writing for Sunday School papers, so I ordered a set of weekly papers for an entire season at a very reasonable price.
The local library carries magazines, but understandably only the most popular. I still use this as a good source for a few children’s magazines that I’m targeting. Finding the copies that circulate among the branches will be a different procedure from library to library. At mine, I used to be able to do an online search in the library’s website, and then I’d be able to see which branch carries which magazines, but the library’s search process has changed and I can’t do that anymore. So I called the information desk, and a very kind, helpful young lady assured me that she would make a report and send it to me. (It turned out that she was unable to generate the report automatically, so she made it manually, and I thanked her profusely for the extra time it took her!)
Using my library membership, I also use the eLibrary to search periodicals by various criteria and look at copies of actual magazine pages. A librarian gave clear step-by-step instructions on how to find the actual pdf’s of articles and stories (which include the great artwork). For example, I can read all the articles published for the past twenty years for a certain magazine, and see a listing of all the articles they’ve published on certain subjects and in specific issues.
Also, don’t forget to check your library’s sale tables in case they are discarding magazines.
Talk to school librarians to find out if they are planning to discard any of their issues of magazines. Call in the spring because some will be already preparing for the end of the school year, and you want to catch them before they throw them away. You will save them some trouble transporting heavy loads of them and they’ll probably be thrilled to pass them along to someone who appreciates them. I obtained boxes of past issues this way from schools, and accepted all that the librarians offered, even if they weren’t the ones I needed, because you never know if they will be useful to you or someone else in the future. The downside of this is that you may get old issues, but you might find that even these are helpful.
Magazines.com and eBay
On the web pages of Best-Childrens-Books.com, Steve Barancik has resources for the parents that visit his site. He includes a section on where to obtain children’s books and magazines at bargain prices. You can find more than just children’s reading materials at the links he provides. The magazines I checked at the links were a huge savings from ordering them from the publisher or other magazine subscription websites.
Steve recommends looking around eBay for books (using the search word “lot” for a lot!), and using Steve’s instructions for finding magazines was just plain FUN! I bought six recent issues of a favorite children’s magazine for a great price and low shipping cost. (By the way, he also has web pages on how to write stories, and while you’re there, you can check out my book reviews!)
Thrift Stores, Used Book Stores, and Garage Sales
This is definitely a hit-or-miss activity, but I did want to include it, because the magazine you are looking for might be easy to find in one of these places. I regularly make the circuit of quite a few thrift stores, looking for books to use for tutoring (or, quite honestly, for the fun of treasure-hunting for all kinds of things), but while I’m there, I take a look to see if they have other resources such as magazines on their shelves. Depending on the store, you can pick up magazines as low as ten cents each, up to a dollar. I don’t go to as many garage sales as I used to, for time’s sake—they are very hit-or-miss and I can’t not look at everything—but their prices would be even lower.
If you need magazine samples to study for your writing, I hope that these suggestions will save you some time and money!