If you speak English as a second language, you may have wondered whether it is possible to write for magazines published in the United States, Canada, and other English-speaking countries.
As the former managing editor of a Seattle-based Muslim family magazine, I can tell you with certainty that it is definitely possible. I have personally hired and worked with writers who spoke English as a second language. Although their articles sometimes required heavy editing and/or complete rewrites before they could be published, the writers compensated for this by bringing other skills to the table. They were, for example, able to score interviews with people the magazine was interested in featuring. They had good ideas and research skills. They could conduct research in their native languages and interview people in those languages, too. They were reliable and turned their work in on time. Some of them had expertise in topics that were of special interest to readers.
Simply put, these writers were able to do things that others—even if they were good writers—weren’t always capable of doing. Some people write stunningly beautiful prose but are too afraid to conduct interviews. They may not have the same valuable connections or ability to conduct research. They might not really understand a magazine’s target audience. Maybe they aren’t really experts in the issues a particular magazine wishes to cover. Their writing may be smooth but lacking in substance. In other words, being a native speaker of English—or even a good writer—is not necessarily the most important factor when it comes to hiring a writer.
Do you have a particular skill or expertise?
You should consider this question when approaching the publications you want to write for. After reviewing hundreds of author guidelines for markets that pay freelance writers 10 to 30 cents per word for their work, I have been overwhelmed by how many editors emphasize the fact that expertise in a particular topic is generally more important than a writer having perfect grammar. Beginners are often invited to submit their work, provided they have something of value to share.
Does this mean you should be sloppy about grammar and the technical aspects of writing an article?
Editors are busy people and definitely prefer to work with people who have a solid command of the language. Not only does this reduce the amount of work that must be done in order to produce a publishable article, but it also reduces the chance of any undetected errors creeping into an article, giving the editor more time to work with you on improving the actual content of the article.
If you speak English as a second language, it does not automatically mean that you cannot write for English-language publications, but you should, in my opinion, consider having your work (including your e-mails and query letters) edited by a qualified native speaker before submission. If you think this is a service you cannot afford, consider the fact that you will be able to earn substantially more by writing for quality publications. You should also constantly strive to improve your writing and learn from any edits made to your articles.
To further increase your chances of scoring a gig, seek out niche markets that can benefit from your specific connections and skills. As I mentioned above, I was the managing editor of a Muslim family magazine, so we generally preferred working with writers familiar with the local Muslim community. You, too, may find that ethnic or cultural publications are a good place to start.