It's all very well having a great idea and knowing exactly which magazine you want to write for, but to really increase your chances of publication, you need a topical hook.
But what exactly is a topical hook?
Well let's just step out of the writer's shoes for a moment, and step into those of the editor. Depending upon the frequency of the publication, he or she will be thinking about the cover date of the issue and what will be happening at the time. So many magazines out at the moment have christmas themes. Monthly publications will consider valentine themes for the February issue, Easter ideas for March or April, school holiday themes for July and August issues, halloween for October and Bonfire night for November.
These are the obvious themes, and in some ways, the ones to avoid because EVERYBODY is doing them. But the important point is that when an editor receives an article which they like, they will consider which is the best issue for it to appear in.
I've just had an article published in Evergreen magazine about a local legend - the Reverend Carr who used to walk 8 miles between churches, over the hills to gives his sermons. One January in the 19th century, he was tackling his 8 mile route during what turned out to be the worst snowstorm of the century. He spent a freezing night in the snow and everyone thought he had died. Miraculously, he survived to tell the tale.
It's a great story, and because it happened in January, the editor has used it in the Winter issue of Evergreen magazine, despite the fact that I sent it last Spring. (Because Evergreen magazine is a quarterly, I was only submitting 3 issues ahead anyway.)
Your chances of publication increase, if you can find this topical hook upon which to hang your article. I've written several articles about earthquakes in Britain. I had a piece published in The Lady and I used the 3rd anniversary of Britain's last big quake, as my topical hook. Anniversaries are great topical hooks. But I also wrote about earthquakes for the local county magazines, targetting the issues of the anniverseries of the last big quakes to hit them. The best one (from a title point of view) was Wales. The last big quake to hit Wales happened a few years ago on 14th February. The earth moved for some people on that Valentine's Day! So I targetted my article for the February issue.
This also means that it's important to know how far in advance magazines and papers work. Many monthly magazines work three to four months in advance. It's December now, but I'm working on April articles for many magazines. Weekly magazines often work 6 to 8 weeks in advance. However the bigger anniversaries or topical issues (Christmas) are often planned out 12 months before. In fact the Chistmas issues of magazines you're reading now may well have been written and put together last June!
So get into the habit of thinking ahead and giving your work that topical hook. Give the editor a reason to use your work in a particular issue. If you don't, but they like your work, the editor may well hang on to it for possible use when space becomes available. This will make you feel good, but in the real world, space rarely becomes available and your article may not be used. If you've written an article for the May issue of the magazine and the editor likes it, then he's got to make space for it in the May issue.
Next time you hit upon an idea, think clearly about topicality. Give the editor a reason for using your work in a specific issue, and your chances of publication may well increase.