What advice would you give to an experienced corporate/industry writer who wants to jump the fence into a magazine career?
My challenges are:
(1) I'm not a student, nor am I a "young whippersnapper," so the internship route may not be possible for me (although I would certainly jump at the opportunity).
(2) I don't live in Toronto, but in Ottawa, so opportunities are further limited.
I have no experience in it, but I can't imagine changing your career track is at all easy.
If you're looking to become a freelance magazine writer, the transition shouldn't be too difficult. You might be able to find work writing for trade publications, particularly those that cover the industries you've previously worked for. Like any writer trying to break in, you'll have to slowly build your portfolio with clippings from smaller local and regional magazines and work your way up to larger titles. You'll definitely need to do this to make your way into larger consumer titles. (Some veteran freelancers might advise you to keep your corporate gigs to supplement any income made from magazines.)
If you're looking to land an on-staff gig as an editor, your path will be a little longer and harder. First, don't discount internships. I once worked with an intern who was returning to the workforce after staying home to raise her kids for 12 years. Her career previous to having children wasn't in magazines, and she was willing to start at the bottom, as you are. Call up managing editors at places you'd like to intern and talk to them about whether they'd be willing to take you on. Check out my earlier post on How Old is Too Old to Intern?
for more on this.
There's a little bit of a chance that you may be able to land a position without doing an internship. The key will be to prove that you "get it" and that you're capable of doing the job. You'll have to work harder than applicants with magazine experience to convey this in your cover letter and clippings. Figure out what your transferable skills are, why they make you valuable, and how they would benefit the magazine.
To help you from this angle, you may want to consider the information meeting.
Talking to an editor in a senior position will help you determine if you do in fact get it and help pinpoint where your magazine skills are strong or lacking.
As for your question about opportunities given your location, I'm going to tackle this in another post. Watch for it.