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The Process: How to Write for Publication

Step 1: Come up with an idea

There are a million ways to brainstorm and generate ideas, but they should all start with "what do I care about?" What are your interests? You are here for a reason, so you must have an opinion about something!

Idea Generation: Jeffrey Seglin taught me one of my favorite brainstorming exercises. Start with the publications. Find 5 or so publications that accept unsolicited columns and write them down alongside a brief description of their target audience. Once you’ve come up with the publications, write three unique ideas for each publication. They don’t have to be brilliant, and you’ll likely never write most of them, but it forces you to stop looking for the perfect idea. The key is to find an idea you are passionate about, then make it great.

Step 2: Research your target publication

Do they accept opinion pieces? – If you can’t find submission guidelines on their website, googling “submission guidelines” along with the publication

name might get you there. I’d also

recommend the Op-Ed Project’s submission information page.

What are their submission guidelines? – Every pub is different. Some are very specific, others general, but most have word count limits. Not following the submission guidelines is an easy way to guarantee rejection.

Who is their audience? – This doesn’t have to be exact. But reading and making note of the style and content of the publication can indicate the characteristics of the readers. This is critical when finding the publication that is right for you.

What is their style? – The style question is always poorly defined. The only way to understand it is to read. Some publications will give style guidelines, but most will not. Pay attention to the voice of the author when you read it. Are the sentences formulaic and factual? Does the author spend more time on imagery or description? Do they use dialogue? Is it in the first person?

Step 3: Write the column

Write with your audience in mind, and always be asking three critical questions:

  1. Do you have a point? - Everything in your piece should support a single idea.

  2. What is it? - If you can’t state your point in a single, coherent sentence, you are probably trying to do too much.

  3. Who cares? – Who is your audience? Who are you trying to reach? Are you trying to convince someone on the fence of an issue or energize someone that agrees with you? Are you trying to teach the reader something new or make an argument about something familiar?

Revise, revise, revise. – It is a good sign to be struggling to fit into the word count of a column. Everyone has their own process, but mine typically involves getting all my thoughts on paper, before systematically reorganizing and trimming it to length. Always read your piece aloud. Always try to get someone else to read it, and when you do, ask them the three questions above.

Step 4: Pitch the column

Whenever possible, write to an individual person and CC the general submission email. The Op-Ed project maintains a list of publications including email addresses and publication guidelines.

5 major parts of a pitch:

  1. Tell them what you are pitching. – Short and sweet, get to the point and keep them intrigued.

  2. Tell them who you are. – Include some relevant credentials or experiences, but don’t focus on yourself too much.

  3. Explain why the column is perfect for their publication. – Include information that demonstrates you have read their publication and have put in the work to research it.

  4. Explain why you are the best person to write this column. – Say what it is about your perspective that makes the piece unique.

  5. Tell them when you will follow up… then actually follow up. A follow up email is always appropriate. Editors are busy and may not have even seen your email. Some publications like The New York Times, will say explicitly that they will not reply if they are not interested. But you never know until you ask.

Step 5: Dealing with acceptance or rejection

If accepted, thank them for their response, work with their editors and follow the process through to completion. Most publications will also expect you to promote your piece across you social media channels once published, but it is not required.

If rejected, thank them for their response (if you get one). Even if you are rejected, you have just made a connection, keep track of it for future columns.

Research additional potential publications. – Have a backup plan in mind. Look into local and regional publications, or more niche online publications.

Revise your column to meet their submission guidelines. – Remember, you will have to pitch to them and explain why your column is perfect for their publication.

That's It! That's the whole process. I'll be posting in-dept breakdowns of each step in subsequent posts. Now get started!

1 commentaire

Gina Minica
11 juin 2023

This information arrived to me just when I needed it. I will say honestly that I was not seeking any advice of this nature nor anticipated myself writing for any audience. Ever. This obviously is no longer the case. And where I doubt I will be seeking publication, I do have a large topic of passion and a target audience to reach. And finding your articles - out of thin air - is rather like magic. Literally.

I will count it as another blessing guiding me in my journey.

Many thanks to your time and efforts sharing this specific line of instruction.


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