Nothing screams you’ve got authority and are an expert quite like being published. And these days the options are far greater then before; traditional publishing and self-publishing of books, feature columns, op-ed pieces and one off editorial contributions. Distribution has expanded from traditional print newspapers and magazines and their online counterparts, to new digital only news platforms such as the Huffington Post, Buzzfeed (Canadian edition just launched this week) and local news sources such as VanCityBuzz.com which are gaining traction. Add to that well-read blogs, and there’s no shortage of publishing options.
So how do you get ink?
1. Pitching the idea: You can pitch media on an article idea, but in my experience having written for BIV, Strategy, Marketing Magazine, the Toronto Star, Cottage Magazine and Zoomer, a pitch accompanied by a solid draft or even tightly edited piece has always been what got me in the door. Knowing the audience demographics of the publication and reader interests in critical. Also knowing typical article lengths, topics covered in the past, and writing style is helpful. If an editor wants 700 words, don’t give them 750 because you can’t edit it any shorter. They will, and guaranteed they’ll chop something you wouldn’t have!
Pitch based on the geographic area of the people who will benefit from your message and find it relevant. Also keep in mind seasonal factors and lead up times, especially if it’s a magazine. For example a lifestyle piece I did for Zoomer Magazine about mother/daughter hockey passion ran in October, but was written and pitched back in March.
Think strategically about your email subject line when sending a pitch. Editors are writers and email subject lines are like headlines to them. As they scan their inbox, be sure to give them something that will grab their attention. Clever can be good, but don’t over complicate things.
2. The content: The who, what, where, when and why of the story is important if you are writing a pitch. But pay particular attention to the “why now” piece. Connecting your article to something timely is key to getting an editors attention. For example, my blog piece about disruption and flipping the airline model to charging for carry on and making the first checked bag free tapped into a current hot topic of frustrated flyers dealing with carry on restrictions and the approaching heavy summer travel season. It proposed a simple innovative solution. It also tapped into the growing use of social media as a feedback tool and the need for corporations to manage their brand through active engagement of consumer complaints. After the piece garnered considerable discussion the last couple weeks online and off, I blasted off a pitch to the Huffington Post last week to see if I could get pick up. Today, June 18, that piece appeared in their business section!
Be original and different. If you’re giving tips, make sure it’s not something that could just be Googled. Tap your expertise. Give the publication something they couldn’t otherwise get access to. General, generic vanilla won’t work. But sometimes being the contrarian can work – see above. Countering conventional viewpoints and backing up your argument can make for a solid piece.
3. Contacting media: While tagging media on Twitter can certainly get their attention and cut through the clutter, in my experience this is best if there is a pre-existing relationship. Otherwise email is a solid place to start. These days it’s pretty easy to scope out contacts online for the editorial desk and feature editors. Use the method of contact they list – some will list emails, some Twitter handles only. Do follow up. Just because you don’t hear back right away doesn’t mean they might not be interested. Their in boxes get jammed, but most diligently comb emails for content. It’s their job to find gems, and yours might be what they’re looking for. Don’t call them by phone unless they’ve contacted you already for a story. And know their deadlines if you are trying to reach them. Texting a reporters cell directly is likely one of the best ways to get an immediate response if they know you. But this should really be reserved for breaking news events where you are looking to be quoted, or helping them with a story, not trying to get your own piece published!
All these points apply to being a guest blogger as well. I’d suggest picking 3 or 4 well written and leading blogs in your area of interest. Follow them for a couple months and get a sense of content and readership through the comments. Make valuable (but not spammy promotional) comments to contribute to the conversation. Then consider contacting the blog host about guest posting in the future. I’d also recommend having a solid portfolio of written work on your own blog, so your content and style can be reviewed easily. The synergy of cross posting and guest blogging can be great, especially if the two blog audiences are well aligned and both parties have something to benefit from the relationship.
And what do you do when you score the big one and get ink? Be sure to share it on your digital platforms, put it out on social media, and in particular if it’s a publication with reputation such as the New York Times or Huffington Post, be sure to add the bi-line to your bio, and their logo to your promotional materials. Getting ink is about gaining recognition as an expert. Put it to good use.