Getting Your Writing Published On The Web

Writing some words with a fountain penYou’ve been reading blogs and the twitter-sphere for awhile. Perhaps you have been writing your own blog, but you long to be endorsed by a ‘real’ website and published. Perhaps you want to be published for the credibility, the fans (ha!), or perhaps the lavish amounts of beer and pizza that such publishing would provide you. This article isn’t about having the idea or developing the article; it is about how you interact with editors, based on my roughly ten-years of writing part-time for technology publications, mostly on the web.

Just about every website has a “write for us” link. If they don’t, you can look for the name of the editors and email them directly. If you can’t find that, you can get on LinkedIn and look for editors and the name of the site.

Once you have a editors email address and an idea and a format (you do have an idea and a format, right?) search the website for your topic. You likely want your topic to have appeared on the site–which shows relevance–but not too recently, and you want to make sure you have a new wrinkle, trend, or development you can expand upon for your story. If last month’s cover story and theme were all on your topic, it is unlikely to be picked for this week’s issue, no matter how fresh your approach.

Formats are things like opinion/editorial, tutorial, review, interview, profile or feature. The first four are probably the most familiar to you and easiest to get started with.

Now you can send an email to the editor – you want the managing editor, editor at large, or editor in chief. Contributing editors write regular content but do not select stories.

If the site has a “write for us” link, go right to the pitch. If you are finding the editor, send a short three-sentence email saying you are a fan of the site with an interest in (topic), is the editor looking for pitches and what do they like to see in a pitch?

If they say yes, then pitch. If no, move on.

The Pitch:

Editors are busy people; they are trying to find good articles. So the best pitch is short –

  • Who are you? (1/2 to 1 sentence – include link to LinkedIn)
  • Why are you qualified to write on this topic? (1/2 to 1 sentence)
  • What you would write (topic + 1 paragraph) – possibly 2 articles
  • What your new wrinkle/twist/depth will be
  • Why is the audience interested in this (if not obvious)
  • What you have written for other people (link to publications or 3 examples)
  • How long it would take you to write once you get a ‘yes’ (5 words).

That’s it.

Expect to hear back “yes by (date):, “no”, or “maybe; send me 500 words”. It may take a while–even weeks or months–or you might not hear back at all. If not, move on to the next publication.

“Maybe; send me 500 words” is most common if you haven’t been published before, or if the format is different from anything you’ve done before. (It’s your first interview.) Before risking publishing, the editor wants to see what you’ve got, and you may have to do the article “on speculation” and only get a contract (maybe!) after turning in the article. If you have several articles in the genre, a pitch and links to what you have (your “clips”) should get you a yes/no.

Now fill out a contract if you need to, and write your piece!

Submitting Your Piece:

1. Put the title (in bold) on the top line of your article

2. On the second line, put who you are, who you are writing for, your email address, and perhaps submitted on date.

3. Mimic the style of the periodical. If they use sub-heads, which is “not quite a sentence in bold every few paragraphs”, then submit subheads. If they don’t, don’t. Likewise, if the front page has the article followed by a 1-3 sentence “teaser”, then include a teaser line, same length as the publication does.

4. Take a look at how the publication does indentation, space between paragraphs, and spaces between sentences. They likely have no indents, double space paragraphs, and single-space between sentences. This may be different from what you learned in 5th grade. Mimic the publication’s style.

5. Some sentence elements, such as the dash – or em dash — really depend on style. Look at how the publication does it, and mimic the publication’s style.

6. Look at the style of writing published. You can tell what an editor dislikes, because you never see it, and what they do like, because you see a lot of it. Analyze the site for style and mimic that style. My personal strong preference is for active voice, 1st person without the word “I” too often, smaller, germanic words over longer, latin words. In Stickyminds.com, a website I am currently managing editing for, we prefer first-person experience reports, a new concept or technique, combined with links so the reader can actually go do that technique. If you don’t really know exactly how to get to that style, you might want go find a mentor who does.

That means this:

“I was doing testing for a complete rewrite of our company website, and asked the question ‘what about performance?’ No one had an answer, so …

NOT THIS:

“Performance testing is increasingly important. Pressed for time, companies find that …”

Wait – important to who? There is no actor in the sentence. It’s off-stage. And where did you get your impression of this, Mr. Writer?

You can write about things without first person experience; you just need to pull in experts who have it. I like to call this “journalism”, and it is fine for Stickyminds.

Passive voice and 3rd person might be appropriate for a tutorial on how to use a specific tool, because the reader is going to be the one doing it.

In order to place the voice for the audience (and editor!) I suggest mimicking the voice the website prefers for that type of story.

7. Your goal above is minimize the amount of trivial editing the editor has to do to publish, and to reduce the number of follow-up requests for things that should have been included. For example, if the website includes bios with each article, add your bio at the end of your piece, and make it the same length as other bios on that website uses. Same for a PR photo. Speaking of which:

8. Get a PR photo. Seriously. Go the bookcase, the park, or technology office with a nice camera and outfit and take some photos. It takes half an hour to produce something good enough to share.

9. This means your article submission will look something like this:

Title: How To Be a Rockstar Article-Submitter
By Matthew Heusser – Matt@Xndev.com – For Xndev.com
Teaser: If you want to be rock star submitter, follow these simple steps …
Body: Picture it, Maryland, 1995. I went to my first rock concert in Baltimore …
(snip)
(horizontal line)
Bio: The principal consultant at Excelon Development, Matt Heusser is a …
Photo

10. Figure out the style of hyperlinks for your article: some editors like them embedded like this, others want them appended at the end of the sentence or paragraph or sometimes as footnotes at the end of the article.

11. Make sure you set expectations on other non-textual matters you need or intend to include: charts and graphs, screen captures, or stock or custom photos.

12. Unless your editor tells you otherwise, use MS Word format for your submission. Go ahead and embed the images in the document where they should go, possibly with a ‘caption:’ line below. Also attach the images in your email.

13. In the USA, If you are going to make over $600/year from that publisher, go ahead and print, fill in, scan, and include a W-9 form with your contract:

http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/fw9.pdf

You’ll need this sooner or later anyway, best to get it out of the way early and save the editor a step.

13. Run a spellchecker. Then have a friend look for typos before you submit, because spellcheckers miss things including misuse of words. This will save your editor time. Saving editor time means follow-up work – and follow-up work is the best kind of compliment.

Long-Term:

14. Your editor will probably give you feedback. Depending on who it is, they may send you a word doc with “track changes” on. Don’t just say “it’s fine”, consider the feedback. Try to write the next article for this editor (they’ll want different things) so that there is less “blue ink” on the page. That shows you are learning, which leads to less time spent by the editor, which leads to follow up assignments.

15. Promote your work on social media – twitter, facebook, google+, slashdot, reddit, and dzone are common for me.

16. Find out when you can get published again! Ask your editor when you submit the piece about follow-up work.

17. If you are going to make over $2,000/year writing, take about half of it and save it for taxes.

18. Your editor may want you to do things you aren’t excited about, like submitting in .DOC when you think .RTF is just fine. If the editor is paying you anything more than “coffee and cocoa” money, then act like it. If, on the other hand, you are doing them the favor, and the editor is being tough on you, it’s fair to ask what you get. (Sometimes they’ll have an answer, like a specific kind of prestige. I presented at Google once without pay.) The biggest conflicts I have ever had in the editor/writer relationship have come when both sides think they are doing the other person a favor. If that’s the case, it’s best to get that out in the open early.

Writing is kind of like running–having the right shoe and stretching right will only get you so far; you’ve also got to get out there and do a lot of running.

So get out there and run! Er, I mean, write.

But when it comes time to deal with an editor, I hope you’ll keep this handy. We can be a tricky bunch, and forewarned is forearmed.

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