Last week, I wrote a bit about the things I learned about writing after getting published. Make no mistake, getting your first published piece teaches you a lot, but how do you make that first piece happen if you have no idea where to start? There are an almost infinite number of things that will affect whether or not you get a yes or a no from an editor, but these newbie-friendly fundamentals could help you break through to your first byline.'These newbie-friendly fundamentals could help you break through to your first byline' @alsoalanaromain Click To Tweet
Step 1: Write Something (Publishable)
Despite how it can sometimes feel, editors actually WANT to publish your stuff, but you need to give them something that works for the needs of their publication. This will vary depending on where you are submitting (see Step #2), but in general, it might help to ask yourself the following questions:
Is my piece interesting and relatable? In order to be published, your writing must have value for the intended audience. It should make sense, and be of interest, to a lot of people. Since I write mostly about parenting (both in general and with a “preemie mom” slant), I usually ask myself, “would this be something a lot of (preemie) moms would agree with? Does this probably happen in their lives too?” If the answer is no, it doesn’t mean the piece is bad or wrong, but it does mean it might be a hard sell – readers like to find (and share) pieces that they can relate to.
Is this all about me? If you’re a blogger, it’s easy to fall into the trap of making your writing too much about you. If you have a blog following, then this probably works for you, but if you are submitting something elsewhere as a standalone piece, writing about yourself will stand in your way. If you think your idea is something that people will be interested in, go back and see if you can take yourself out of the article as much as possible (hint: you almost certainly can). Your piece should be written for the benefit of those reading it, and unless those readers also read your blog, they probably won’t stop to read something that’s about you instead of them.
Have I edited this as closely as humanly possible? If you’ve worked hard on a piece that is relatable and interesting and well-written, you do not want to spoil it with typos and sloppy errors. Go over it, again and again until you are as sure as you possibly can be that there are no mistakes. Now go over it again, and pull it together. Cut everything that doesn’t serve a purpose. Read it over and over and check to see if there are any parts that don’t quite fit. Re-write those parts (or ditch them all together). Remember that editors are busy and they get LOTS of submissions. Don’t give them a reason to turn you down – send in your best work. Lastly (nope, you’re still not done!), once you finally think you have it exactly right, put it away and come back to it later. Don’t send it when you’re totally stoked and excited and in love with your piece. Send it once you’ve come back to it later and can look at it without your rosy-coloured writer glasses on. If you still like it, if you still think it’s awesome, THEN send it.'Once you finally think you have it exactly right, put it away and come back to it later' @alsoalanaromain Click To Tweet
Step 2: Decide Where to Send Your Piece
If you’ve written your piece with a particular publication in mind, this step might already be taken care of, but it’s helpful to do this anyway so that you’ll have backup submission options if your first-choice publication passes. It is incredibly important to make sure your piece fits the publication you have chosen. Sometimes I will write a piece and think, “this sounds just like <insert publication here> !”, and then I will go back through and make sure it really does sound like it belongs. Other times, I will have a piece that I think is submission-worthy, but no particular destination in mind, in which case, I have to go find one.
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The best place to find a publication that works for your writing is to go to the places you like to read. Chances are their style is similar to your style, and that the things you like to read about are probably the things their readers also like. If that doesn’t turn up any suitable options, then I’d suggest taking a look at websites that list paid submission sites based on genre. For web-based publications, I like Beyond Your Blog’s Submission Opportunities page (although the entire website is a FANTASTIC resource for web writers and I would be completely lost without it), BeAFreelanceBlogger.com’s “The Ultimate List of Better-Paid Blogging Gigs” (a free download with an e-mail subscription), or Who Pays Writers?. Once you have made absolutely, positively sure that your submission fits with the voice of the publication, move on to Step 3.
Step 3: Submit!
Writing a submission e-mail can be daunting, and there are many ways to do it, but there are a few absolutes you want to get right:
- Address it to the right person, or, if you are sending it to a general ‘pitch’ address, just use a general greeting (“Hi,<publication>!” works)
- Give them the name of the article, a brief description, and then make sure to let them know why it would be a good fit for them based on what you already know and love about the publication.
- Include a little background info on who you are (note: do NOT apologize for not having any published writing credits – it’s not relevant, and it sounds like you don’t believe in your writing.)
- Paste your article at the end of the e-mail, with a bio and a photo if they ask for it.
After you’ve submitted your piece, then you have to wait and hope for the best. Depending on the publication, you might hear back either way, or you might only hear back if they want to publish your work. Getting your first published piece can feel like a challenge, but if you focus on the fundamentals (a well-written, relatable piece that fits the publication you’re submitting to), you’ll have a great shot at getting there.