Written submissions — op-eds and bylined pieces — are a wonderful resource for companies and individuals looking to get some traction for fresh ideas. Many publications are eager for these items. If well done, they represent a valuable service to their readers and, to be a bit more cynical, are free copy to them. Also, you can repurpose these pieces by getting reprints and using them in any number of ways — Web site, press kit, etc.
However, it’s easy to go astray when putting your submission together. The key to getting published is this: Think like an editor!
Where do people go wrong? First, it’s quite common to write first and ask questions later. . . questions like, “Where are we looking to have this published?” This error leads to pieces that are too long, too short or wrong in tone. Any of these can be fatal since they create a great deal of work for the editor. Pieces that run 2,000 words are far different structurally from, say, a 650-word piece. Send in 2,000 words when the editor wants 650 and you’re not likely to be successful — editing out so much copy is challenging.
Also, it’s important to remember that journalism has its own writing form. Typically, the news/main idea is up at the start of the story and the details and proof points come later. (This could easily be a post of its own.) If you want to be published, it’s necessary to write in this style. It is the language that writers and editors speak, and failing to offer your submission in their language sends a bad signal.
A last point, but a rather important one, is to be realisic in where you want your work published. Everyone in business wants a Wall Street Journal op-ed, and very few get them. In my experience, many WSJ pieces contributed by businesspeople are solicited by the editors. It’s hard to break in. Yet, there are trade publications/local newspapers/on-line venues serving every industry that would be happy to have your submission. These places often do good work and have high-quality readerships. And once published, you can do an awful lot with these clips/reprints.
If I sound like a big fan of written pieces, it’s because clients of mine have done them in the past to great success. Best of all, they provide an opportunity to do some original thinking and offer some of your best ideas to a broad audience. In any business, this can’t be a bad thing.