When you want to be a published writer and you don't have a lot of writing to show an editor or publisher, choose a small publication and become a contributing writer for them. Contributing usually does mean you aren't getting paid in cash money. There might be some kind of trade of services or goods. You may get a percent of ad revenue for instance. Don't deal with promises for future payment and avoid publications which have not begun yet. Too often those promises don't come true. A publication should have a few issues in print or online so you can see what they are doing. Also, if the publication never gets off the ground you will have done all that writing work and not have any writing credit to show for it. Getting paid is one thing to look at when you choose a publication. The other important thing to know is, do you keep all rights to your work? Those two things are the first things I want to know when I look at a publication which I am considering. You should always have the rights to your work - especially any work you have not been paid for. Never write for a publication which wants all rights to your work and does not pay for your work and those rights to using and keeping it. Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation Take time to brush up on your language basics: spelling, punctuation and grammar. Never underestimate the power of a few good words. If you want to sell your skills as a writer, make sure you have them. Get second opinions. Ask editors to read your work and give feedback. If someone points out an error, learn from it. Make a note of it, a real physical note which you can keep right on your computer to remind you. As you work on fixing each error you will learn and become better. Never assume you aren't making some kind of mistakes. Treat yourself to a book about writing. Not character development but how to write. I mean those old rules we were taught in school and have forgotten since then. It may not seem like a real treat to work on your grammar, spelling and punctuation. But, it is nice to know you're doing it right. Especially, when you contact publishers and you want to put your best foot forward. Know the Publication Pick a publication you would like to write for. If you're just getting started aim a little low, give yourself a good chance of getting the job. Not because you want to sell yourself short, but think ahead. Getting this experience will give you a writing credit and a lot of experience which you can use to help sell yourself to the bigger, fancier and better known publications. Before you contact a publication find out who the editor is. Get their name and make sure it's current information. Then read the submission guidelines on the site. Even if you want to apply as a staff writer you should know the guidelines, know what they are looking for and what they expect. Writers guidelines can tell you a lot if you take the time to read through them. Read all the back issues or online copies you can. Develop a feel for the publication the tone and voice the writers use. What kind of advertising do they run? As much as you want to write for your readers, publications will cater to their advertisers too. Find out what you get as a byline. For an online publication you should get an author resource box, or a profile. However they work out the details, you should be getting your name and contact information in the publication when you write for them. Writers Need a Portfolio Give yourself a web presence, an online portfolio to show your past work, your skills and give some information about yourself. Keep it professional, an extension of your resume. Add social media links, if they are safe to add. If your usual Twitter posts have been personal, start a fresh account for your business as a writer. Keep them sorted out, don't merge them and take the chance on having something sneak out which you can't control and may not want to explain. If you can, print up business cards for yourself. Then when you send in a letter to the publication you can include your card. This gives them something they can keep with all your contact information. A business card may get kept even when they add a resume and cover letter to the recycling bin. Last of All, Ask for What you Want Once you have studied the publication, written your resume and cover letter, and sent them by snail mail or email... don't forget to follow up. Actually talk to someone and ask them for the job. Remind them who you are, give them all your contact information and thank they for taking time to talk with you. If they ask you for a query letter with an actual idea they want written, great! Get to work on it. Do the research, find the sources of information and put together a package showing what you can offer them on that topic. Meet their needs. Don't stop asking and applying with publishers and editors. Instead of dwelling on a negative reply get to work on your next query letter for someone else who could say 'yes'. Good luck and best wishes.
Don't be a bland and boring writer. Don't pollute the Internet with regurgitated content. Hate is a strong word, but I do (almost) hate people who blog about topics they really know nothing about. They use other sources for information; they quote other people rather than having any real knowledge or personal experience. In short, they regurgitate content. Regurgitate is very much the right word for it. For those who aren't sure what it means - think Mother bird bringing half eaten food for her baby birds, vomiting it up so they can eat without having to actually chew anything. See? How appetizing is that? Why would you read something like that let alone be the one writing it and expecting people to come and read it. Readers want something to chew! Or, at least they want to do their own chewing. Reading recycled content is bland and boring, like an instruction manual, there is no life, no character, nothing personal. You could read the same stuff on half a dozen other sites or just pick up a book at the Library. Most content regurgitaters write hoping to bring in traffic. They expect they just need to use enough keywords and the traffic will come. This doesn't work so well. Yes, Google will pick up your keywords. But, when you write on a network like HubPages, Google will also check to see how fresh and original your content is. Google will look for duplication. If you were writing from your own experience, your own perspective and knowledge you would not be spewing out duplicate content. Too bad you didn't write about something YOU actually know about. It isn't so hard to write what you know. Take the topic you think will attract readers and find an angle that works for you. Or, write about an entirely new topic. You are more interesting than you think you are. There are simple skills you have or small experiences you have discovered which other people would like to know about. Finding angles is kind of a game really. Take any topic, say knitting a sweater (as an example). I have never knit a sweater. I'm not even a knitting person at all. But, I can write a post about knitting a sweater if I want to. I just give it a spin and find an angle that works for me. In my case I would write about my Grandmother and my Mother who do knit sweaters. My Grandmother knit a lot and even got into using a knitting machine. My Mother wishes she knit more, she still buys patterns and does get a few projects started but they don't all end up finished. She also tends to knit with big stitches so a hat could easily be converted to a tea cosy and a scarf she knit for my sister was so long she could wrap it around her whole body, like a mummy. See how you find your own angle? Not so hard was it? Not so hard to read either. You can make almost any topic relevant to yourself. Not everything of course. When you want to write about something you really don't know about or have any experience... STOP. Think. What can you offer a reader about this topic? If you can't come up with some original idea or a twist that can move the topic into something you do know about, you should not be writing that topic. If all you can do is regurgitate content, why bother? Why write such a boring, bland post? Would you read a post by someone who has nothing new to say? A post that just says the same stuff another 50 posts all say? Unless you happen to be related to the writer and want to be nice... you're not likely to read something like that. It's not even as good as a re-run because even a re-run started out as something original when it was new. Your post will be secondhand, old new, a re-run right from the start. If you have to write a topic you know nothing about - interview someone who does know about it. Get quotes and their experiences - but get the interview first hand. Send an email and request an interview. Most people are flattered and at least interested. Create and keep a schedule for the interview and the publish date. If they have a site they will likely give you some promotion too, telling other people to read your interview. You can interview a few people about the same topic. Give them all the same questions and write their answers in Q and A format so readers can compare how each person gave a different answer, had different thoughts and experiences to share. The world is big. it has a lot of people on it. Somewhere there is something you can write about. First hand, new and unique and original content - something YOU know about so you can bring YOUR perspective and experience to the world.
Guest post by Deanna Dahlsad. One of the things I now find myself doing in my consulting work is providing clients with a Writing Prompt Service. It was born, like any good service, from client needs. In working with my clients, it quickly became clear that whatever their reason for having a website or blog, writers, bloggers, marketers, etc. all struggle with coming up with fresh ideas to write about. I shouldn't have been surprised; I've been stuck there myself with my own writing for my own sites. *wink* Some days, you just feel like you've said everything you can, you have no spark of inspiration. But when someone else hands you the task -- a task that is suited for your own goals, it is much easier. As a freelance writer, I do provide custom written content; but this Writing Prompt Service is a less expensive, DIY option. My Writing Prompt Service is pretty simple really: I provide my clients with an idea to write about. What makes this service something worth paying for is the fresh set of eyes. I see what their site or business is all about, what they are trying to do, and what is missing for readers and/or potential clients and customers. I take all that information and provide them with a prompt for writing. It may be a question, an inspirational photograph, a news story -- anything to get them talking (writing) about an idea or issue their website should be covering. Because I approach this the same way I do with my freelance writing -- from the point of view of the client's goals and the needs of their site visitors, the prompted posts provide engaging organic SEO. For those who feel stuck with their writing, but do not wish to pay for writing prompts, here's a quick little list of ways to get ideas for writing: 1) Get out of the office or house. Often, part of feeling stuck is largely due to feeling stuck in the same old place. To rid yourself of that funk, get away from your computer, out of the office, out of the building. The fresh air will do you good and bring you fresh ideas. 2) When out -- even just running errands, open your eyes and ears. Notice what people are talking about in the checkout line. Look at the headlines on newspapers and magazines on the sales racks. What are people wearing? What are they doing? What are they not doing? What about the houses, buildings, roads, businesses, etc. Are the flowers in bloom? Is it snowing? What might any of this mean to you, your readers, your business? From larger trends to tiny minutia, there are things you can observe which can spark your writing. 3) Consume media. Listen to the radio, watch TV, read books and magazines. And read online. Really read. Don't just scroll past the links on Twitter and Facebook, but read the articles and posts. I know this can seem tricky... On one hand, we fear disappearing down a rabbit hole of lost or wasted time. You can overcome this easily by setting an alarm for say an hour or so. On the other hand, we fear reading articles and blogs by those in the same industry. Will you be accused of copying someone's idea, of not having your own ideas? If you participate in the conversation (by linking to the source of your idea when you write about it), you won't be lambasted. And you can also bypass this issue completely by simply not reading industry publications. 4) Get fresh (free) eyes. Ask a friend or family member to ask you questions about your business, work, or the "beat" you cover. We are often too close to our own work. Too often we don't write about something because we believe that "everyone knows that" or we think that we've already addressed something; but they don't and we haven't. Too often we mistakenly believe that we aren't good enough, interesting enough, smart enough, etc. to write about something. Pessimistically we think, "No one wants to hear about this from me." But that's nearly always wrong. If a friend or family member is asking you, likely your readers want to hear about it too -- and from you.
Writing an advice column sounds fun and easy. Until you think about being responsible for the thoughts and actions of the person who takes your advice. Then it gets a little scary. None of us are omnipotent, all knowing. After all, how often do you take your own advice? If you want to be an advice writer (and you don't have some kind of background in therapy, psychology or anything else to particularly give you credentials) you can break into advice writing by doing it yourself. Start your own advice column. Writing your own advice column will take a lot of promotion of yourself and the column you write. Be prepared to put yourself out there, especially if you tend to be the quiet type versus the social butterfly. If you really have a hard time with the social side then round up a friend to be your PR (public relations) person. You're going to need friends to get you started in other ways too. Who do you think will be writing those first letters for your advice?
Finding a Niche for your Advice Column
These days, when there are already lots of advice columnists, you will need something to make yourself different. This can be your witty sense of humour, but it might be simpler to start out with a theme. I especially like the idea which started Dead Advice (though the site is now dormant). Think about your own background, the things which interest you and consider a topic which you can sustain over a long time. Something you can keep fresh and have new opinions and ideas about for a long lasting column. You might focus on people fresh from divorce - if you have experience in that area. You might focus on new Mothers - if you have been a new Mother yourself. You might give advice to Grandparents, from the perspective of a new Mother. Perhaps your advice is less personal and intimate, career oriented or more about how to do things than writing about feelings and emotions. You might write advice for people who work in office cubicles, customer service, online craft sellers, freelance writers, musicians, inventors, dog lovers, figure skaters, tourists, fast food vendors, beauty school drop-outs, any career, business or hobby. There are endless genres and topics and circles of people which you would be suitable to give advice. If you really aren't sure what niche you could fill, think about the last time you gave someone advice. Who did you give the advice to? What was the situation? What made you feel competent to give the advice you gave at the time?
When Giving Advice...
Read the question carefully, more than once. Understand what is really being asked under the emotions, the frustration or negative feelings expressed. As you begin your reply work in the original question, repeating back the information in order to make clear communication. Stay focused on the main question, the point of the advice asked for. Don't wander off topic into your own personal issues or agenda. You don't need to judge your readers, lecture them or over explain things and make them feel belittled or stupid. Give them options for moving forward, whatever the problem may have been. Give them empathy and ideas, stay optimistic rather than discouraging them. Give the reader different view points, a fresh perspective and help them see solutions which they may have been too close to the issue to see themselves. Show your readers the skills they have (and may have forgotten, or taken for granted) which could help solve the problem. Often people just need someone telling them to focus on what they do have, rather than what they don't have. To look for what they want to find, rather than focusing on the things they don't like. If you don't know the answer, or the question is somehow more than you can handle, don't just answer it anyway, hoping for the best. Write back to the reader, explain that they are asking too much from an advice column but also, offer them other resources where they can get trained/ skilled help.
Get Writing It!
When you know what you are going to write, it's time to decide how you will write it. This is the same for any writer in any topic. Should you choose a newsletter, a weblog? What about a podcast? Maybe you want to create a zine (an independent print publication)? The format should be something that will work for you. Consider the ups and downs of each and decide which of them you can work with and distribute to readers/ listeners. At first you will have to begin your advice column with letters you write yourself for advice, or get family and friends to take this seriously and write the letters for you. Unless you are trying to write a humourous advice column, don't start out with tacky, soap opera sounding advice requests. Begin as you mean to go on, as they say. As you answer the advice you will find your voice, your tone, your personality and your perspective. Try at least a few practice letters before you begin to publish anything. Having your niche isn't enough, now you need to find your style too. Are you practical and sensible, witty, sharp, or even abrasive? Is your column going to be snarky, for the point of making fun of people or genuine and sincere? Whatever voice and style you choose, make sure you can maintain it for the long haul. You also want to develop loyal readers. People who will make up your fan base and stick with you each week, or as often as you publish. In order to find readers who stick with you and believe in your advice you need to be both visible and predictable as a publisher. Pick a publishing schedule and stick to it. If you need to be away, announce it first and give a return date. Answer comments from readers on your posts or in your forums, contact forms, etc. Try to answer every reader comment in less than a week and give readers an expected response time when they leave comments. Respond quickly and give them the feeling of having your personal attention and being someone you wanted to reply to. Don't forget to actually ask readers to send in their questions for your advice. Never assume people will understand this without being given instructions. Use a contact form in your blog for people to send you questions. Or, give them an email address which you have created just for the advice column. (You can set up a new email address on Gmail or another web account for free). Give instructions for asking advice in the top of the newsletter/ site and give the instructions again at the end of your site/ newsletter. (Don't use the same text - write it differently for people who didn't understand the first instructions for whatever reason). Treat your readers well, promote your column and give good, authentic advice from a real human being - those are the important things for publishing your own advice column. Good luck and have fun with it.