Is your writing good enough to be accepted by big publications or magazines? Or do you find yourself getting rejected when you pitch, never hearing back, or feeling scared to even pitch in the first place? Are you wondering how to write for big publications? The headspace of “I don’t know if it’s good enough” may be preventing your work from being picked up and distributed to a broader audience.
Whether your target outlet is a traditional media platform with years of credibility and millions of fans or a new, niche publication that speaks to a specific and engaged audience, having your opinions and expertise picked up by publications can rapidly increase visibility and credibility for your writing.
Why write for publications at all?
Publications that distribute content are a powerful form of earned media. As a reminder, earned media consists of endorsements or placements on a third-party platform that you didn’t directly pay for. Consider these consumer statistics:
- 92% of consumers trust earned media, while only 50% trust paid ads;
- 70% of consumers would rather learn about a company through a series of articles than through paid advertisements; and
- 80% of business decision-makers prefer to get information from a series of articles.
Moreover, traditional publications and outlets that have become household names over the years elicit brand recognition and slice through skepticism. When a health coach mentions that she writes for Women’s Health, any skepticism about her credibility quickly dissolves — that’s the power of earned media.
Publications also present an opportunity to get in front of a large audience, and some readers of this audience will be “your people” and start to become your audience over time. So here are 4 steps you can take to learn how to write for big publications, drum up more confidence, and secure more placements along the way.
4 steps to gain more confidence and more placements
#1: Take the publication off the pedestal
Did you know over 7,800 media professionals were laid off in 2019? Over 3,000 of those jobs were journalists according to the Columbia Journalism Review. The brutal truth is that revenue models are changing for many media outlets, and contributed content can help a platform meet its distribution goals.
When you feel a lack of confidence, remember this: Publications want you just as much as you want them. If a blog or publisher displays ads of any kind, more page views literally equate to more money. And if a publisher uses a paywall (Such as The New York Times, for example), it’s in the publication’s best interest to publish and curate good writing on a regular basis. In both cases, the end result is to encourage readers to visit the publication again and again.
The moment you put a publication on a pedestal as “impossible to reach,” the dynamic changes. You feel looked down upon, and this mindset can keep you stuck or stopped. Empower yourself with the idea that you and the publication are on the same team and have a common goal in delivering well-written content.
#2: Get regular feedback on your publication writing
The best coaching program I ever participated in was a small-group program in which five other writers and myself worked with a business and writing coach. Every week, we had a 90-minute group coaching call over Zoom (Years before the entire planet was on Zoom). Members took turns presenting material or ideas they were working on in a 15-minute “hot seat” format. The coach then gave feedback and direction to the writer while the rest of us observed.
I learned a lot from participating in these hot seats, but where I grew tremendously was in observing the feedback process and its transformative power for others. Each week I watched other writers and business owners be grilled on their drafts and outlines. While I was working on articles, another member of the group was working on email sequences to promote their new product, and yet another was crafting a new pitch for an industry publication. I was able to get the feedback I needed, but also absorb the coach’s approach to other forms of writing, which I then was able to leverage later in my career.
Make it a regular habit to collect different opinions and thoughts on your writing. This can be feedback on your actual drafts and outlines, or it can be listening in on feedback given to others.
If you don’t have a community or anyone to talk shop with, consider exploring places like free Facebook groups or online forums. It may also be time for a small investment to join a club or community where your writing can regularly get in front of new sets of eyes. Feedback can sting, but is one of the fastest ways to improve your writing because it gives you direction and lights a fire under your butt.
#3: Study what is being published so you can write for big publications
The first two steps alone will improve your writing and open up more doors than you ever thought possible. Now that you’re out of your head, you want to get a sense of what this publication actually publishes and you can write for big publications. Are there a variety of people publishing on this site or platform? For a blog, if only the owner publishes posts, then there may not be any guest opportunities at all, and you’ll want to adjust accordingly.
Know the basics. Some questions I like to ask myself when doing publication research include:
- Who is writing these articles? I check author bylines to see whether only employees of the outlet create the content or whether there are a mix of contributors.
- What formats get published? Does this publication publish shorter, tighter articles? Or are they open to longer, more tactical pieces?
- What is the general tone of the articles being published? Are they more personal or more tactical? Usually a contributed piece is distinct from what a journalist would write and is more focused on author opinion and thought leadership.
- What seem to be some of the recurring topics? If many articles center around a specific topic, that’s an important clue around what subject matter performs well.
Don’t worry if a topic has already been covered before or seems to be getting covered regularly — this actually means the topic does well with the publication’s audience. You’ll need to put a fresh new spin on your approach to a given topic, but generally, go where the fish are.
If an outlet actively accepts pitches and article ideas, they’ll have a contact page. Look for a contact page, and if there isn’t any information about editorial submissions or how to pitch an article idea, reach out and ask. For traditional media, the pitch information page is often on the same page as letters to the editor and advertising inquiries; start with the contact page and see what you can find.
#4: Make connections with big publications in the meantime
If you know you want to focus on a particular outlet when you write for a big publicatiom, it never hurts to connect with the writers and editors of the outlet on social media and become their fan. Most writers want help getting their work distributed; by commenting on or sharing their work, you’re creating name recognition and potentially befriending a gatekeeper in the process, too.
Some writers won’t be gatekeepers themselves, but they may be connected to editors who are. Once you’ve developed a rapport, it never hurts to reach out to a writer with an article idea and ask if they’d be willing to point you in the right direction, especially if you’ve spent weeks or months adding value to them beforehand.