By Wendy Keller, literary agent
Getting a regular column – online or in print – is a phenomenal way to build your presence as an author or speaker. A column certifies you as the subject matter expert and gives you a chance to interact with real people, test your content against their beliefs and preferences, and determine if your ideas are able to swim…or sink. A good columnist will attract both praise and censure, but as all press is good press, it’s makes for a great way to get your name out there!
So how do you get your first column? Follow the five steps below and you’ll see just how easy it can be.
ONE: DECIDE. Who do you want to write for? Busy moms on a budget? Budding entrepreneurs? Democrats? Once you know the who, find out what they’re reading. If your audience is intended to be foodies with a taste for travel, then you might look at The Traveler’s Lunchbox or David Lebovitz. Look online and in newspapers and magazines and discover who is most successful in your category and more importantly, why they’re succeeding.
TWO: STUDY. Not that you’ve found the most successful writers, pay attention! See how each column is its own morsel, with a beginning, middle and end? That will be your goal. You want the reader to feel compelled to read the whole thing because it is so interesting. An average print column is between 300-1000 words long, online columns are closer to 200-500. The writing must be engaging, colorful, and a little humor can go a long way.
THREE: PLAN. Before you decide this is your Destiny with a capital “D,” sit down and be certain you want to do this before you begin – it’s a serious commitment to people you might never meet. Once your readers know you, they will come to expect that you will publish something every week, or every first day of the month on that target subject. You can’t write about small business marketing one day, fitness the next, and babies at another time. Be prepared to spend time researching new content for your column, staying atop trends, being alert to shifts in the mindset of your readers. Columnists are on a deadline and have to write regularly. If this doesn’t deter you, then go on to Step 4!
FORE: PLAY. Before you publish anything, online or otherwise, sit down and write out a few sample columns. Play with the feel of the words, alter your voice, migrate your format, adapt, adopt, massage your text. Work on the text, then set the columns aside. Once you come back, they’ll be that much fresher. This is your time to experiment and have fun with your writing style, so go crazy!
FIVE: GET THE WORD OUT! When you’re fairly certain the samples are as good as it is going to get, it’s time to market them. You can post them on a blog and hope for viewers, or you can market them to any number of existing outlets for good content. There are syndicators that will help you, there are newspapers who’ve laid off staff who are looking to fill their pages, there are many websites in dire need of your voice and perspective. You can be the answer to all of their questions. Be patient – finding the right outlet for your words and attracting a loyal following can take a while.
Becoming a columnist is gratifying on many levels. It gives the writer a way to touch lives and receive instant feedback. Of course, it also helps the writer prepare for a book deal or create contacts for potentially lucrative speaking or consulting engagements.
I did leave out the most important step which is, of course, to get started now! If this article has inspired you, sit down and write out your first column right this moment.
They say “the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step”. At least now you have the first five steps down!
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