Wednesday, 3 December 2014

How to get published

The New Year isn’t far. It’s right on your doorstep, beckoning your attention and your intention.

December presents you with a beautiful opportunity. A chance to cast your mind back over the past year and reflect on all that you created and made possible by showing up each day and saying yes. What has evolved? 12 months of learning and of course, unlearning.

December is the divine period of time nestled between the old and the new, offering you a whole month to express gratitude for bringing you here (and I mean exactly here, right to this moment) and also space to discover what it is you want to create in your life the next year.

In conversation with aspiring writers, 2015 is calling them to crank up their writing dream a notch. Yes they would like to write more regularly, express more creatively, and channel their voice and message, but they want to do all of this PUBLICLY.

No longer in their leather-bound journals on their bedside table, sitting among the plethora of word docs on their desktops, or existing in some corner of the web they haven’t told a soul it exists. No, this coming year is calling them to go bigger and to share their words with the world.

It’s time to get published.

Eeeek! Scary you say? Yes, it is. A little uncomfortable you say? Well, yes, it is that too. Exciting? Without a doubt.

Sharing your words in a public forum or space does something to you. It encourages you to really get to know yourself and to step forward with radical self-belief in what you are saying. 

It gives you credibility, a sense of honour and a reference point.

Take a moment and think about this: You know that issue/topic/person/discovery/destination that stirs for your attention and makes you excited when you send your thoughts its way? Well, what if you wrote about it? What if you had it published online or in print in a space – blog, website, journal, magazine, ezine - you adore with your name boldly in the byline? How do you FEEL at the thought of this?

If the response is something along the lines of thrilled, empowered, proud (with a touch a fear mixed in there as well), this post is for you.

Before you get caught up in all the details, come back to what matters. The passion. Because you know what? Passion trumps words every time. You might have the best collection of words and phrases in your arsenal but if there is no soul – no real meaning behind what you’re saying – then you are going to have a real hard time convincing someone to share your words. You have to believe in what you are writing about. That is what an editor or publisher is looking for. Someone who believes and expresses that belief in a way anyone can relate (Learn how to write to have an impact here).

 You’re on point now. The passion is swelling like a fire in your belly and begging to be relayed in script for all to see. Before fledging forward, take a moment to pause. A story is as good as the questions that are asked so you want to make sure you ask the right questions. Whether you are interviewing someone or speaking from first person experience, the questions you ask another (or yourself) will shape your story. Ask yourself: Is there flow? Have I captured the necessary details (who, what, when, why, how)? Have I allowed space? Is there personality?

Side note: If your questions share a bit of your personality, your interviewee will feel at ease to express their personality too!

Now that you have your questions, be willing to derail – maybe completely of the tracks. That story plan in your head (the one you had your heart set on) may no longer be relevant when your subject drops mid-response “That’s why I packed my bags and never returned” or “It feels like I’m alone in this battle most the time” or “My grandfather asked me: ‘What legacy will you leave behind?’ ”

When your intrigue piques, follow it. Relinquish the plan and listen closely. When you find yourself hanging onto their every word, that’s your angle my friend. That’s the whole point.

Now that you have your story in its draft form, research potential publishing spaces. Check out the guidelines of your favourite reading waterholes but also explore other media spaces that might be interested in your story. Take the time to really understand each media space – their style, purpose, story leads, partners and collaborations, layout. Understand them inside out.

Ask yourself: Does my story live here? Does it meet their guidelines and overall purpose? Does it bring something new and alternative?

 If the answer is yes, it’s time to make a pitch. If you are unsure exactly what a pitch is, a pitch is your selling point for a story. Before you pitch though, scrap the ‘one-size-fits-all’ idea. No pitch will be the same because no media source is the same. Your pitches need to be crafted individually to serve the purpose of the individual media space, ensuring you are meeting their publication guidelines. Take special note of word limits, photo requirements, publishing dates (weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly?), structure and layout tips. You want to make it easy for the receiver of your pitch. You want to make it easy for them to say Yes!

Side note: Publication guidelines are mostly found on their website, but if not, send a friendly email explaining you would like to share a pitch for a potential story and would like to view their publication guidelines before doing so.

If the guidelines are quite vague and you’re not sure where to start, I like to craft my pitches in this way. Succinct and clear:

Context: In a few sentences max, set the scene. WHY is this story important? WHY does it need to be read by their readers?

Contact: WHO is the expert for this story? WHY are they (or you, if you are writing in first person) an expert on this topic? WHAT alternative perspective/insight do they (or you) have to share?

Don’t rush your pitches. Do it slowly. Leave some time between writing and sending your pitch so you can re-read your words, make adjustments and changes and correct any errors.

Now you might be thinking, I’ll send my pitch to the top – to the editor – to get my words heard. The Editor in Chief is most likely very, very busy answering an endless stream of emails and enquiries. You are best sending your pitch to the email address detailed in the publication guidelines (ideally – if outlined), but if not, write to the senior writer or editorial team.

In the subject, write PITCH (in capitals): Catchy short phrase that will grab their attention.

You may not hear back from them for some time, especially if they’re quite popular. Be patient. As a rule of thumb, I let two weeks pass and if there has still been no word, I will follow up my pitch by forwarding the original email with a short, friendly email asking for their thoughts on my pitch. Often this jogs their memory and before long they reply, apologising for the delay.

But if not, don’t take it to heart. Your story wasn’t meant to be published in that space. As Don Miguel Ruiz says: “There is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you take nothing personally.”

On the topic of pay or no pay, this should be clearly outlined in the publishing guidelines. If it isn’t and you have received the exciting news that they love your story and want to publish it in an upcoming edition or post (Yewwww!), ask whether they pay their freelance writers and what the rate is. This will most likely be according to word count but often is a set amount per story. If a publication or online space does not pay for stories (which is the case a lot of the time), don’t let this deter you. Honestly, you cannot put a price on getting your words published and if making money from your words is your top priority, I’m afraid we have gone full circle to my first point. Passion trumps words EVERY TIME (Learn how to connect with your muse here).

If you are passionate, the rest will follow.

Once your first story is published, you will be a force to be reckoned with! Your writing and ideas will receive exposure. People will want to learn of the person who crafted the words and they will want more… much more! Stock pile your published work in a folder on your computer or on your website or blog, and remind yourself that you did this once, and that you can do it again, and again and again. This is your portfolio. Next time you approach a media source with your pitch, include an example or two of pieces you have had published and where.

You’re a writer dear friend. A writer with a portfolio of published works!

This blog post is the third in a series of ‘how to’ entries on how to be a writer. I hope you have enjoyed these insights and are just as excited as me to embark on Paper Planes Connect’s new evolution, supporting and coaching freethinkers to create change through their communication. 

Question: How do you think our words can change the world? Big question I know, but I know you have so much to say. Jump in the comment box below :)

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