By Sandra Rea
Recently an author announced to me that she was going to start an online magazine just for the sake of exposure for her not-yet-written book. I immediately asked WHY? Why in the world would she start and then have to manage a magazine in hopes of getting noticed vs. contributing articles and interviews to other people's magazines, blogs, websites and publications? In a vast sea of online everything around books and writing, there are almost unlimited opportunities to be seen. For my time investment I would rather seek out appropriate and fitting online publications, blogs and social media platforms to which I could contribute my information vs. starting a magazine, which might sound to some like an easy task with today’s user-friendly software. They would be wrong.
Running a magazine, even if it doesn’t run off of advertising dollars, is a challenge. Ask my friend Andrew who runs a wonderful online publication for divorced parents. Oddly enough, the title is Divorced Parents online digital magazine (http://www.divorcedparents.co.uk/). If you are divorced and have something to share with the rest of the class, and you have writing skills, Andrew might just use your contributions. I contribute to his publication from time to time. I do not sell my books in an obvious way there, but I do get to include my book titles in my bio. I do not get paid to write for this publication, but I like the message of the magazine, and I will always contribute when I have the time. I wrote a book on divorce, so this is a fitting publication to which I should contribute.
That’s what I’m talking about here… contributing where it is fitting to what you have to say. But before you enter that realm, sit down with pen and paper. Answer the following questions before seeking to contribute to any publication (in no particular order):
- What is my book about? Not just your genre, but what themes are touched on in your book? Divorce, life and death, raising children, women’s issues, abuse, pets, happiness, and the list goes on and on. Think beyond your genre.
- Can I come up with engaging topics? Do not sell anything in your writings! This like so many topics I talk about here in the VAULT, author promotions is about engagement. I don’t want to read about your book. I can read about your book in the appropriate channels, like book reviews. I want to read about your viewpoints on X, Y and Z as they pertain to my interests. If I like what you have to say, if I feel engaged and if I see you also have a book out there that you mention in your bio at the bottom of the piece, guess what? I will look at your book and I might just download it to my e-reader. Cha-ching…
- Is my information TIMELY or TIMELESS? Most things I write about are considered evergreen, which is excellent for contributions to all sorts of publications and blogs, etc., but some of my topics have been timely when published. They wouldn’t be so timely today, for example, talking about the Mayan prophecies of 2012. That time has passed and we’re all still here living, breathing and writing. However, I could give a new spin to that topic, thereby making it once again timely. Maybe I could talk about how the events predicted didn’t happen and what effects that had on the psyche of those expecting a rather dismal end of 2012. I co-authored a book that we titled tongue-in-cheek SURVIVING 2012: YOUR DOWN N DIRTY FIELD GUIDE. Even that will change, as we will edit the manuscript now for a newer version more along the lines of simply surviving catastrophic events. All the information is pertinent to any such event; now we just have to make it timelier. Until then, my book sales for that one will likely remain in a slump.
- Do I mind if an editor reworks my pieces? In other words, how fragile is my ego? As a former magazine editor for three print publications, let me tell you how an editor thinks. Editors are there to make your work better and to make you look your best. Every writer needs a good editor. Don’t be combative with any magazine editor who doctors your work or suggests changes. That is the person’s job. I am fortunate that most of my work is first-draft, publication-ready, but I can tell you that it is because I was on the other side of the desk, that I’ve taught writing and that I am no spring chicken. I also have a VERY thick skin. The way I figure it, if an editor wants to make my writing work better for his/her publication and I’m going to get the exposure I seek, well… I’m letting the editor have free range. My advice is to suck it up and dump the ego before asking anyone to let you contribute to a publication of any type.
- Do I have my facts straight? Before you share information with readers in a publication, blog or even social media piece that will hopefully be shared far and wide, you better make sure your facts are correct. I stick to opinion pieces, what-I-learned pieces, dark humor pieces and the like. That said, I’ve been paid well to contribute articles to a variety of industry trades and national consumer publications. In those instances, I had to check my facts, run quotes by the people I was quoting and make sure everything was correct prior to submitting my articles. That’s just common sense, but you see the reverse all the time as a reader. It is pretty obvious that not all writers check their facts before sharing their information.
- Will my information help or entertain readers? This goes back to the rule of engagement. I add it on its own here, because there is so much blah, blah, blah, who-cares content out there that none of us need more of it. We need information that can help us in different areas of our lives or we want to be entertained. I love to be educated and I really enjoy when a writer makes me think or laugh! I also enjoy the heck out of a good psychological piece. My favorite magazine happens to be Psychology Today. It engages me, educates me and gives me bite-sized bits of information that I can consume at my own rate.
If you ask yourself these questions and decide that you want to gain exposure through contributing to various publications, you will likely receive no pay for your efforts, but that’s okay. The exposure is pay enough if the publication allows you a little blip of a bio at the end. Do the editor and publisher a favor. Proofread your articles before submitting. Yes, the editor will catch things, but give them a leg up and cut back on the typos. I am sometimes bad at the final proofing, so I hired a third party to proof longer works for me.
As for WHERE you should contribute… that is up to you. Do your homework. You should at least be familiar with the publications, blogs and posting arenas. That way you will know the style of writing the editors want. I write in a friendly, forward manner, so my style wouldn’t fit well with a higher-level academic publication. I already figured this part out. I only contribute where it makes most sense and usually in response at this point in my life and career to an invitation.
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