The Write Stuff
By Peter L DeHaan
this: “ABC Company, a
strategic provider of advanced business technologies services,
technology, and applications for helping organizations leverage the
power of convergent networks, announced today the release it’s
unique solution, ABC Widgetiser, which is guaranteed to revolutionize existing
is an example of a recent – and all too common – press release
(the names were changed to protect the guilty.) On
any given business day, I will receive five to ten press releases and
at least one article or article abstract. Only a
small percentage of these ever make it into print. Although
the practical restriction of limited space in a printed medium is one
tangible reason, the reality is that most submissions were doomed from
the start – much like the above exercise in verbosity. Whether
you are seeking publicity as a business, non-profit organization, or
vendor, understanding how the system works is the first step towards a
successful placement in any publishing medium.
Your Submissions: Submitting
content to a periodical is not like shooting a shotgun, where a
pattern of pellets disperse in a general area with the hope that
enough shot will strike the quarry to take it down. Rather,
getting published is more like firing a rifle, where a single,
well-intended and thoughtful bullet has a good chance for a successful
outcome. True, not every shot will result in a
meal, but the chances are much greater than just blasting off a
shotgun in all directions.
the advent of low-cost and easily scalable email, the temptation is
great to fire off hundreds of missives at every conceivable angle.
Doing so, however, reduces your thoughtfully composed prose to
the level of spam, earning it an acrimonious end; a carefully targeted
approach is a better way to go.
Your Target: My very first
article submission, over two decades ago, was accepted and published.
This gave me a false sense of success and allowed me to infer
that getting published was easy. The reality was
that I knew and understood the target publication, Radio
Electronics. Not only had I been a subscriber
for several years, but I faithfully read it and was intimately
familiar with the content they published and the style of articles
with the Publication: My
first step was to send a letter to the magazine (there was no
ubiquitous email in 1982). I pitched my idea and
asked if they were interested. They responded with
a form letter and their “writer’s kit.” Basically
the kit was guidelines on what they expected, how to submit an
article, their time table, and a listing of possible outcomes –
which seemed rather pessimistic – but nonetheless provided some
today’s publishing world, some editors and publishers will respond
to email requests of this nature, but it seems that many do not.
At best, hope for a brief communication. Today’s
editorial staff is being asked to do more, in less time, and with
fewer resources. Don’t take it personally if your
query is ignored or if you receive a terse, one sentence reply.
Make the best of any limited communication and move forward.
into Their Resources:
Virtually all periodicals have websites, which often contain useful
information for the aspiring writer and hopeful author. Regardless
of the level of communication you may – or may not – have with the
publication’s staff, check out their website for additional
assistance. My publications' websites, for example,
contains guidelines for writing and submitting both articles and press
releases, including the preferred length, the method of submission,
writing style, and so forth.
Your Subject: My first
article was simply titled, “All About Pagers.” It
was a subject I knew well, working for a paging company and with
several years of experience. One would think that
my composition would have flowed easily and quickly. Not
so. As I began to write, I quickly realized how
much I could not fully explain. Fortunately, I was
in a position to obtain the missing pieces, thereby filling in the
gaps. The result was an accurate and informative
submission that resonated well with the editors.
about things you don’t know or understand is quickly spotted and
easily dismissed. Don’t try to do that; leave it
for the seasoned, professional reporter.
the Directions: The quickest
and easiest way for your press release or article to be ignored or
discarded is for you to assume that the rules don’t apply to you.
Editors appreciate and more readily use material that complies
with their guidelines. They don’t make rules just
because they can, but rather to help things go smoothly and make it
easier for all parties involved.
they request your press releases via an email attachment (my preferred
method), then, by all means, do it. Other
publications avoid attachments and prefer that the text be in the body
of the email. I limit news items to 200 words.
If longer pieces are submitted, they will most certainly be
edited for length. The reality is, when an editor
is nearing deadline or pushed for time, content requiring significant
reworking or editing will often be delayed or get deleted.
Increase your chances of being published by simply following
Miss Deadlines: Deadlines
are given for a reason. Without them, a publication
would never make it to the printer! Be aware and
follow submission deadlines (they are usually published online and may
be printed in each issue). If you promise an
article by a certain date, don’t miss it. If you
desire your hot news item to be in a specific issue, get it in on
time; sooner is better. Weekly papers and
especially magazines have a much longer lead time than most people
imagine, so be aware of it and adhere to it.
Person is Preferred: Writing
objectively in the third person gives your piece increased integrity
and greater trustworthiness; it is more credible. First-person
is never acceptable in news releases as it comes across as
self-serving, bragging, or unnecessarily introspective. Always
write press releases as an impartial third party. Articles
generally work best in this same style. Notable
exceptions are first-hand commentaries, how-to pieces, and
experiential accounts – such as this column. If
you have any doubt about which style to use, don the hat of a reporter
and write in the third person.
Carefully: I continue to be
amazed at receiving press releases and articles that contain serious
errors. Some submissions have not even been
spell-checked! This is a quick way to lose
credibility and frustrate an editor. Make their
work easier by double checking yours.
is nearly impossible to successfully proof your own work. After
all, you know what you intended to write, so that is how you read it,
easily overlooking errors and mistakes. Others have
proofread this piece (and I certainly hope that we caught everything);
you are well-advised to do the same.
to be Edited: It is tough to
pour your heart and soul into a piece only to have someone else change
it. Similarly, it is easy to become enamored with
what you wrote, desiring it to be published verbatim. This
is an unrealistic expectation. Even
the most experienced have their work altered. This
can be for many reasons. A common one is length,
another is style, and a third is content suitability. Sometimes
a piece is given a different slant to make it better fit a
publication’s focus or a section is removed because it doesn’t
work well or flow with the article.
some publications and editors have a reputation for twisting,
manipulating, or even corrupting an author’s work, most make a
good-faith effort to retain the writer’s intent and to help each one
and their company come across in a positive way.
Hyperbole: The more
spectacular the language in press releases, the less believable they
become. Words such as “leveraged,”
“solutions,” “unique,” “revolutionary,” “leading,” and
“premier” are greatly overused. Avoid using
them in your writing whenever possible. Exaggerated
copy and unsubstantiated claims only serve to push away a cautious
reader (and editor), not draw them in. Yes, clever
text and intriguing wording has its place, but when it surpasses the
message, something is wrong and communication is not taking place.
is no sure-fire way or guaranteed methodology to get your news item or
article published, but implementing these ideas will certainly
increase the likelihood of that happening – and decrease frustration
when it does not.
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