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#61 5 mistakes you may be making publishing articles in trade magazines

Get your ideas into media already trusted by the people you want as clients,” is one of the central themes of this blog. Rather than just trusting to Google to drive potential clients towards your own website, it makes sense to fish where the fish are.

Sure, you need to pull potential clients to your own website and newsletter, so you can start building a relationship with them. That means having a really rich source of wisdom on media you own – generally, based on a website.

To push the “fishing” analogy well past its breaking point, your website is like the “bucket” where you put the fish you’ve caught. Once you have them signed up for your regular content offering – your newsletter, blog, YouTube channel, podcast or whatever, you can build that relationship. Eventually, they’ll come to know, like and trust you enough to want to spend money on you.

But you still have to go out and catch those fish, and that means going where they are.

And in many markets, those “fish” are to be found looking at the pages of their industry’s niche publications. Yes, I said “pages.” The death of print is greatly exaggerated when it comes to reaching niche markets. Of course, these publications have websites, Twitter feeds, Facebook and LinkedIn pages, and a presence on Pinterest. But their flagship offering is still ink on paper.

In this post, we’ll first take a look at why you should make the effort to learn how to work with trade magazines, and then go into five common errors I see business professionals make, in trying to get published.

Seriously, trade magazines? Do they even still exist?

To anyone living in the 21st Century, particularly anyone Gen X or younger, print magazines may seem like 20th Century technology. And yes, the printed trade magazine is a long-standing communications channel. But it’s long-standing, in part, because it works. Somehow, this print category retains its ability to attract and influence senior decision-makers. Why? Two reasons I can see.

Most people will spend longer with a printed publication than they will with the same information on a screen. So, many companies are willing to spend a big chunk of their advertising budget (more on that below) on print publications read by their target market. Potential customers’ ad blockers can’t stop the advertising message from getting through.
Advertisers love the way their ads bounce off the printed page, where they don’t do the same on a computer screen – much less a mobile screen. Also, they can generally fit more information into those ads in print – which just wouldn’t work online, particularly with a mobile device.

And because advertisers’ money makes the publication possible, what they want, they get.

I had a conversation recently about this – a twentysomething hipster involved in the finance of community solar power. I was showing him some of the trade publications I’ve helped my clients publish articles in. He came back with a just-slightly-patronizing, “Actually, I hardly ever read magazines any more.”

I was quite frankly baffled – because he really should know that he’s not his own market. Just maybe, his market is different from him, and doesn’t necessarily learn the same way he does?

Most of the people he wants to persuade are senior to him -- in age as well as seniority (ie. the size of the budgets they control). They definitely read solar power trade publications. Yes, publications just for this niche exist. There are several print publications, healthy and well-financed, specifically for the solar-power sector. Some are for home-owners, but most are targeted at people high up in some of the biggest power utilities there are.

The reality is that trade magazines are often the best, or even only, place where company leaders can go to learn about news that matters to them.

For example, picture an industry executive in the wind power sector, we’ll call “Abdul.” He needs to stay current on issues such as new turbine designs, new regulations, and whether offshore wind power has a future in North America.

Abdul wants specialized information, prepared by people who know his particular niche and have a professional interest in providing him with the information he needs. Abdul is a busy guy, and he needs that information to be professionally written – effective communication. He also needs to know that it’s been vetted by someone (who’s called a “managing editor”) who has both the ability and interest to provide neutral, comprehensive information.

So, Abdul belongs to professional associations like the American Wind Energy Association, scans the group’s website, and attends its conferences. He’s part of specialized LinkedIn groups.

And Abdul subscribes to publications you’ve probably never even heard of. He reads “North American WINDPOWER” (the all-caps are theirs, not mine) and “Windpower Engineering” as well as publications for the renewable energy sector in general. Most are virtually unknown outside the sector, but are required reading inside.

North American WINDPOWER has a circulation of 21,000 readers, which I’d consider midsize to small for a US trade publication, but it’s who those readers are, that matters. People like Abdul. Senior people in the wind power sector, that’s who.

That can be seen in the fees companies are willing to pay to get their ads into this publication – US$5,300 per page for a color ad. Many companies buy multiple insertions each year, so eager are they to reach Abdul and his colleagues.

The publication posts a subscription price of US$48.00 per year, although it’s hard to know if many subscribers pay that rate, or get it for free based on their job.

The amazing thing about it is that each niche industrial sector, in many parts of the world, has its own niche print magazine. How narrow a niche? Consider two publications (they’re called “books” in the trade – if I’ve convinced you to give them a try, you might as well learn the jargon) – “Shale Gas Water Management” and “LNG Industry” (that’s “liquefied natural gas”, published in London). I’ve helped my clients get published in both of them.

And I get it – you’ve never heard of either book. Maybe you don’t even read magazines much yourself. But your habits and preferences don’t matter. What you need to know is the habits and preferences of the “Abdul” in your life – your ideal client – and get your ideas where she or he is already looking. In publications your Abdul knows about and trusts.



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Your insider’s guide to publishing in trade magazines

So how can you get your ideas in front of niche publications relied upon by people in your market? I’ve gone into this topic in detail in an infographic, and also addressed the issue of finding the right publications in Post #34.

But I get that it can be a frustrating process. So I thought through the kinds of issues I’ve seen newbies make. These points are based on my having:

A journalism degree from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada – that likes to think of itself as the country’s best (other schools would dispute that)
Several years’ experience as a writer and reporter for print publications, including trade magazines
Several years of freelance experience for trade publications
• Over 15 years of experience helping professional firms publish articles in trade publications, as well as other media.

Here are my Top Five mistakes that might prevent you from getting your ideas published.

1. You didn’t get the editor’s buy-in first

My experience as an editor, and from many lunches and drinks with editors, is that they are suspicious of articles they didn’t ask for. In editor-speak, it’s called an “unsolicited manuscript,” the “manuscript” being the original copy of the article, and “unsolicited” meaning they didn’t ask for it.

In an age of bots, e-mail lists and other technology, most editors are concerned that they don’t know the provenance of an article that just drops into their in-box. Their concerns are that the article might be plagiarized, or might have been sent to many other publications too. They don’t want to be hit with a lawyer’s letter charging them with a copyright infringement.

The best way for an author such as you to reassure the editor that they are getting a new, unpublished, exclusive manuscript is by presenting the idea to them first, by means of a query letter. I’ve gone into the structure of a query letter here and here.

The editor may accept your article concept as-is, but may also come back to you with some suggestions (otherwise known as “instructions”). Such as, “We’ve already covered this topic recently. But if you could focus the article on the third point in your outline, we’d be interested in publishing that.”

This has the added benefit of getting the editor involved in developing the article, so that they feel a sense of ownership. If they feel they’ve had a hand in the article development, it’s only natural that they’ll be more interested publishing it.

An important point about working with editors: If they say “go ahead” to your query, this is NOT a commitment to publish whatever you come up with. You are always writing “on spec” (a bit more inside jargon for you – “on speculation”), meaning no commitment from the editor.

2. It’s too long or too short

Unlike the online environment, printed publications have limitations as to size. If they think your article topic is worth a page, they’ll ask for a word-count of about 650 to 800 words. That’s how many words fit on a typical magazine page.

If the editor asks for 750 words and you produce 850, that’s like trying to pour 850 liters into a tank with a maximum capacity of 750 liters. Bad things happen, like wastage, spillage and citations for environmental violations.

In the editorial world, pumping out too many words can make three bad things happen.
The editor may pull out their “delete” key and take out phrases, sentences and paragraphs until the article fits. This may mean taking out important ideas and caveats.
The editor may either reject the article, or put it aside for a future issue, which keeps fading into the future (I’ve seen that happen).
The editor may “turn” the article so the final part appears on a page near the back of the publication, where many people will miss it – and the end of the article should have your contact information, including phone and e-mail.

I usually go for between 1200 and 1500 words for an article, which makes a good two-page spread.

3. You missed the editor’s deadline

If the editor approves your article concept, they will likely give you a deadline. This is because producing a magazine is a process that ends in a “press date” – the date on which the magazine’s electronic file with all the articles, headlines, ads, picture captions and other details must be ready to go on the press.

In giving you a deadline, the editor works back from the press date to think of how long it will take to edit all the articles, lay out the publication, proofread it and all the other steps. There will probably be a bit of padding in the deadline, so that if the editor says they need the article by 1 February, they could really take it up to about 5 February. But don’t count on that padding.

Show respect for the editor by getting your article in on time. This makes the editor like you, and that’s a good thing. It also makes the editor more likely to green-light future article ideas from you, and that’s even better. And just simply makes the editor’s day better.

4. You’re writing outside the publication’s area of interest

Virtually all of the publications that are open to taking articles from non-journalist contributors have a narrow focus. Often, a really narrow focus.

A case in point: I worked with an engineer client in Tulsa OK who wanted to get his name in front of pipeline operators, about how to manage the liquids that naturally occur in natural gas (called “natural gas liquids,” or NGLs, naturally). I pitched the idea to the editor of World Pipelines, based in London, but the editor came back with a “not interested” response – pointing out that her publication is concerned with gas pipelines, yes, but specifically the big trunk lines that carry gas over long distances. She didn’t want to know about the small upstream feeder lines that usually have trouble with NGLs. So, I adjusted the concept so it was appropriate to trunk lines, and we did get that article published.

So, be sure that you know what the publication’s focus is. The best way to do that is still to get a hard copy of the magazine – but looking through what they have online is next best.

5. You’re trying to “sell” too hard in your article

Editors are justifiably reluctant to be part of anyone’s marketing program. The role of an editor for a credible publication is to provide useful, unbiased, genuine information, not influenced by anything but the truth. And I love them for their sometimes-fierce determination to keep their pages free of influence.

One of their biggest complaints is around “contributed articles” that come across as a sales pitch.

And anyway, if you’ve shown yourself to be a useful source of information, your purpose is served.

You don’t need to add self-serving phrases like, “Based on our extensive experience in solving this kind of problem…,” because your expertise should shine through what you’ve written. The editor will likely just take out anything that sounds like a sales pitch anyway.

Challenging, but worth while

For some people, tiptoeing into the world of trade magazines may be like entering a store that sells vinyl records. And it can be disorienting and frustrating at the start. But the five points above can go a long way to helping you achieve success in getting your ideas into this important medium.

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Carl Friesen

Carl is the Founder of the Thought Leadership Resources and helps business professionals gain the skills they need to build their profile as subject-matter experts and thought leaders.

You can connect with Carl on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter

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