In a previous post, #34, I talked about how you can decide which publications are best for reaching your market. Next step is to evaluate a publication to see if it’s a viable home for your content. Here’s how to do that.

One of the critical points is, “Does the publication accept expert-written articles?” Certain publications take these and some don’t, so take time to look through the publication. Your clue: if some of the articles are written by “so-and-so with such-and-such firm,” that tells you that they do accept articles by external contributors. Look for mugshots (author pictures; journalists borrow the police term for these). Also check their website for “Author Guidelines” or other such resource on their website – that’s a clue that they’re looking for external contributors.

On particular publications, editors prefer to use ‘real’ journalists to write the articles. That's the case with these media:

Really big publications, with circulations of over about 70,000, such as Forbes, Fortune and Fast Company. They’ll occasionally take a column if your last name is Andreesen, Buffet, or Mayer. No? Go smaller.

City and regional business newspapers and websites: Most of their content is written by professional journalists. Sometimes they’ll carry a regular column by a locally-based lawyer or accountant, but it’s rare.

Newsletters: There’s a growing profusion of pricy publications serving narrow niches, and most of them aren’t welcoming to outside contributors. Anyone paying a few hundred (or a few thousand) dollars a year wants to read hard news, not your thoughts.

Other publications to stay away from are:

Pay-to-play – “Sure, we’ll publish your article, if you buy some advertising space.” That’s enough to make me hang up the phone. Any publication that will require a contributor to buy space will need to publish pretty much whatever those advertisers send them, and it’ll be heavily promotional. These publications lack credibility; avoid them. Besides, there are plenty of credible publications that will publish your article at no cost.

Content-supported: The publications feature glowing profiles of companies, supported by those companies’ suppliers buying ad space. Up front, they have a range of what I’d call ‘real’ journalism, but it’s written by ‘real’ journalists, not expert contributors. Not a way in for you.

There are plenty of credible, niche publications that welcome contributions from experts such as you.

How to increase your chances of getting published

Many editors have complained to me over the years that many of the approaches they get from would-be contributors have a huge problem that just glares at them. The contributor has not taken the time to become familiar with the publication. That’s important, because most business publications that survive do so because they focus on a narrow niche. This means that they want content that is specifically for their readers. Reading the publication will give you a better idea of what their readers want.

Then, in your query letter (see post #4 for more on what to include in a query), be sure to mention something you’ve seen in the publication: “I see that you covered this topic in your January issue, and this would be a continuation of that theme.” Even better, take note of something you’ve seen in content produced by the editor, either the editorial or an article. Editors are just like you in that they like to see that their work gets noticed.

Look for the names of the sections of the publication, what they tend to cover, and how long the articles are. Many publications have a section of short articles at the front of the publication. Many will also have a regular item called an “Expert’s corner,” “Industry voices” or something like that. Refer to these in your query – “This article might be good for your “Voices” section at the back of the publication.”

Note how long the articles typically are. Many will be a page of the magazine, which is about 650 to 700 words of a typical North American size magazine; a bit longer for UK publications. If you can indicate the word count you’ll write, you will be many steps ahead of many would-be contributors.

Editors are busy people, and many of them are really, really tired of getting mass-produced articles from PR agencies. Anything that you can do, to show that you’re a real person with real expertise, will increase your chances of success in getting published.