The old publish or perish admonition that related to the academic world is even more relevant today for business professionals. Because content marketing and thought leadership are critical in the digital world, there is even more pressure for professionals to publish effective, helpful content for both your platforms as well as industry media outlets.
With all of the exciting things happening in new media – video sharing, social media, using the geo-satellite positioning on PDAs for commercial applications – I still believe that old media will survive in niches and writing for business still has a good future.
I’m all for other forms of communicating, such as doing your own video and using it for viral marketing, but few of us have the technology know-how to make that happen in a quality way without significant expense. If you write your own material, you can use it on your website, post it on blogs, link it everywhere and distribute it to established media sites, which are increasingly using contributed material. But there’s a catch: It has to be “good stuff.”
Here’s how to make your stuff good enough to publish:
- When coming up with your idea, apply the literary Occam’s razor: What would be a compelling read? Here’s the test for reader and writer: I will read this if I have to read this. It’s not something I can skip and be up-to-date. Because if it is something the reader can skip, guess what will happen?
- Understand what editors know, the news elements that determine what gets published and featured. They are, in order of importance: Newsworthiness; celebrity; controversy; human interest story; commentary or industry analysis and last, instructional, or how-to material. I realize that this piece is a how-to article, the first I’ve ever done. That means that I have the lowest chance of being published.
- Use plain language and shorter declarative sentences. Know your audience. If it is a general business audience, you can’t assume they have industry knowledge. Steinbeck wrote in long, complicated sentences. You are not Steinbeck and neither am I. Avoid industry jargon and buzz words. By using a buzz word without meaningful context, you alienate your audience. If a reader does not understand your words, he or she will stop reading your article.
- Use Associated Press style. Most editors will reject your piece outright if it does not come close to AP style, still the dominant guide for spelling, punctuation, grammar and usage. You can buy an AP style book at the book store. Especially irritating and common style gaffes: Random capitalization, courtesy titles, double-spacing after periods and misuse of commas, especially after conjunctions.
- To be an expert, you can’t be a pitcher. You have to realize that every reader is skeptical of your motives. They will tune you out immediately upon encountering self-serving or self-promotional language. Remember that even though you are seeking customers, they want to buy your services, not be sold to.
- Solve a problem common to your industry. Although many experts don’t feel comfortable giving up their secrets, it’s better to show your stuff. There’s always more to share when they pick up the phone. After all, you’re the expert.
- Make it short. If you have incredible, engrossing material, it’s ok to write 1,200 words. But most subjects need to be covered in 800 words or so. Remember that every time an online reader is forced to click on a new page, figure you will lose 50 percent of your audience.
- Develop a relationship with the editor. This isn’t easy. Editors are busy people. But if you can get to a point where a key editor in an important publication for your niche is willing to guide you, go for it. Your material will be better and obtain better treatment from the publication.