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The Do's and Don'ts of Bylined Articles

By Henry Stimpson

Trade, business, professional and online publications are always hungry for good articles from experts.

They get free copy. In return, you get valuable exposure for your organization that can provide a big boost for your marketing.

The deal can work out for both parties, but there are challenges. The editor is relying on contributors who aren't professional writers (unless there's a ghostwriter behind the scenes).

To get a bylined article published, you need to know the ropes. Here are some tips, gleaned from many years of experience:

Know what the editor is looking for. Scan a few recent issues of the publication you want to get in. Sometimes you'll find that the articles are all staff written. If so, look for happier hunting grounds elsewhere.

If outsiders write some articles, check the format. Is a certain column reserved for contributors, or are bylined articles interspersed throughout? Does the publication use 500-word op-ed pieces or lengthy articles? Get a copy of the publication's guidelines for contributors. They should answer most of your basic questions.

Many trade and some business publications publish editorial calendars. These calendars help you pinpoint when editors are looking to cover certain subjects.

Go on a scavenger hunt. You may already have the raw material for an article but not realize it. A text of a speech, a slide presentation, a detailed memorandum, a brochure or a report can often be transformed into an article by rewriting the material.

Write a summary. Once you've targeted a publication, it's usually best to write a brief summary of the story you'd like to submit. Many editors prefer a query first; some only want to review finished copy. Go with whatever the editor wants to do.

The summary tells in a few brief paragraphs what you want to write about and how you plan to approach it. Ask for permission to proceed. Now the editor can tell you whether he or she's interested in the topic and may offer suggestions on writing the story. The summary will also serve as quick outline--a big help in getting started.

Get the facts. Once you've gotten the okay from the editor, you can start writing.

Gather up all the key facts that make your case. The more meat you can put in your story, the better. A little research pays off.

Take a stand. Most publications want contributors to have a definite viewpoint. You don't need to provoke a raging controversy, but some basic stance or theme should form the framework for your story. The reader should come away with a few strong key points that serve your cause.

Use examples and stories. Your article will come alive for readers when you can use real-life examples to bolster your points.

Sorry, no commercials. The best way to get your story killed is overt commercialism. Most publications won't let you directly mention your own product. But you can sometimes get your commercial message across indirectly. A sales pitch, if subtly disguised, may pass muster. And it will go over better with readers than overt commercialism.

Keep the "buzz" down. Know your audience. In a trade publication, some industry jargon is usually okay. But if you're trying to get published in a more general publication, skip the buzzwords.
If in doubt, always choose plain English. Simple words usually say a lot more than big ones.

Follow up. Editors are notoriously pressed for time; some won't get back to you with an acceptance or rejection. So, politely follow up and ask the editor if he or she has received the story and reviewed it yet.

Recycle for more bang for the buck. Now you've got the story published. The executive is basking in glory, sending copies to clients and colleagues. Now take the next step. Try to get the article published elsewhere. For instance, let's say that your article is about the reducing the risks of getting hit with an employee lawsuit. It's pretty likely you can take the same article, or a slightly recast version, and get it published in a human resources magazine, a local business journal and trades serving various industry.

Reprint it. To get the most value from a published article, reprint it. Then you can add it to your sales kit or use it in direct mail. Executives can send copies to key contacts with a personal note.

Henry Stimpson is president of Stimpson Communications in Wayland, Mass., a public relations firm specializing in professional services. Contact him at 508-647-0705 or Henry [at] StimpsonCommunications.com