By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
Consider this: “ABC Company, a strategic provider of advanced business technology applications to facilitate organizational utilization of gamechanging convergent networks, announced today the release of its unprecedented Widgetiser solution, which is guaranteed to revolutionize existing technological infrastructures overnight.”
This is a fictitious example of an all too common press release. On any given business day, I receive five to ten press releases and an article or two. Only a small percentage ever make it into print. Although the practical restriction of limited space in a printed medium is one reason, the reality is most submissions were doomed from the start – much like the above exercise in verbosity. When you seek publicity, understanding how publishing works is the first step towards successful placement.
Target Your Submissions: Submitting content to a periodical is not like shooting a shotgun, where 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, carefully aimed bullet has a good chance for success. True, not every shot will result in a meal, but the chances are much greater than just blasting off a shotgun in all directions.
With email, the temptation is to fire off hundreds of missives at every angle. Doing so, however, reduces your thoughtfully composed prose to spam, earning it an acrimonious end. A carefully targeted approach is a better way to go.
Know Your Target: My first article submission, some three decades ago, was published. This gave me a false sense of success; I assumed getting published was easy. The reality was I knew the target publication, Radio Electronics. I’d been a subscriber for years; I faithfully read each issue and understood the content and style of the articles they used.
Tap Online Resources: Virtually all periodicals have websites, which often contain useful information for the aspiring writer. The first step is to check their website for direction. My publications’ websites, for example, contains guidelines for writing and submitting articles and press releases, including the preferred length, the method of submission, writing style, and so forth.
Limit Communication: In today’s publishing world, some editors will respond to emails about submissions, but most do not. Contacting them when you shouldn’t will just irritate them. Only reach out when needed and according to their online submission guidelines.
At best, hope for a brief response. Today’s editorial staff must do more, in less time, and with fewer resources. Don’t take it personally if your message is ignored or you receive a terse reply. Make the best of any communication and move forward.
Know Your Subject: My first article was, “All About Pagers.” I knew the subject well, working for a paging company and with several years of experience. One would think that my composition would have flowed easily. Not so. As I began to write, I quickly realized how much I didn’t know. Fortunately, I was in a position to find the missing pieces, thereby filling in the gaps. The result was an accurate and informative submission that resonated with the editors. Writing about things you don’t understand is quickly spotted and easily dismissed.
Follow Directions: The quickest way for your press release or article to be ignored is to assume the rules don’t apply to you. Editors more readily use material that complies with their guidelines and needs less editing. They don’t make rules because they can but to make the process easier for everyone.
If they request your submissions via an email attachment (my preferred method), then do it. Other publications avoid attachments and prefer the text be in the body of the email. Also, if a piece is too long, it will be edited for length.
The reality is, when an editor is nearing deadline or pushed for time, content requiring significant editing will often be delayed or deleted. Increase your chances of being published by simply following directions.
Don’t Miss Deadlines: Deadlines exist for a reason. Without them, a publication would never make it to the printer. Be aware and follow submission deadlines (they are usually posted 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.
Third Person is Preferred: Writing objectively in the third person gives your piece increased integrity; it’s 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 accounts and how-to pieces – 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.
Proofread Carefully: Too often, I receive press releases and articles that contain serious errors. Some haven’t even been spell-checked. This is a sure way to lose credibility and frustrate an editor. Make their work easier by double-checking yours. It 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.
Expect to be Edited: It’s tough to work hard on a piece only to have someone else change it. Similarly, it’s easy to become enamored with what you wrote, desiring it to be published verbatim. This is unrealistic. Even the most experienced authors have their work edited. 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 with the issue.
Although some publications 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 present their work in a positive way.
Avoid Hyperbole: The more spectacular the language, the less believable they become. Words such as “leveraged,” “solutions,” “unique,” “revolutionary,” “leading,” and “premier” are overused. Avoid them in your writing. Exaggerated copy and unsubstantiated claims only serve to push away readers and wary editors. Yes, clever wording has its place, but when it surpasses the message, something is wrong and communication doesn’t occur.
There’s no guaranteed way to get your news item or article published, but implementing these ideas will increase the chance of that happening – and decrease frustration when it does not.
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is publisher, editor, author, and blogger with 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for tips and insights.