Note: I’ve worked as a freelance writer for over 20 years, as an editor for print and online magazines, and now as a content editor and marketer for an online company. I wrote this article a few years ago and recently updated it.

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“How do I get published?”

I’m asked that question often.

I’ve written hundreds of articles, contributed to multiple anthologies, and published two books of my own. I’ve also worked as an editor in various capacities for 15 years (copy editor, then managing editor of a magazine before my current role). Various types of articles cross my desk regularly. Included in the mix are some excellent ones, others that need work, and some that are… meh or even awful. Let’s talk about how to keep your article submission out of that last category.

If you’re wondering how to get published, I trust you’re passionate about a topic and enjoy writing. If not, go gain experience, live, and discover your passion! Then you’ll have something to write that is worth reading.

Here are some simple tips from a writer and editor. Consider this a starting point if you’re looking to get your article published, whether in a print or online magazine.

1. Be willing to write for nothing. 

I know this smacks in the face of your goal of writing for pay. However, this might be the first step you need to take. The experience is worth more than money at this point!

Volunteer to write for unpaid newsletters or small publications. Write on outlets like Medium or Substack (these have the potential to make money, but at first you’ll likely be writing for free). Write on your own blog or practice with book, movie, or product reviews. And then submit, submit, submit. Approach your writing journey with humility and be open to starting from the ground up.

Remember: when you list where you’ve been published, you don’t have to note whether it was paid or not, and no one will know the difference! Regard this as your “apprenticeship” and dedicate time to understand the preferences of various publications for articles.

2. Think like an editor.

Now’s the time to brush up on proper grammar and usage. You don’t have to be an expert; after all, that’s what editors are for! But learn enough so that your piece isn’t rife with errors. This can discourage editors who will be reviewing numerous submissions, leading to them hit the delete button.

By paying attention to even the smallest details, your article will stand out to editors. Also, research the topics, format, and style the publication has given for submissions, or if they’re even open to submissions. You’ll find that information on the publication’s website.

I recommend running your article through Grammarly or ProWritingAid before submitting it. Beyond grammar and usage, both programs offer suggestions for polishing your writing, such as repeated words or phrases, active vs. passive writing, and more.

3. Hook ‘em! 

The initial lines are crucial, revealing to an editor whether they should continue reading. Make it captivating, funny, something that compels the editor to follow its course. Making nonfiction articles interesting and engaging is entirely possible, and there is a significant market for them. If the first lines or even paragraph or two are a yawner, I don’t read further. It may seem harsh, but it’s true. Editors are busy.

One common mistake I see at the beginning of an article is making the introduction too long. Keep it concise and snappy. (There are writing courses and podcasts that cover more specific tips that I’ll share in a future post!) One rule of thumb I’ve heard is, after you’ve written the article, delete your first paragraph and see how the piece reads. If it’s fine without it, leave it out.

4. Do your homework. 

Read through back issues or peruse the website and learn about the publication before you submit your article. Note details like the length of articles, how casual or formal their style is, and what sorts of topics they highlight.

Unless someone requests it, avoid writing a technical paper for a family magazine and vice versa. Studying the publication and its target audience before you write will make your article shine.

5. Believe in yourself. 

Even if you face repeated rejections, press on. Trust me, all writers have rejection stories! I printed out and kept one of my first rejection emails in my desk drawer for years. I’m not sure why, maybe to make me mad and keep going or to remind myself later not to forget where I started.

Louis L’amour had 200 rejections before he ever published his first book. Six different publishers rejected Agatha Christie’s first novel, and it wasn’t published until five years later. If you’re getting nowhere, regroup and study the feedback you’ve received. Take some writing classes. You’ll find countless options online. Join a writing group and listen to the critiques of your peers. Then try again.

You’ve got this! I believe in you.

Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything. It’s the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus.

Enid Bagnold

Stay tuned, and we’ll cover more writing and publishing tips.

Let me know in the comments below or on social media if there’s a question or topic you’d like me to cover!

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash