I often have young writers ask me how to get published. I’ve written some of my advice already here and here and here. But I thought I’d offer a few more practical tips on getting editors to appreciate your work and give you a byline:
1) Research publications you intend to write for. It’s important to read widely and read deeply at the publications you’d like to see publish your work. That way when you pitch ideas, you will know what is a good fit for a specific publication. Over time, this will develop into an instinct, so when you get an idea you will instinctively know the best market. It also makes editors happy when you pitch them pieces that actually fit their publication.
2) Be flexible, within your abilities. Sometimes you will have burning ideas you just need to see in print. But as you develop relationships with editors (and you should be developing relationships with editors) and as you develop a good reputation for delivering clean, fast, creative copy (and you should be developing a reputation for delivering clean, fast, creative copy — see below), often editors will come to you and ask if you can turn around an idea on a tight deadline. If the topic is remotely in your wheelhouse, you should say yes and then figure out a way to get it done. Not only is this an opportunity to stretch yourself, it endears you to editors who will be more open to your nest, fresh, burning idea.
3) Develop a reputation for delivering clean, fast, creative copy. This only comes with time and with lots of writing experience. I worked, for nearly a decade in a role that required me to churn out lots of works in short pieces, on a deadline. This helped me develop writing muscles that allow me to write quick and fast. This is why the best way to become a good writer is to actually write, even if you are writing stuff nobody reads. Write well and write with excellence, but don’t noodle over every blog post as if its your magnum opus. News flash: it’s not. Learn how to write short pieces quickly and editors will love you.
4) Develop a reputation as someone who is willingly edited. Don’t be a diva. Seriously. Give every piece your absolute best effort and then encourage editors to hack away and make it better. Learn to welcome the red pen on your copy. There are times when an editor might edit so much that it removes the spirit of your piece. If so, make good arguments and fight for your perspective. Those times are few and far between. Most of the time you are fighting for a phrase that you think is unadorned brilliance when, in reality, it is pedestrian. Give it up. Let yourself be edited and editors will love to publish you.
5) Carry around a journal or something to jot down ideas. I’m not much for regular journaling. I figured out, a few years ago, that Jesus will still love me and I can still walk with him without having sunlight pages of reflective prose. However, I do keep a small notebook for those times when I’m struck by ideas. I get struck by ideas at odd times. During sermons, during a movie, or other random moments. When an idea strikes, I write it down and I try to sketch out a working outline. Then I revisit it later when I have time to write. Sometimes when I come back to the idea I realize it wasn’t that great. But there are many moments when I find gold in my sudden ideas.