How I Got Published on – and How You Can Too

How I Got Published on – and How You Can Too

Seeing your name on top sites and in big publications is a pretty hot feeling. I know that feeling personally. And many freelance writers want to know how they can get their work right in the spotlight. Well, Kelly Watson’s here to tell you just how easy it is – and exactly how to get your work published by some really big names. Go for it!

To date, I’ve had my work published twice by As a freelance journalist, seeing my name in print was nothing new. But each time I announced the Forbes posts on my Facebook page, friends and colleagues reacted with awe.

“How’d you do that?” some asked, as if I was privy to a secret formula that let me create bylines with the wave of my magic wand.

You don’t need a magic wand to have your articles and blog posts published by top media outlets. All you need are a couple of great ideas, a decent command of the English language and the determination to keep working after the rejection letters roll in.

Here’s how I did it:

Know your publication

There’s no faster way to ruin your credibility than to pitch editors a topic that’s completely irrelevant. Prevent this by checking the publication to see:

  • What topics it covers
  • Who writes the articles
  • What style articles are written in
  • How long articles are

I knew Forbes accepted blog posts from freelance writers, so I figured my odds were good. I also noticed that list posts were popular, so editors would probably be open to accepting one.

Craft your query

At the heart of most freelance writers’ professions is the query letter: a one-page document describing the proposed article, how long it will be, what sources it will reference and the writer’s past experience.
If you’re pitching a guest blog post, editors may want to see the finished document before they accept. But be careful – sending a finished article to a magazine publisher is a sure sign of a newbie.

Because Forbes also has a print version, I decided to go the more formal route and pitch the blog post with a traditional query letter instead of sending the whole thing (which hadn’t been written yet anyway).

Send the pitch

Nobody likes getting letters addressed “to whom it may concern.” Do your homework to find out the name of the editor of the publication. If you’re pitching to a magazine, look at the masthead in the front pages of a recent issue. If you’re pitching a website, look for “Editorial Guidelines” or “Contributor information”.

If you can’t find the right information or you’re still not sure who to contact, call the publication and ask.

Never send a pitch to more than one publication at a time. You don’t want to risk getting two acceptance letters and having to turn one down. Editors hate this, and they won’t look kindly upon your future queries.

Follow up

Getting no response could mean that editors didn’t like your idea, but more likely it means that your query was lost in the shuffle.

If you don’t hear back within two or three weeks, follow up with a brief email or telephone call reminding editors of the query and asking them to respond within two weeks’ time. Attach a copy of the original query to the email. If you still don’t hear back, you can either follow up a second time or pitch the article elsewhere.

Review the contract

If editors accept your query, they’ll probably ask you to sign a contract. This contract specifies what rights the publication has to your work and how much money (if any) you’ll receive.

I try to hold publishers to first publication rights – that means they have the right to publish my article first, but I can then sell the content again or post it on my blog. Avoid work-for-hire contracts that take all rights to your work (unless they pay well).

Write the article

Once you’ve signed the contract, you’ll need to write the article. Don’t get lazy – stick to the agreed-upon word count and meet all deadlines. Also, read the article aloud at least once to catch any hidden typos. The less editing you make others do, the more likely you are to land repeat assignments.

If possible, send your article in a few days early. Don’t send it more than a week in advance, however, or it might get filed and forgotten about. I give most editors a call when sending the article to let them know it’s on the way. That way they expect it and can let me know if it doesn’t appear in their inbox that day.

Promote, promote, promote

Once the article has published, do your part to promote it. This builds your credibility and makes editors more likely to hire you in the future. (After all, they benefit from your promotional efforts, too!)

If your article is posted online, link to it from Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts. Leave comments if possible and encourage others to do the same.

If you feel the experience went smoothly, you can ask the editor for a short testimonial. I do this often, and include the responses under the published articles on my website. This way, other editors can see that I’m an experienced writer who always meets her deadlines.

Kelly Watson is a freelance journalist and copywriter who blogs about small business marketing. Check out her site today.

Want more information on successful queries and making it big time as a freelance writer? Grab your copy of Six Figure Freelancing by Kelly James-Enger today.

Post by Agent X

Agent X is the name many mysterious and intriguing people take on when they guest post at our site. Their mission is to slip in like a thief in the night, leave you with entertaining, valuable and useful content, and slip away again - without getting caught.

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  1. Genius article. I was totally stoked when I managed to get my name on (twice!). Not only is it extremely cool to see your name on a high-profile website with a huge readership, but it also looks great on a resume!

    These steps are great. I’ve bookmarked the article and will definitely refer to it next time I make a pitch.

  2. Hi,

    Great advice. Thanks a lot for sharing your experiences. I learned a lot about sending articles to top media outlets from this post.


  3. This is a super useful post. Getting into big name print publications is still a bit of a holy grail for credibility – especially in the market I deal with.

    Totally going to use this stuff. Awesome!

  4. Great post in demystifying the process. I’m certain a lot of people think it’s luck that some writers are selected for prestigious publications, when you show it’s hard graft as well as talent.

    I always find it more comforting to know that success has stemmed from perserverence and hard work rather than luck. It might not be as sexy, but it’s something you can study and if you’re passionate about it, try to replicate.

    Really enjoyed this!

  5. Hi Kelly,

    Fab info for folks. From my own publishing experience, it pays to follow-up. Many times I didn’t hear anything. Instead of acting all depressed and dejected, I followed up. Either the editor didn’t get my article or it got lost in an endless chain of emails. I went on to have my work published almost every time this happened!

    Never, ever give up!


  6. Thanks for the great feedback, everyone!

    @Amy – I agree! The pitching process can take a lot of work, but if you keep at it you’ll eventually get accepted.

    @Giulietta – Great tip. Follow-ups are crucial, especially now that layoffs have left many editors are overworked and understaffed.

  7. Great job! Proud to be so important you should be and I am sure most are.

  8. “If you can’t find the right information or you’re still not sure who to contact, call the publication and ask.”

    This is so simple, it often gets lost in the hyper connected lives we live today. Want to know who you need to connect with? Pick up the phone and call them. Genius.

  9. Howdy

    Forbes is the place anyone will love to get to. My ten yr internet marketing career hopefully will pay off one day so i can be place on the cover of and be recognized by my fellow bloggers.

    “TrafficColeman “Signing Off”

  10. Kelly,

    Is magazine writing something you do as a revenue source or as a marketing/exposure vehicle for your other services(or both)?

    I’m just curious as to how much magazine writers gross, and how much time “on average” goes into that gross value, and if this is something that writer’s can do exclusively and support them financially.


  11. Thanks for that great information, Kelly! Just the sort of stuff I need for my ‘new career.’

  12. @TrafficColeman — the front cover would be great, I agree, but remember the power of a link! I always keep Alexa rankings and other traffic stats in mind when considering who to pitch.

    @Shane Arthur — I do both. I started as a freelance journalist, but most of my paying work now comes from copywriting projects. Magazine writing seems “glamorous” to many but pays very little, if anything … and that has only gotten worse since the fall of the economy and the rise of free sites like Demand Media and Associated Content.

  13. The deeper I get into this whole web thing, the writing, the blogging, all of it, the more I am coming to realize that academic publishing is actually really easy.

    1. Submissions are largely automated now, and even when not, the editors are easy to contact.
    2. You just have to write really, really well, and be willing to revise (almost always necessary).

    I’ve only had one paper outright refused from what bloggers might call an “A List” journal (Water Resources Research, fwiw).

    As long as the science and engineering are done well, it’s easy.

    Of course, a 6-10 page article might take 3 months to a year to prep and write… and the publication cycle is about 18 months… but, you know, those are just the piffling details.

    Thanks for that detail about sending the whole article to the editor. From what I understand, sending the article is par for the course in blogging. I run guest posts and I much prefer to receive articles. I’ve had several people pitch, but they don’t always deliver.

    @The Other James: I agree, “pick up the phone” is genius! I would not have thought of that, not at all.

  14. Nice overview, Kelly–I like how you’ve broken the process into simple steps. I also wanted to say thank you for mentioning Six-Figure Freelancing! I really appreciate it. 🙂 Thanks again!

  15. Great suggestions and insights Kelly. From the outside looking in, for many it can appear as though the process is restricted to employed journalists. Your post breaks down any misconceptions, offers a how-to guide and you managed to combine it with a motivational can-do kick in the pants. Bravo!

  16. @Chad – Very good point that getting published – even once – in a big-name medium can go on a resume.

    @Nabeel – Hopefully you’ll put what you’ve learned to good use as well! 🙂

    @Peter – It’s a very large credibility boost indeed and worth using as a tactic.

    @Amy – Well, there’s something sexy in someone working hard to achieve goals, don’t you think? I know I do. Talk to people who are passionate about what they do, whether they’ve made it or not, and watch their faces light up. It’s beautiful and I’m always a little awestruck when I notice that happening.

    @Giulietta – You got it. Never stop trying. Mmhm.

    @Purple – Would love to respond. Not quite sure what you said.

    @OtherJames – Always makes me grin to see that, you know. And yes. Despite popular belief, phones still work. Amazing.

    @Traffic – G’luck with that!

    @Shane – Were it me, I wouldn’t care much about what I was paid – it’s like a guest post, and most of those don’t pay. Having an article in a publication tends to pay off in marketing, exposure and lead generation.

    But I also get what you’re asking – write mag articles instead of net articles for a living. Can be done, yes!

    @Tom – Now you have me curious about what the ‘old career’ was…

    @Dave – If you think about it, anything you want to achieve is “easy”, really. Know the steps and take action to do them. Most people never bother or try, so their perception is that it’s “hard”.

    @Kelly – Hey, hey! Thanks for stopping by, that’s appreciated.

    @Jay – Bravo indeed. It’s important for writers to realize that they’re anyone’s equal, as long as they have the skills and go out to get what they want!

  17. Really great advice. I think your article is the perfect how-to get published guide. Thanks for the info

  18. RE Dave “I run guest posts and I much prefer to receive articles.” Good to hear from another blogger about this. I’m always curious to see what others prefer. Thanks!

    @Kelly – Echoing what James said. Thanks for stopping by! Your book inspired me to go the freelancing route when I was still an editor.

    @Barry – thanks and good luck!

    @Jay — I’m glad I can make the process a little more approachable for those who don’t consider themselves “journalists.” It’s certainly easier to break in now with the industry being what it is!

  19. Great tips! Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  20. I know it probably makes me look like a complete noob, but I never before considered the idea of pitching a magazine article as a guest post on the online version’s website. It’s simple, but I have to say your post totally opened my eyes to an entire realm of potential markets I never even considered before! Thank you Kelly!

    Justin P Lambert

  21. Molly Gordon says:

    Just had to say hi, Kelly. Great reminder to aim high and do your homework.

  22. I’d like to add my experience to the mix because it didn’t involve a lot of planning or work. Pure luck sometimes factors into whether or not a major publication expresses interest in using your work or interviewing you.

    I pitched a story to NPR about the state of a plastic bag stuck in a tree outside the building where I work. I’d been tracking its condition for over two years on my blog and doing silly things like holding birthday parties for it. It even got a name. I pitched the story to NPR. It was a simple one paragraph pitch, saying that I thought it’d make a good story from the environmental standpoint as well as having a humor angle. They bit. Seems Melissa Block has a thing about stuck plastic bags and when she saw the pitch, I was on-air within the week.

    The day that interview aired I was contacted by the Wall Street Journal. A marketing reporter wanted to talk to me about a video I’d made about how loud the 100% compostable Sun Chips bags are (they are made from a special material that makes them sound incredibly loud). That story hasn’t run yet, but I did do an interview. That came from absolutely no effort on my part. She was simply Googling the topic of “loud sun chips bag” and found me and my blog.

    I just wanted to say that sometimes you don’t have to do much to get that break. The trick for me was to have the right material and pitch in the right place at the right time.

  23. Wow! That’s definitely cool getting published on Forbes! Sorta reminds me of that song that just came out recently, “I wanna be on Forbes magazine, smiling next to Oprah and the queeen.”

    But you’re right, it’s a great accomplishment and these are some really good tips on how to go about that kind of thing, getting published with big companies. I’m sure this will look good on any resume!

  24. I really like these tips and I believe that they can be applied to other situations too. I for one have a hard time running after things like this because rejection really gets me down. I’m not shy at building friendships but when it comes to asking for anything I get really embarrassed. Having this step by step will help me put myself out there more.
    All the best,

  25. Sorry if I missed it, but did they pay you for the article, or was it just a post in their blog?

    Wher may we see these?

    I’m sorry, but if they are just posts, and you didn’t get paid for them…well, never mind. If you are happy with it.

    Best of luck to you.


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