We frequently publish articles in third-party journals on behalf of our clients. Sometimes people ask us how we do it, and here are the steps we give them:
- Identify a publication that your target audience reads: For a good cross-section of publications, check out the work examples on our home page. We’ve submitted client articles to a range of venues, from general business publications such as the Harvard Business Review and Forbes.com to specialist journals such as Contract Pharma.
- Make sure it accepts submissions: Not all do. For example, the Economist does not, and neither does Institutional Investor, whereas Foreign Affairs does. The HBR print edition does, but the vast majority of the articles it publishes are solicited by its editors from favored authors, reducing your already slim chances of being published there.
- Read the guidelines for authors: Most publications that accept unsolicited articles publish guidelines and take them seriously. So should you. HBR’s guidelines say, “It’s not enough to know your subject deeply—you have to prove it to the reader. Referring to supporting research is one good way to do this; describing relevant examples is another.” That means that an article that is all theory and no proof will likely get rejected.
- Look at the editorial calendar: Not all journals publish an editorial calendar, and even those that do don’t always stick to them. But if you are crafting an article about leading teams, and your preferred publication is planning a special issue on leadership three months from now, your chances of getting published there have just improved by an order of magnitude.
- Read several articles in the relevant section: Before you submit an article, try to understand what they like to publish. Note the topics they cover and the style they use. Do most articles start with an anecdotal lead? Include research data? Provide three named examples? Your submission should mimic their style. The more oven-ready it is, the less work the editor has to do to prepare it for publication, and the more likely they are to accept it.
- Get your submission in front of the right person: Most publications have a general email address for submissions. But those are typically monitored by lower-level staffers or interns who receive dozens to hundreds of submissions a week. To avoid going straight to the slush pile, you need someone who can get your article in front of the right editor. If you don’t know such a person, work your network to find someone who does. LinkedIn can help.
- If possible (or if required by the guidelines), submit a proposal first: It helps if you know the editor and can test an idea on the phone or over lunch. But if you don’t, and you can’t, you can still get their attention with a proposal. Before wasting time writing a draft, send them a pitch that summarizes your main point and how you’d support it. If your proposal is compelling, the editor will tell you what they want to see in a draft.
- Take pains to make it sing: Unless your name is Jim Collins, a submission that needs a lot of editing will be turned down. The editor has neither the time nor the inclination to rewrite something that reads as if it were written for a college class. The way you learned to write in school will not cut it, no matter how good a writer your professor thought you were. If you are not a professional writer, have your article professionally edited.
- Web publication goes faster: It generally takes us six months to a year to prepare an article for publication in the print edition of HBR. That includes the time spent polishing the concept, writing the proposal, doing the research, and writing (and rewriting) the draft. However, articles for the online version are usually published within days of us submitting them. Gratification, if not instant, can be a whole lot faster online.
- Never give up: Just because one editor turns down an article doesn’t mean the piece is no good. It just means the editor at this publication doesn’t see its value. Another editor at another publication may. So, by all means, try and try again. The rewards are worth the effort.
This process is straightforward. However, most people fail at it. Even the online edition of Forbes rejects an average of 95% of submissions, while the print edition of HBR rejects nearly every unsolicited article it receives. The most common reason (they tell us) is they can’t tell what the author is trying to say.
So this is the process we follow. It works for us, and the more closely you follow it, the better the chances it will work for you. But make sure your content is good before you try. For advice on how to do that, there are dozens of articles about content development on our site.