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Get Paid For Penning Your Two Cents
by Jennifer Brown Banks

Are you opinionated? Informed? Do others often seek your advice?

You may have the makings of a column writer! Newspapers, newsletters, websites, and consumer magazines all thrive on the entertainment and insight provided by columnists.

These in-the-know-writers serve as the “voices of authority” on everything from food, to fashion, to sports, to relationships, to current events.

Columnists typically choose their own topics or area of expertise, and pen their perspectives daily, weekly, or monthly, depending upon the frequency of the publication.

What’s really great about this type of gig, is that it allows a good degree of freedom of expression, and generally requires less mental muscle and time than other writing assignments, due to shorter word counts.

(Columns typically range anywhere from 300-800 words.)

HOW TO GET STARTED:

  • TAKE INVENTORY — What do you do better than the “average Joe”? Or have an extensive knowledge of? In other words, if you were to appear on the game show Jeopardy, what would your “category” be? Cooking? Gardening? Music? Relationships? As literary experts often advise-- “write what you know.”
  • DETERMINE YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE — Who will you address? Do you enjoy connecting with creative artists? Sharing game highlights with sports enthusiasts? Serving senior citizens? Sharing advice with single moms? This will determine your tone and approach.
  • DISCOVER YOUR VOICE — How will you reach your readers? What is your communication style? Are you philosophical in nature? Funny like the late Erma Bombeck? Introspective?
  • THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX — Put a new spin on old subjects or themes. Differentiate yourself.
  • DECIDE THE “TAKE-AWAY VALUE” — What’s in it for your readers? Will you educate? Entertain? Inspire? Will you offer enough uniqueness to sustain a regular “following”?

HOW TO GET THE GIG:

  • DO YOUR HOMEWORK — Read and study current columnists. Observe their techniques. What touches you? Makes you laugh? Challenges your way of thinking? Moves you to anger?

    It’s virtually impossible to create a column without reviewing what’s currently out there, and why it’s being read. It’s like taking a test without being prepared.
  • BRAINSTORM — Jot down a few workable ideas and angles.
  • PICK A TOPIC — Not just any old topic, but ideally the one that you’re passionate about, or possess great knowledge.
  • CHOOSE A CLEVER TITLE — For example, a gossip column by Dan Case could be called “DAN DISHES THE DIRT.” I have a review column that plays on my name and describes the column type called “JEN RECOMMENDS.”
  • BE BRIEF BUT SUBSTANTIVE — Remember that columns are typically quick reads.
  • START WITH AN ENGAGING OPENING PARAGRAPH — Set the tone early. Editors are busy people, and generally won’t spend a great amount of time assessing your work.
  • OBTAIN WRITER’S GUIDELINES — They are typically available via the publisher’s website, just the same as articles and other creative contributions.
  • DRAFT A LETTER OF INTEREST AND PITCH YOUR IDEAS — Which publications are likely to feature your style of commentary? What voids can you fill?

    Take a look at some of your local publications and start there. Draft a letter of interest to the managing editor stating your area of focus, and why you’re suited to write a column.
  • PROVIDE SAMPLES OF YOUR WORK.

WHERE TO GET IDEAS:

  • TV Programs
  • Current Events
  • Water-Cooler Conversations
  • Celebrity Gossip
  • Family Dynamics
  • Personal Experience/Relationships
  • Results of Polls, Studies and Surveys
  • Arts Scene

THE BENEFITS:

  • The opportunity to build your portfolio and publishing credits.
  • Monetary compensation. (Though not always in beginning.)
  • Flexible hours and the convenience of working from home.
  • Name recognition.
  • Feedback from readers, who also help to build a fan base.

WHERE TO LOOK FOR OPPORTUNITIES:

  • JOURNALISM JOBS.COM — Lists all media related work by category and region.
  • CRAIGSLIST.ORG — is an online bulletin board/community where you can find work, or post your services offered.
  • WOODENHORSE PUBLISHING.COM — Lists all start up publications and their freelance requirements, launch date, and circulation numbers.
  • GENERAL INTERNET SURFING UNDER YOUR TOPIC OF EXPERTISE — Try Google or Yahoo.

Got something to say?

Why not pen your thoughts, enlighten others, and perhaps make a difference along the way!

© Copyright 2006, Jennifer Brown Banks

Jennifer Brown Banks is the former senior editor of Mahogany Magazine. She holds a B.A. in Business Management and blogs at Penandprosper.blogspot.com

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