From Zero to Forbes: How to Get Your Writing Featured on Big Time Publications
My story is long, but I’ll keep it short.
I began writing on Medium almost two years ago. Because of my writing on there, I was able to snag a spot as a regular contributor to a mid-level blog in my niche (social media & content marketing). After that, I used my writing as leverage to eventually land my column (Social Media Made Simple) in Inc. Magazine’s Inc.com.
Today, I’m in the process of ironing out a book deal, I’m about to speak at Canada’s largest social media conference (Social Media Camp), I’ve been featured on the largest podcast in my industry, and my business has soared as a result of the personal brand I’ve been able to build.
For those who don’t know me well — I don’t say this to brag. I say this to give you context for what’s possible for every person reading this article. Today, I’m going to show you how you can do the same exact thing.
We’re going to discuss how you can go from creating social media content and content for your blog to writing for the top publications within your industry. Whether that’s Forbes, Poets & Writers, TechCrunch, Hubspot, or something totally different.
My hope for this article is for it not to be just another article. I want it to be a playbook. I want it to be the guide you reference when you’re trying to get published or interviewed on your favorite podcast or snag the public speaking spot you’ve always wanted.
Now, let’s get to it!
When it comes to getting featured or becoming a regular contributor on a big time publication, here’s what people think the process looks like:
You create content, send it to a large publication, and it gets published.
Now for some reality. Here’s what it actually looks like:
You create content on open, free platforms (social media, your own blog, etc.) on a very specific topic, and you keep doing it…
And you keep doing it…
Aaaaaaaaaand you keep doing it…
Then, you start creating content for SLIGHTLY larger publications in your niche, and you keep doing it. You do this by using your previous work as leverage — as proof of your dedication, knowledge and skill in your area.
And you keep doing it…
After that, you begin contributing to even larger publications.
Finally, you scrape your way to the ‘top dog’ publications in your niche.
From there, things start to click and get a hell of a lot easier. More opportunities ( for book deals, larger clients, public speaking spots and more) begin to finally come your way.
Note: I’ll let you in on a secret. For the past two years, I’ve only missed 5 days of writing. Tomorrow will probably make it 6, but that’s another story. Either way, that’s a lot of writing!
Remember, this process is going to take a long time and a ton of hard work. That being said, I’m extremely confident that the process will take less time if you follow the tactics laid out in this article.
Learn from MY mistakes — you don’t have to make the mistakes yourself.
The Main Point
After a ton of failures and missteps along the way, I’ve distilled how to make it to big time publications down into one simple statement, and if you remember nothing else from this article, I want you to remember this:
If you want to land a spot on a large publication, then pick a niche, pick your social media platform(s), and be proactive.
Now onto the nitty-gritty…
1.) Pick a niche
For creative individuals, this is a tough pill to swallow. I know. As writers and content creators, we want to write about anything and everything.
We want to be able to create content on any topic that comes to our mind and expect others to somehow discover it, read it, share it, love it, and then shower us with compliments and not-so-cheap champagne.
But just think about this for a moment…
If J.K. Rowling published an article tomorrow about how riding unicycles will save the world from destruction, millions would read it. Millions would share it…
But the only reason they would is because, at FIRST, J.K. Rowling was really amazing at ONE thing: writing the Harry Potter books we all know and love.
Similarly, if Arnold Schwarzenegger published an article tomorrow about how it’s absolutely necessary that kombucha be served with every McDonald’s Happy Meal, millions would read it. Millions would share it…
But the only reason they would is because, at FIRST, good ole Arnold was really amazing at ONE thing: lifting weights, and then putting them back down.
You see what I mean here? If you want real business results, you HAVE to start small. Plain and simple. There’s just no other way to cut through the noise in the age we live in if you don’t have one million dollars to spend on advertising.
I know it’s tough because it was hard for me to ‘niche down’ as well. Social media marketing isn’t the ONLY thing I love.
I would LOVE to write about the impact LeBron James has had on my life and northeast Ohio (where I grew up).
I would LOVE to write out all my screenplay ideas on Medium or my Inc. column.
I would LOVE to write about WWI.
And I can. And I do. Just not here. Not in the spotlight. Not where my brand is out in the open. The timing just isn’t right.
Once you do a terrific job at building an audience based around your specific niche, then people will want to listen to the other things you have to say — to the other interests you have.
Until then, stay in your lane!
How to pick your niche:
When it comes to selecting your niche, starting with the following statement is important.
Why? Because a niche should be able to be summarized in a single sentence. A simple statement.
So here’s the template I use for myself and all my clients:
“I want to be the go-to authority on [insert your niche] on [insert your social media platform(s) of choice].”
For example, on Medium, my goals when I started out were simple: I wanted to be the go-to authority on social media marketing on Medium.
This statement is powerful. It liberates you by making your decisions a hell of a lot easier to make. Anything that isn’t getting you closer to your goal, closer to fulfilling that niche, is extraneous and should be deprioritized.
Take a long time to fill in this statement. In a way, your personal brand is your business. Because of this, spend as much time doing this as you would to develop a business plan.
If there’s too much competition, then ‘niche down’:
Let’s say you’re trying to grow your influence on Medium. Let’s also say that you really are passionate about self help. As we all know, this genre is very competitive, and borderline saturated, on Medium.
But that doesn’t mean you should shy away from your passion. Instead, simply ‘niche down’…
Sure. There are thousands of people trying to be the go-to authority on self help on Medium, but how many are trying to be the go-to authority on self help for millennials on the platform? For divorced parents? For baby boomers? For veterans?
The sky is the limit here. There is always opportunity in your field as long as you know how to strategically ‘niche down’ when necessary. Narrow your focus and target audience and you can eliminate your competition as a result.
2.) Pick your platform(s)
No one uses Google+ but this graphic was the coolest I could find.
When it comes to this topic, you’ll hear a million different opinions.
Some insist you should be on EVERY social media platform.
Others say you should hone in on one or two.
Others are still on MySpace.
While I do realize one size doesn’t fit all — I tend to side with the second option above.
Why? Simple — because focusing on one or two platforms is MUCH more realistic than thinking everyone is going to be active on ALL platforms. I’m here to make things simpler, not to make them more overwhelming for you.
People are busy, and it’s already difficult enough to build an audience on ONE social media channel.
Choose one or two platforms you’ll actually be okay with investing a lot of time and energy into. To find out which one to select, start by asking yourself the following question:
Which social media platforms do you enjoy the most? Which one do you find yourself scrolling through late at night? The ones you know the in’s and out’s of. Focus on those platforms. Even if they’re just a LITTLE conducive to your brand, focus on them.
Because the reality is you’re going to have to put in a great amount of time/effort into your content on these platforms. So stick with one or two of your favorites.
Pro Tip: For more information on which social media platforms would be best for your business, check out this article I wrote. It was written over a year ago, so some info may be outdated but most is still relevant.
Another Pro Tip: Another factor that should go into your decision-making is opportunity. Keep an eye out for ripe opportunities within the social media landscape where you can gain widespread attention early on. Keep in mind, this doesn’t necessarily mean an entirely new social media channel! It could be a new feature — just because you’re too late at being the go-to authority on dog training on Facebook doesn’t mean you can’t be that go-to authority on Facebook Live.
3.) Be proactive
Here’s where the magic happens…
The key to getting published on your favorite publication, to landing your first paid speaking gig, to getting featured on top podcasts is all the same: be proactive. Be the person to reach out, first. Don’t wait!
Many get this backwards (I know I did), by thinking every writer on a top publication, every interviewee on a top podcast and every speaker at a conference were so good that they never reached out to anybody. That everything came to them.
I’m here to say that that’s bullshit — plenty were the person to reach out first, myself included. Once you have a couple speaking engagements, articles published, or podcast interviews under your belt, THEN others will start to come to you. Until then, be shameless.
Once you’ve picked your niche, picked your platforms and have a large portfolio of content, you should do the following:
Gather a list of potential publications, small to large (I’d recommend at least 20). Put the email addresses in an Excel sheet or Google sheet.
Perfect your ‘elevator pitch’ email giving reasons why your work would be a great fit for the publication you’re reaching out to — this should include links to your top work. In this pitch, don’t focus on yourself — instead, focus on the value your info will bring to the AUDIENCE of the publication.
Use Canned Responses on Gmail to make sure you’re spending your spend wisely.
Send it out!
The key here is to treat outreach like you would the opening line for a date. Be clever. Be calculated. Be strategic.
Pro Tip/Side Note: Neil Patel has a really cool trick when it comes to getting featured as a guest blogger on publications. Subscribe to the blog you’d like to be featured on. When they post about a topic of interest to you, reach out to them via email asking if you can write a ‘follow up’ to that article. Be sure to explain to them why your content would provide value to the audience of the publication.
As an example, if you’re a fitness writer and your favorite publication just published a piece on how to prepare for a marathon, reach out to the editor. Explain to them what you loved about the article and how you’d like to write a piece on how you prepared for your first half marathon or triathlon.
Here’s the deal:
This process is going to take a lot of dedication, persistence and grit. That being said, if you can hone in on a specific niche, be strategic about the content you create and be scrappy with your outreach, then the opportunities available to you today are truly endless.
Follow this blueprint. Tweak it where you need to based on your particular situation, provide value and the rest will come to you.
I really hope you enjoyed this read. I loved writing it and am thankful for your time and attention :)
Over to you: What has your experience been when it comes to this? What are the hurdles you experience most often? I’d love to help!