For the past twenty years, I have had a regular newspaper column somewhere. The papers have changed and so have the subjects but I have held a steady place as a newspaper columnist. Meeting weekly deadlines and writing tight copy helped hone my skills as a writer. I’ve yet to have an editor turn down a proposed column by doing my homework before making the pitch. Here’s how:
Know thy market. Choose a particular newspaper and become a regular reader. Be familiar with the paper’s tone, layout, and regular features.
Find a niche. If a newspaper already runs a book review column or a family matters column, don’t pitch another version of the same. Put on your thinking cap to find something new, a different slant that isn’t found in the pages of the paper.
Be original. The first regular column I had was a book review column in a weekly paper that had never run book reviews. In fact, the editor didn’t even think his readers would be interested but he gave me a shot and readership soared. Other columns have included my take on current events, a look back at the 1970’s, and history as viewed through my family’s experiences over several generations.
Don’t be demanding. Pitch your column in person if possible or by letter if you must but be polite, be brief, and hook the editor with the first sentence.
If you gain a regular column gig, don’t miss deadlines. Keep the copy coming and keep it high quality.
One of the things that would-be columnists don’t understand is that weekly (or daily) deadlines return with speed. Coming up with fresh, new ideas on a regular basis isn’t as easy as it may sound. My trick to avoid burnout is to write several columns when the muse is user friendly and to jot down every idea for a potential column so I have more than one topic to choose from.
When I gained my first column, I had nothing but a few clips, chutzpah, and determination. Any writer who is willing can do the same!
Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy is a freelance writer who currently lives and works in the Ozark Mountains. Her work – including newspaper columns – has appeared in numerous publications.