Do you long for the recognition, prestige, and consistent credit of writing a column? Several years ago, I’d published many articles but felt a column was way out of reach. To get one, I was sure you had to be up there with the three Bs: Buchwald, Barry, or Bombeck.
But you don’t. Editors are always looking for knowledgeable, entertaining, dependable columnists to fill their ever-recurring white space. And columns hold many advantages for your writing career. From my own column-writing experience (“The Starbucks Chronicles” in Absolute Write; “”Bloom Where You’re Writing” in Coffeehouse for Writers/Pen and Prosper; contributor to Author’s Blog in Author Magazine) and interviews with several active columnists, I’ve identified the many perks of column writing. Here are eight.
This guest post is by Noelle Sterne. Author, editor, dissertation and writing coach, and spiritual counselor, Noelle Sterne has published over 300 pieces in print and online venues, including Author Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Children’s Book Insider, Funds For Writers, Graduate Schools Magazine, GradShare, InnerSelf, Inspire Me Today, Pen & Prosper, Romance Writers Report, Textbook and Academic Authors Association, Transformation Magazine, Unity Magazine, Women in Higher Education, Women on Writing, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer. She has also published pieces in anthologies, has contributed several columns to writing publications, and has been a volunteer judge for Rate Your Story. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, Noelle has for 30 years assisted doctoral candidates to complete their dissertations (finally). Based on her practice, her handbook addressing dissertation writers’ overlooked but very important nonacademic difficulties was published in September 2015 by Rowman & Littlefield Education. The title: Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles. In Noelle`s previous book, Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011), she draws examples from her academic consulting and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. Visit Noelle at her website: trustyourlifenow.com.
1. The column gives you the freedom to write what you really want to.
Most of us write in other genres, with specific conventions. A column lets you “breathe” a little more. Shelley Butler (“Still a Kid at Heart“) observes, “My column in Once Upon A Time [book reviewing] allowed me the freedom to write in a more conversational way than I can in nonfiction articles or a book.” I agree. Columns have given me the opportunity to share not only writing craft techniques, tips, and advice, but also philosophy, spirituality, and even a little fiction.
2. The column gets you to write, polish, and submit regularly.
Writers notoriously have trouble sitting down and staying put to write. When we know the column must get out, we get to it, shut out temptations, and ignore distractions. A bonus: the practice carries over to our other work. Paula Morrow (“Like a Child,” Once Upon A Time) comments, “The disciplines of meeting a regular deadline and a specific word count are essential.“
3. The column gives you a showcase.
You demonstrate to your editor and audience that you can be counted on to produce. “Columns demonstrate some of the best traits of a good writer,” says Hope Clark, founder, editor, and editorial columnist of Funds for Writers, “consistency, creativity, reliability, dedication.”
4. The column builds your name recognition and reputation.
Your name appears steadily in front of an audience. Dennis Hensley, professor of writing, book author, and veteran columnist for 30 years (Sales Builder, Writers’ Journal, Advanced Christian Writer), knows a column’s publicity value: “Being a columnist gives mecontinuous byline exposure.”
For playwright and screenwriting columnist Christina Hamlett (“Effective Screenwriting,” Writers’ Journal), the visibility builds a strong following, essential in publicizing her professional services, workshops, and books. Aaron Lazar (“Seedlings,” Voices in the Dark) points out that a column gives you direct connections with readers, especially when you add your contact information and news of your latest publications.
5. The column gives you credibility and validation.
You build a sheaf of credentials that, like the showcase, demonstrate you are trustworthy and able to deliver steady, quality work. “Editors, readers, agents, and publishers love that in a writer,” notes Hope Clark. And the guaranteed publication, payment or not, gives you a recurring boost, material for clips, and added notches on your writing bio.
If the editor decides to end your column or the publication closes, as has happened to all columnists quoted here, myself included, it is not the end. You now have the experience and column clips announce (boast) to the next editor. Your columns will be worthy testimonies and, in addition to your brilliance, may well land you the next column you crave.
6. Individual columns can be revised, repackaged, and resold to other markets.
When you’re attuned to the markets in the column subject(s), you’ll discover additional venues. After revising several segments of my “Starbucks Chronicles” column, I published them in print and online writers’ magazines. Some of my Author Magazine blogs, slightly altered, have appeared in other publications. Your columns too, freshened and refurbished, can find new homes.
7. A series of columns can make a book.
Think of the columns as book writing in very short chapters. Dennis Hensley reports, “One year I wrote 12 consecutive columns for Sales Builder. Then I made each column into a chapter, adding sidebars, reading lists, and test questions. My resulting book, Staying Ahead of Time, was published by Bobbs-Merrill.” Whew!
8. The column can get you additional writing assignments, invitations, and sales.
With your strategically placed bio/website/blog/contact information, you invite readers to explore more of your work. Such “free” marketing is invaluable and can lead to new opportunities. Christina Hamlett has often obtained invitations for other columns and critiques of clients’ screenplays. Dennis Hensley’s columns (and books) have led to addresses at more than fifty international writers' conferences, with many repeat visits. Hope Clark has garnered ongoing speaking engagements based on her column and books.
So, when you’re considering a column, remember these eight perks. Now, research the markets in your chosen subject area. Go ahead; do a draft. Screw up your courage and pitch to the editor(s). Whatever the first initial of your last name, you might even rival the three Bs.
Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- The one big reason some blogs succeed and most fail.
- How to create an effective synopsis for your novel or memoir.
- Chapter 1 cliches and overused beginnings -- see them all here.
- Here are 7 reasons writing a novel makes you awesome.
- New Agent Alerts: Click here to find agents who are currently seeking writers.
- Download a year's worth of writing prompts right here.
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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer's Digest and author of the popular gift bookOh Boy, You're Having a Girl: A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.