10 Rules for Publishing Articles Anywhere

We frequently publish articles in third-party journals on behalf of our clients. You can see some of them featured in “Recent Client Successes” on our home page (top right). Sometimes people ask us how we do it and we tell them.

But we’ve never published our approach. So in the spirit of an earlier post about giving away the family silver, here it is:

  1. Identify a publication that your target audience reads: You can see a pretty good cross section of venues in “Recent Client Successes” – from general business publications such as Harvard Business Review, Forbes.com and the Financial Times to specialist journals such as CFO.com and Becker’s Hospital Review.
  2. Make sure it accepts submissions: Not all do. The Economist does not, and neither does Institutional Investor, whereas Foreign Affairs does. 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.
  3. Read the guidelines for authors: Most publications that accept unsolicited articles publish guidelines and take them seriously. So should you. HBR’s guidelines ask, “What research have you conducted to support the argument in your article?” That means that an article that is all theory and no proof will go straight into the trash.
  4. 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 just improved by an order of magnitude.
  5. Read some articles in the relevant section: Before you submit an article, you should try to understand what the editor likes to publish. Remember, she won’t publish your article to do you or your firm a favor. She’ll publish it if it adds value to her journal. If you don’t know what she values, you haven’t a hope.
  6. Gather any other intelligence you can: We know that HBR is keen on articles about Big Data right now. How do we know? Because one of us asked an editor we bumped into at a meeting. And we know from experience that Forbes.com puts a premium on articles that play off newsy topics. These are insights that are hard to come by if you aren’t in the business of publishing, but they are nice-to-haves if you can get them.  
  7. If possible, (or if required by the guidelines) submit a proposal: Of course 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 his or her attention with a topic and an angle that comply with the preceding points. But do it with a proposal before you waste time and effort writing a draft that’s off-the-mark.  If your proposal is compelling, the editor will tell you what she wants to see in a draft.
  8. Take pains to make it sing: Unless your name is Clayton Christensen, poorly-written submissions will be turned down. The editor has neither the time nor inclination to re-write something (or even wait for your re-write) 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, at least have your article professionally edited.
  9. Web publication goes faster: It generally takes us six months to a year to ready an article for publication in the print edition of HBR. That includes the time spent polishing the concept, writing the proposal, doing the research to support the article’s argument, and writing (and re-writing) the draft. However, we just had a seven-part series published for a client on HBR.org. The first was posted within days of submitting all seven parts, and the remaining six have been published at the rate of one a week. Gratification, if not instant, can be a whole lot faster today.
  10. Never give up: Just because one editor turns down an article doesn’t mean the piece is no good. It just means that this 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 pretty straightforward. However, most people don’t succeed at it. Even the online edition of Forbes rejects on average over 95% of submissions, while the print edition of HBR rejects nearly every unsolicited article it receives. The reason (they tell us) is almost always the same one: the content isn’t good enough.

So this is the process we follow, and it works for us. We believe that the more closely you follow it, the better your chances that 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 elsewhere on this site.

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