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How to Write a Blog Post Famous Magazines Would Love to Publish

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Just because you have a blog doesn’t mean you are a great writer. Sorry, but most magazines would reject your content.

You can change that, however.

We’ve all got our favorite magazines (even if they’ve shuttered their print editions).

And we all have those secret desires to see our names in print in one of those magazines. It’s one of the traits of blogging greatness: that sense of psychological unease.

That sense that I am destined for glory. That I must put a dent in the universe. I must leave a legacy.

It’s what drives most of us.

But getting published in a popular magazine is hard. Competition is tough. Only the best rise to the top. So it pays to persevere.

Fortunately we no longer have to stand before the gate of big media to get published.

We can blog.

10 Steps to Content Famous Magazines Would Love

That’s good news and bad news.

The bad news is that blogs now allow people who shouldn’t write to write.  The good news is Google rewards exceptional content creators because their content contributes to the web.

So, while blogging has opened up the playing field by allowing ANYONE to publish–we don’t have to let quality go down the drain by writing just like anybody.

We can write original blog posts with the qualitative content standards of a New Yorker or Wired.

Here’s what you need to do.

1. Deep Research

Fortunately most magazines are online these days, so researching them is easy. But even if you didn’t want to do that you could walk inside your local library and get your hands on a dozen issues of your favorite magazine. Absorb their style, discover their audience.

2. Fascinating Stories

The difference between a Pulitzer-calibre article and your ho-hum one is the depth of the story. The characters are intriguing, surprising. The plot is full of conflict and challenges. Keep your eyes out for stories. I’ve found great stories involving Jack White, Allen Ginsberg and Phineas Gage that I used to great effect in openers.

3. Impeccable Spelling

Unless your article is a once-in-a-lifetime piece, The New Yorker is going to pooh-pooh it if it is riddled with spelling mistakes. What do I mean by riddled? More than one percent of your article is misspelled (that’s 1 word in a 100 word article). Pay someone else to crawl through it if you have to.

4. Mistake-Proof Grammar

You better know how to write a complete sentence, maintain verb tense and build your case cogently through all phases of your post–introduction, body and close (see Humdinger post on great ways to close a blog post). And all the pieces better fit together. Don’t tell a story that doesn’t relate to your audience because you just want to get their attention. This comes with ruthless editing.

5. Original Research

This is the difference between pubs like Huffington Post, Business Insider and Gawker versus pubs like Wired, The Verge and The New Yorker. The former are nothing but glorified content scrapers: someone else reports on a situation and then they [Huff Po or BI] scoop it, quote it and republish it.

The latter spend big dollars on sending reporters to cover stories and uncover information not formerly known. This is the point behind the pub funding site Matter. Do the same.

6. Air-Tight Facts

While most major magazines will do a round of fact-checking, don’t leave it to them to find gross errors in your information. Check, double-check and triple check your sources. If you have any doubts about something–reverify it or leave it out.

7. Unbiased Content

Unless you are sending in an opinion piece to a major magazine, keep your opinions out of the article. However, this is actually one rule that you can skip when it comes to blogging.

The thing about a blog post is that you are injecting your personality into the content–and that is what people are drawn to. They like the way you approach a topic and that you are not afraid to challenge the conventional wisdom. Or perhaps they dig one of your dysfunctions.

8. Beyond Obvious

You could have the most original research. A gut-wrenching beautiful story. Exquisite spelling. Flawless facts. But if your article fails to teach us anything we didn’t already know (or couldn’t figure out after a few seconds with a pen and napkin), then you aren’t contributing anything valuable.

In other words: avoid the self-evident.

9. Ridiculously Specific

Being vague will bore your readers. Tell me exactly how much a U.S. Army M4 Patton tank weighs (52 tons, combat ready) and then tell me that compares to 13 African elephants.

Dig into the five senses: sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste. Bring in vivid colors, rough textures. Make me smell rust, gargle Coke and hear the crash of breaking waves. Rub sandpaper against my forearm as I stare into a golden field of mature corn stalks.

Think encyclopaedic.

10. Credible Expert

Finally, you have to be the authority in the subject. And you have to tell them why you are the authority.

How many years in an industry do you have? What special projects have you worked on that separate you from the pack? What unique experiences have you had that make you the ideal candidate to write on this topic?

This is one that you can develop over time. Your early 10,000 posts are going to be shoddy–but never mind. Those 10,000 posts–and the work that went into writing them–are part of the deliberate practice that carries you to becoming an authority in your field.

Anything to add to this list? Let me know in the comments.

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Comments

  1. 2 and 10. Kapow! Great ones.

    But…avoid the self-evident. What about evergreen content? The self-evident may just be only “self” evident, and someone else might find it new and informative…

    Thanks Demian.

    • Evergreen content is content that is good for the long haul. My Google Reader headline experiment would fall into that category–but it’s totally not self-evident. David Sedaris’ first sentences is another example. I would be insane to try to compete with Copyblogger or CMI’s evergreen content. So my evergreen content needs to be different than everyone else’s. This way you can build links and relationship as you direct people to their content and hopefully vice a versa.

      • Maybe I’m just in a disagreeable mood, but I feel like you can’t teach the kind of writing that goes in the best mags. It’s got that intangible goodness to it…

        “Different, blog-specific evergreen”…awesome concept, I’m gonna work on defining that

  2. I once worked for a Hearst Newspaper – in the digital and marketing departments.

    They hired me in the role of two management gigs… simultaneously – shame on me for walking into the abuse. Ultimately, they saw it worked and generously tacked on a third management gig with no compensation changes or even an attaboy for being the go-to-gun – shame on them – I looked for my exit.

    But before I left, I got to hang around some of the news jocks and the editor. Snooty bunch really, for some reason they think bizdev guys are just shallow contract and ad pushers, butanyway…. They shared a few things that I found interesting. This is circa 2007-2008 intel, but still interesting.

    The Newsroom would bounce things like this:
    1. Can I take a picture of it and can that picture be really really compelling
    2. Can I take a picture of it, but use a really really interesting contrast in the headline or story itself (but still keep the connection)
    3. If no picture can be taken, will it come to life by subject-matter or does it require the brilliance of the journalist.
    4. If the action is here in front, and everyone is seeing the obvious, can I see something interesting happening just off-camera, in the side alley, in the PD’s office or court-room or living room that’s not so easy to spot, but fascinating?
    5. Is it going to upset my advertisers, ad director, publisher or someone important? Awesome, lets make sure its the truth so we can really smile big after the press runs.
    6. Is it speaking to a reader, not the editor or journalists, but the reader.
    7. It’s a 24 hour deadline, make it count.
    8. If its a bust, the press runs again tomorrow.

    I personally didn’t see a lot of evidence that supported any interest in sharing the spotlight with anyone on the outside. Press releases rarely got taken and if they did, they were only used as a lead for a new story angle.

    What I’ve come to learn through my time at Hearst and fine interweb folks like you, Demian, is this:

    1. Most people like to tell their story and will do so if you ask.
    2. Most people have a really great story they don’t know to tell you up front so expect to look for something interesting and draw it out of them – they’ll appreciate going a direction they don’t normally go but is interesting.
    3. Using an authority as the center-piece is always more effective then trying to explain the authority. So whenever possible, don’t explain what Seth Godin would do, ask him, and let him explain what he would do.
    4. Bring it to an actionable place – change a mind, create action, move hearts, create desire. Don’t just inform or opine (unless you ARE Seth Godin).
    5. Be afraid. Make the piece you are writing stretch just out of reach past your comfort zone. Call that A-list source, look for that connection others won’t, and put some of your heart in it.

    While I’ve learned these things, I can’t say I execute them, still working on my big boy britches. But still, I think it’s worth sharing in this context.

    What do you think – on the right path? Chime in…

  3. Demian, love you on Copyblogger, so now I’m here. Intense personality seems to be a hallmark of brilliant writers. The ability to elicit a wince with words alone is not for the faint of heart, and I think it forms the foundation for dynamic use of your 10 steps. I usually describe it as “more guts than brains,” which is not politically correct or conducive to polite conversation. I’m thinking you might be laughing right about now, yes?

    • “More guts than brains” is an appropriate way to think about it. That was one of two insights I stumbled upon when it came to freelance fees. I realized the essential ingredients to charging premium prices were experience and courage. Then it became apparent that’s true for writing as well. The last thing you want to do is fall in with the party line. And thanks for the kind words…it truly means a lot.

  4. This is excellent. May this spread wide and far and inspire writers to actually write an original piece or two. I’ve been guilty of the shallow blog post or two because.. well.. it’s easy. Taking the time to write a well thought out, original post about something you care deeply about and backing it up with solid sources and infusing it with life is not easy. At all. But it’s extremely rewarding. Thanks, Demian, for keeping us on task.

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