Publish or Perish: How to Get Published

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Do you enjoy writing? Would you like to get published but not sure where to begin? Getting published, whether in a journal, newspaper, or even on your own blog, can be rewarding in a variety of ways. It can help establish you as a thought leader. It can increase your exposure to potential clients and business partners. It can lead to inquiries from other publications, seminar developers, and the media. It can help you stand out amongst your peers and establish you as an authority on a subject.  It also gives you content to reuse for client handouts, your website, and social media posts. Writing can be satisfying, but getting published takes some strategy and planning.

“Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.” – Seth Godin

What to Write About

There is so much to write about, but the best content is focused on the audience you are trying to capture. Articles can inspire, educate, amuse, and make a point. Lawyers have a lot to say, but who you are writing for is as important as what you are writing about. The best writing helps to address a pain point, with practical guidance and specific information to help the reader. To make your writing interesting try leveraging current events and popular culture. For instance, you could write about the tax implications of being the biggest winner in the history of Jeopardy! Or how Star Wars explains constitutional law. Or defense strategies for the characters in the next season of Big Little Lies.  If your audience consists of non-lawyers, then it is essential to provide context and examples that bring the content to life.

When choosing a topic, there are several ways to leverage data insights to ensure your content is relevant. The publishing platform JD Supra provides dashboards, trend alerts, and writing tips to help lawyers write content that resonates with a particular audience. You can also mine from your own frequently asked questions from your clients (or the questions you wish they asked). You can look at websites like the Justia Blawg Search in the “recent search terms” to see what people are searching for in legal blogs. You can look at Google Trends to see popular searches locally, nationally, and internationally.  If you do have your own blog or website, check the analytics for keywords searches and the most popular posts.

Ideas for articles sometimes crop up at inopportune times. Create a method to keep a topic list so that you can capture inspiration when it strikes. This could be a physical notebook like Aqua Notes for your shower or the RocketBook reusable notebook, an app like Evernote or OneNote, or telling Siri or Alexa to add ideas to a list.

Identify Where You Want to Be Published

There are many places to get published, but you must choose wisely to see the best return for your efforts. Choose authoritative publications and those with high traffic. Publications like The American LawyerLaw Technology Today and Trial Magazine are great examples of popular, high traffic, attorney-focused publications. The North Carolina State Bar Journal invites the submission of original articles. You’ll want to reach out to popular publications with lots of unique visitors each month. There are specialty publications that provide you with opportunities to win new business. In-house counsel publications such as ACC Docket and Inside Counsel are key examples.

To begin to identify the right publications to write for first, consider the target audience. Publications geared towards other lawyers may be a source of referrals, but what publications are read by your potential clients? Do you want to focus on regional or national publications? For instance, the Carolina Journal provides news, commentary, and analysis of North Carolina politics and policy. The Triangle Business Journal covers news in many industries such as real estate, transportation, and health care in North Carolina, as does Business North Carolina magazine. There are hundreds of publications focused on a particular industry, like the ones from the North Carolina Bankers Association. Almost every profession has a corresponding professional association with periodicals, and you can find them in the Directory of Associations or do a search in NC Live for periodicals based on keywords.

National, regional, and local newspapers are often looking for columnists or contributors with subject expertise. Check Google News to unearth hundreds of newspapers or check the listings at W3newspapers.

Once you have identified some periodicals to write for, you can often find readership and circulation numbers in the media kit, in the advertisement section, or in the masthead.

Your submission doesn’t always have to be a featured article. You can write a column, an interview, or a review. If a publication has its own staff writers, they may take submissions for Op-eds or letters to the editor. For instance, the ABA Journal solicits essays for the Your Voice section of the online magazine. Young lawyers and law students should look into submitting content to writing contests, such as the Ed Mendrzycki Essay Contest conducted by the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Lawyers’ Professional Liability or any of the many law schools and legal association opportunities.

Writing for the NCBA

Unsolicited articles and suggestions for articles are welcomed and can be submitted directly to rrawlings@ncbar.org for consideration and, where applicable, distribution. The North Carolina Bar Association has multiple venues wherein articles might appear, including NC Lawyer magazine, NCBarBlog (Featured Posts and the blogs of Sections, Divisions, and Committees), and the Association and Foundation websites. The CLE department also publishes books and you can submit a book idea, contribute a chapter, or offer to update an existing work. Visit “Other Resources” on the NCBA CLE website and find out more about becoming an author.

Find this article and more in the February 2020 edition of North Carolina Lawyer magazine online.

The Power of Syndication

While most newspapers and periodicals have an online counterpart that can be unearthed in web searches, there are other publishing outlets that focus on gathering, syndicating, and distributing articles to a target audience. For instance, Mondaq and Lexology solicit articles for a fee and then focus on getting subscribers to the content for you. JD Supra is another pay-to-play resource that helps to get your content to a broad audience. If you have your own blog, consider getting it syndicated through LexBlog and certainly submit it to Justia’s Blawg Search for expanded reach. You can also use Justia’s Blawg Search to identify legal blogs on hundreds of practice areas and request to provide a guest post on popular, active blogs.

Pitch and Follow Through

Once you have identified publishing outlets that have the desired audience and reach, you will need to pitch your idea. Most periodicals will indicate if they take article submissions and the mechanism for submission. That information may be in the masthead, in the “About” page, in the editorial calendar, or simply by emailing the editor. First, read a few issues of the publication to understand the tone and type of content they typically publish. Then pitch your idea to the editor. Editors of popular publications can receive hundreds of pitches a day, so make sure you get to the point, show how your content will provide value to publication, and provide cites or links to any of your relevant prior publications.

Once an editor accepts your proposal, it is imperative that you meet expectations. There may be submission guidelines that require the use of a specific style, such as AP or Chicago or Bluebook. Does the publication use footnotes, endnotes, hyperlinks, or no references? Be mindful of any word count limits. No editor wants to have to whittle down an article from 10,000 words to 5,000. The word count is often based on space and page limits and is not arbitrary. If you do write a longer piece, you can always let the editor know you have an expanded version of your contribution. If another writer falls short or if your submission seems ripe for a multi-part serial, your efforts may be rewarded.

Keep in mind that the timelines for a print publication are quite different from a blog or online-only publication, and you may have to wait for some time to see your writing in print. This may include rounds of editorial review. Meet deadlines and provide responses to requests for proofing and reviewing in a timely manner.  While there may be an editorial team, you should edit and proofread your submission prior to turning it in. Be prepared to turn in a short bio, headshot, and links to your social media profiles such as LinkedIn and your Twitter handle.

Reprint, Recycle, Repurpose

You want to leverage your efforts in as many ways as possible so check with the editor about post-publication rights. Many publications will let you repost, republish, and reuse the content you provide for them after the original material has been published. In some cases, you may need to include a copyright permission statement. Avoid publishing with entities that claim exclusive ownership of your content.

Once your content has been published, let the world know! Post links to social media, reference it in press releases and blog posts, and add it to your LinkedIn profile in the Accomplishments – Publications section. Depending on the copyright, you may also republish the content on your site or as an article on LinkedIn, always referring to the original publication. You can use it for materials for CLEs and client handouts. If the publication is prestigious, they will often offer (for a fee) to give you full-color reproductions of the article for distribution.

Conclusion

If you want to get published, first determine your goals. Is it to get business, gain stature in the legal community, establish your expertise, or simply because you love to write? Next, determine where you want to get published that helps you meet your goals. Once you have proven yourself a good and reliable author, you will likely be asked back and become sought out by other editors. Writing is a great way to establish yourself in the legal profession and can be done at any stage in your career. It just starts with an idea.