Over the years I’ve spoken to a number of authors who say they aspire to write a syndicated column. Getting syndicated is a great idea, albeit a challenging one. If you’ve thought of this no doubt most (if not all) of your competition has too. But don’t let this discourage you; while syndication may take a while, it’s still worth pursuing.
There are a number of tried and true ways you can enter this market, there are also a few “back door” methods that might work equally as good. The first thing you’ll need to do however is get to know your competition. For this I recommend that you get a copy of The Editor & Publisher Annual Directory of Syndication. Sometimes you can get this in bookstores but I’d recommend just ordering it online at http://www.editorandpublisher.com. Explore this book carefully and you’ll find that syndicated columns are listed by both the syndicated service that offers them as well as their topic. This will give you a good starting point in your research and since most newspapers now have on-line archives, you’ll be able to explore past articles and see how these topics differ from your own.
Once you’ve explored this, define for yourself how your topic/angle is different from the ones you found during your research. Then once you’ve defined this, you can start targeting papers or syndication services with your query letter and sample articles. This is the traditional way of entering this market. For most it can be long and tedious and you might find that without prior “clippings” to offer them, the process takes even longer. In that vein, I’d recommend that you try offering your column locally first or to one paper at a time but not in a “syndication deal” but as a filler; newspapers will be a lot quicker to take filler items than to explore syndication options with you. By offering them consistent filler content (and saving those valuable clippings) you’ll start to grow your level of experience, you’ll build a reputation with the editor or editorial staff and you’ll begin to get a sense of what does and doesn’t work with printed media. An associate of mine did this, not with a local paper but with a paper she’d been offering her articles to, and after about two years of consistent submission she may be in line to fill the shoes of their in-house syndicated columnist who is retiring.
Once you have built some exposure for yourself and gathered clippings of your work, then it’s time to start pitching your topic to syndicated services (some of them are listed below) or regional newspapers. For this you’ll need a great query letter establishing your credentials and explaining why your idea is different from the others they might be considering, you’ll need some sample articles (other than your clippings) and perhaps some letters of reference from some papers you’ve worked for. Submit this packet to newspapers or syndicated services that might be appropriate to your topic and then keep good records and do your follow-up just like you would if you were pitching the media on anything else. The same rules apply really, pitch and follow-up and stay on their radar screen.
So, at the end of the day when you find yourself successfully syndicated will you get paid for all your hard work – absolutely! What you’ll get paid varies depending on how many papers feature you and whether you are working through a syndication service. Syndication services are great but they will typically take 40 to 50 percent of your sales. If you self-syndicate you get all the proceeds. While it’s great to do this, keep in mind that you’ll need to have good tracking systems in place once your column takes off.
As an already published author, syndication can be another great way to promote you and your book. Your book will lend you the credibility you need to get that column and from this ongoing printed exposure some lucrative publishing deals could follow suit. Syndication may not be an easy road but if tackled correctly, can be a great way to boost your promotion, expand your platform and get the kind of exposure you only ever dreamed of!
Major syndicates – check online for their submission guidelines
Copley News Service
Universal Press Syndicate
BONUS TIP: If you’re trying to follow the comings and goings of syndicated writers, Editor and Publisher (http://www.editorandpublisher) is a great resource for that. Check out the “Departments” tab on their web site for the latest news on columns that might be coming available!