I have recommended many times in this blog that IT pros who want to raise their professional profile should consider blogging.
There are a couple of ways of doing this. You can create your own site and blog about technical issues and provide the link to that site within your resume. Prospective employers can then get an idea of the depth of your technical knowledge in a way that they might not be able to in an interview.
You can also blog for an online media company, like TechRepublic. (I have posted my email address in various places on the site for anyone who might be interested in such an opportunity.) When I have posted that we need writers in a particular category, I've gotten a tremendous response from a wide range of people. It really is exciting for me as an editor to have so many different voices to feature on our site.
However, I've also seen IT pros who express an interest in writing make a few tactical errors. I thought I would offer some tips for folks who might want to take the writing plunge, not just for the purposes of TechRepublic, but for any site or publication for which you are submitting a sample. You may think that writing is something anyone can do if they know the subject matter, but there are some tips you should take note of if you plan on having a fruitful relationship with a publishing or media company.
Familiarize yourself with the site/publication
Just as you must know something about a company at which you're interviewing, you should also know about a site for which you want to write. It sounds like common sense, but you would be surprised at the number of submissions I get that are either off the mark topic-wise or that cover something that has already been written about.
In other words, don't submit to a site for IT pros if you want to write about Bill Gates' charity work. It's not the same thing.
Search the site for your topic before you pitch it. No one wants to revisit something that's already been covered.
Learn the writing style
TechRepublic publishes original pieces on our Blogs door. After you read a few entries, you'll realize the blogs are conversational, not formal, pieces of writing. So don't send in research paper-like stilted pieces of prose with footnotes. (Yes, that has happened.) Let go of what you consider to be a good piece of content and see the kinds of things that are already being published where you want to publish.
There are lots of things you can learn just by reading the site's content. What is the average length of a blog? Do you see a big use of underlined passages or sections of bold for emphasis? No? Then don't put them in your submission. Are the titles all caps or just initial caps? Make note and follow that lead when writing your piece.
Speaking as an editor, if you send me a submission that doesn't fit my site's format, it shows me that you want to write for you and not for the site. No publishing or media company is going to change its business model and editorial vision to suit one writer's style.
It really doesn't take very long to look at an existing piece to get an idea of the formatting. Also, most sites and publications will provide you with a specific set of editorial guidelines if you ask.
These tips may sound trivial, but remember, you're dealing with editors. Some, like me, have been doing this for 742 years, and these details are important to us. We're weird that way.
Prepare a writing sample
In the case of TechRepublic, we get enthusiastic responses from a lot of people who want to write for the site. But then something extraordinary happens. We ask for a writing sample and about 90% of the responders disappear from the face of the earth. I'm not sure what the explanation is other than some people who are interested in writing don't quite understand that a writing gig requires that they, uh, actually write.
Don't argue with the editor
If you pitch a topic to an editor, and it gets turned down, don't try to argue your point. You may feel vehemently that a certain technology is God's gift from heaven, but editors know what their audience wants to see or what they respond to, and they also may be privy to company-wide business directives that you may not know about. If the topic has run before and garnered no page views, then we're not eager to follow up with more content on it. Don't presume to know more about our product than we do.
I do freelance writing on the side. If I have a piece rejected, I would never in a million years ask an editor to explain to me why. I might ask for clarification, so I'll know how to write my next piece, but I would never ask for justification for a rejection and then try to argue my side. As in any contractor relationship, an editor has a job he or she wants you to do, and they need it done their way.
Learn from your edited piece
If you can't learn from what others are writing on a site or in a publication, then learn from your own published pieces. It has been my experience that very few writers ever look at their published pieces, or if they do, they don't recognize the editing that has gone into it.
So what happens is the next time that writer submits a piece of content, it has the same problems the first one did — too much fluff, the wrong formatting, etc. For an editor, it gets tiring working with writers who don't want to improve. A little conscientiousness goes a long way with winning your editor's heart. And winning your editor's heart goes a long way toward long-term writing contracts.
Publishing is its own business, even if the topic that is being written about happens to be in your specialty. When you decide to write, you aren't just an IT pro — you're an IT pro who is submitting content to a business for publication. That means it should not be the same kind of content you would put in your personal blog.
Also, as part of a professional relationship, it's important to honor your agreements to submit content in an agreed upon timely fashion. If an author misses a deadline, he or she not understand the ripple effect this might have on the whole process, which goes back to my video about the Alone in the World syndrome. Writing may be a sideline for you, but for the publication you're submitting, deadlines are there for a very good reason.
Just remember, if you sign on to write a blog, it is a commitment, with deadlines and deliverables, and not just a career whim.
(For more information about the world of blogging, click on Rick Vanover's "10 things you should know about bloggers and blogging.")
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Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.