Last week I promised to show you how to go past the “unsolicited article” category of contributors.
The promise arose from Nation Head of Content Peter Munaita’s response to a reader who wanted to know why NMG does not pay for unsolicited contributions.
“Unsolicited article” is a contribution that has not been asked for, is uninvited, and is possibly not unwanted. It is possible to avoid that categorisation.
Not every contributor wants to be paid. If you are in that happy category, there is no need to read on.
This piece is for those who want to be paid for their contributions. It is about the steps you may need to take to become a commissioned contributor.
Although your article may have been unsolicited, it is good to know editors are always soliciting — asking people with deep knowledge, expertise, authority, or relevant experience to contribute special articles that help to illuminate specific issues or problems.
But this is a “two-way street” situation in which both the editor and the contributor can play a part. If you have an idea for an article that an editor is likely to want, you can suggest it to him so that he commissions you to write it.
Then your article moves from the category of “unsolicited” to “solicited” and you become a paid writer.
This, however, takes work, initiative, and an inkling of the kind of material the editor might be interested in.
And, if the editor is not interested in the material you have in mind, then it is your task to get him interested.
The first step is to study the publication. What kind of articles does the publication publish? What kind of articles do regular and commissioned contributors write? You can call this studying the market.
In proposing your article idea, based on the market study, let the editor know your qualifications, interests, expertise, experience, or credentials for wanting to write the article.
Propose to write on subjects or topics in which you are knowledgeable either through experience, observation, research, or study.
Keep a portfolio of your work. You may need samples of your published work, if any, to establish your credentials for wanting to write on a particular subject or topic.
Having good credentials, however, is not enough. You need to pitch your article idea, that is, try to persuade the editor to accept the idea.
The editor will listen if you have a good pitch. One writer has described a good pitch as “short, sweet, and powerful” and which “captures the essence and selling points of your story in a quick and compelling way”.
The last but not least step is networking. You need to know the right people to pitch your article.
You need to know which NMG platforms are most likely to be interested in your contribution and then contact the right editor for the publication or section of the publication.
You can do this by phone or email, or informal social contact. If your pitching is successful, you should agree with the editor on the terms, including the fee to be paid.
Your articles then become “solicited” as opposed to “unsolicited”.
If this is not just a one-off and you intend to continue writing, you should make a point of now and then touching base with the editor. And if you are a good writer you could end up as a regular, contracted contributor.
In the article, Why the editor has discretion to reject, shorten or rewrite letters, published in this column on January 25, we stated that Prof Calestous Juma gained recognition for his letters in the Nation when he was a science primary schoolteacher in Mombasa in the 1980s.
Nation librarian Anniel Njoka informs us that Prof Juma started writing letters to the editor in early 1970s, not ’80s.
“I should know because one year before he died (December 15, 2017), he commissioned me to compile all his contributions in the Nation,” Mr Njoka writes.