What is a Contributing Author and How to Become One
Reading an article, you might have come across the byline “contributing author or contributing writer”. Left befuddled, weren’t you? We interviewed a Forbes contributing author to tell you all about it. This article answers all your burning questions surrounding contributing writers and discloses how to become one. We make it easier for you to decide if becoming a contributing writer is the right choice for you.
With various designations in the writer’s domain, contributing writers may add to the confusion. But today, becoming a contributor is in vogue. These people are thought leaders in their respective disciplines or are niche-specific writers who follow, study, and present avid readers with facts, opinions, developments, and predictions.
Becoming a contributing writer is a high yielding and gratifying career path. It offers you the right exposure, a way to educate people and a voice to your thoughts. If you have the slightest itch to put your ideas out there or have a knack for the art of writing, this is where you begin.
What is a contributing writer?
As the name suggests, contributing writers are either writers or thought leaders, or both, who do not work fulltime with a publication but convey their wisdom through their niche-specific writings. They are champions of their respective domains, who contribute their ideas and knowledge to provide research-based, first-hand, authentic information. Stick with the term contributor if you want to be more technical.
Benefits of becoming a contributing writer
Becoming a contributing writer is more than earning little extra money. It has a lot of benefits if you work with the right publications. This alternate career path can have a far-reaching impact on your professional life. When you contribute an article, through a platform with a broad reach, you educate masses. Moreover, the freedom to pick your working hours is a perk. The exposure you get helps open opportunities. Here, the information in the “about author” section stimulates this process. This further amplifies your networking possibilities. Alongside getting in touch with publications and editors, you get approached by people with queries related to your writing. Apart from all these, the most significant advantage of becoming a contributing writer is that you get to dive deeper and get a bigger bite of knowledge as a part of the research that goes behind writing a piece.
How to become a contributing writer?
While many online/offline publications allow you to become a contributor writer, Forbes, Huffington Post, Vogue, Vanity Fair, HBR, and Entrepreneur remain the preferred choice.
Here is the step-by-step process laid out by an experienced contributing author:
Step 1: Gain knowledge and experience to give credibility to your knowledge.
Essentially the platforms you choose to write for are knowledge-sharing platforms with an extensive reach. The goal here is to gain their confidence. The first step is to gain the confidence of such a massive readership. This is achievable either by projecting the industry-stricken wisdom you have or through your exemplary niche-specific writing. Therefore, thought leaders must up their writing game, while others, with a significant writing experience, should bring that finesse and bead together arguments and opinions backed by reason. How to do that?
Write for yourself: The first step to woo your readers begins when you take writing as a passion, not merely a profession. Don’t think that becoming a contributor for Forbes or HBR means easy money, but take it as a window for your informed opinion. Ergo, write for yourself to develop a love for the art. When you write for yourself, will you be able to write commercially?
Don’t feed grass to the lion: Your editors and readers will come back for a second read only when they have gained a substantial amount. This is possible when your article/blog is ridden with useful information and is written in the most digestible manner. Firstly, know the niche you are writing for. Knowledge of new and existing research and latest developments will back up the opinions you present. The second step is to build yourself as a writer. A course in academic writing or blog writing must help.
All these steps indicate that before you commence your career as a contributor, it is crucial to emerging as a champion in your bailiwick. They will prepare you for the second step in becoming a contributing writer.
Step 2: Pick a niche or a focus point
You can’t be writing on everything and anything. The goal should be to pick a niche. This niche will give you a focus point to follow, study and write. For instance, the contributor we consulted writes about future technologies and content marketing. However, this is not enough. Being specific about what you want to write allows editors & publications to know that you are an expert in the area with something valuable to offer. That's all they look for- value.
Step 3: Create a sample repository
When you write for yourself or others, you are bound to create a repository of samples. But to make a pitch to an editor of a renowned publication, you only put your best foot forward. The secret to creating the most compelling samples lies in knowing what the editor wants. While they may not be explicitly stated, a thorough read of the published works of other authors will give you a benchmark on the quality of work expected. If you still aren’t sure, here’s an editorial perspective on becoming a great writer.
These three steps help you practically prepare for becoming a contributing writer. The next bunch of steps explain how to make a successful pitch.
Step 4: Get introduced
If you wish to write for renowned publications like Forbes or Entrepreneur, the way is through the editor. Here, editors play a key role. However, it is acceptable that you make a pitch via a cold email/call to an editor that you come across on LinkedIn. But come sense dictates that the pitch is effective only when you get introduced through a fellow contributor. Ask someone with a connection to an editor to introduce you.
As much as prolific writing skills are a requisite, making the right connections is an indispensable part. Therefore, to get introduced to an editor, first focus on building a relationship with a contributor. And hey, finding faults in their blog/article as a way to initiate a dialogue is not how you go about it. You can offer help or first-hand research for a conversation starter. Or maybe, offer them assistance with an interview. This will also give you experience in helping writers with their work process and you may also get quoted. But before you get in talks with an editor, you ought to prepare your pitch.
Pitch and follow: This step is the most important, the most terrifying and here, a lot is at stake. Besides your work, making a pitch is about selling yourself as a professional. The goal of a pitch is to showcase your knowledge, your unique offering and the value you deliver.
Here is how you make a compelling pitch:
- Begin with who you are and why you write for a particular niche. Make it personal but don’t blow your own trumpet.
- Show your contributions to the domain with reference to your previous work. Give titles to articles/blogs in the email and hyperlink them. They should be relevant and must justify your position as an aspiring contributor. Check spelling, grammar and plagiarism before hitting Send.
- Delineate why you write for a niche and lead them to the sample you have written. Instead of copying and pasting the entire thing, give them the link and access to the Google document.
The goal of the pitch should be to show what you will bring to the table.
Follow up: It is only human to anticipate a reply after making a pitch. But you are allowed only one follow up (multiple pings will only irritate someone). So, follow up wisely. Don’t bug them unnecessarily by showing up in their inbox. Wait for a week or so and look if they are active on other social media platforms. Send a follow-up that reaffirms if your mail didn’t end up in the spam folder.
There are many people, just like you, aspiring to become a contributing writer. Thereby, the editor is probably swamped with emails and samples. Moreover, the probability that your competitor is a more dynamic personality is high. In such a scenario, you may not want to rub someone in the wrong way. Ergo, be mindful of your pitch and follow up.
Here’s what our expert has to say
The temptation to contact the editor when you don't get an active response is high. For budding authors, it is critical to resist this. The media community is small, and word spreads fast. You don't wanna destroy your reputation before you've built one.