The Basics of Being a Contributor

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Many of the magazines I read include a feature that highlights their contributors. Contributors can be regular writers used by the magazine for every issue to more freelance writers to those who contribute a submission one time. It’s always interesting to read the brief bios and learn a little about the contributor. I’ve been a contributor on all levels in many mediums and you can do it, too. There are two main ways to become a contributor; you can be the one to approach a company or they can approach you.

The first and easiest way to be a contributor is to approach the media outlet, whether it is an online newsletter like Creative Income, a TV program like Creative Living on PBS, or a consumer magazine like Woman’s Day. All you need to do is study the medium, get a feel for its themes/topic matter/editorial calendar and find a “hole” or need that medium might have. For Creative Income, you should submit an idea that has a focus for earning income using creativity, for Creative Living you’ll need a segment that visually shows information about any aspect of the home, and for Woman’s Day the reach is even broader with a theme of a woman’s place in today’s world.

1.) First, a query letter is submitted to the editor, producer or director. Outline your idea. State why the idea is a good fit for the medium. If you can, submit a visual or two with your query letter and outline. It’s a good idea to allow at least 2 weeks for your submission to be received and reviewed. If you haven’t heard back by then, either call or e-mail your contact person. Schedules vary as does the process of reviewing and accepting queries, so don’t be disappointed if you are told you’ll have to wait a few more weeks. Also don’t be disappointed if your query is turned down or rejected as it’s often the timing that matters. Your idea may be brilliant, but if it doesn’t fit into the medium’s needs within the next 6-12 months, there is no need for the medium to hold onto it until a use can be found (not very practical, that’s all).

And don’t let one rejection stop you from submitting your query to another medium. Many of my projects have been turned down over the years, but picked up by another magazine or manufacturer. No need telling the new contact that they just accepted a rejected query, just smile and ask when your deadline is!

2.) The second way to become a contributor is to position yourself as an expert. This takes a little time and effort, but the payoff is huge. Even when I first started in the creative industries over 25 years ago, I knew my first love was for the crafting beginner. I wanted to create great projects that were easy to understand, yet helped build technique, confidence, and passion for a craft. I wanted to be the beginner’s expert. And I followed that passion even when everyone else seemed to become artists and advanced technique experts.

I was a little surprised one day when a publisher called me in a panic wanting me to drop everything and help bail out a book that should have been done months earlier. It was a painting book for children authored by a brilliant painter. My first response was that I was a craft painter and anything I did would look like it was created by a child rather than the polished, sophisticated painting the current author had mastered. They didn’t care, they paid me well, and the book was a success for everyone. Many years later I ran into the painter who thanked me profusely for helping with the book. The painter explained that it was an impossible task to create simple, yet fun painting projects. The painter, an expert, could not design for the beginner. By promoting myself as a designer who loved creating fun, exciting beginner projects I opened the door to work with a publisher in need and that reputation spread leading to some really great chances to contribute to other’s books, designs, TV shows, and more.

The most important aspect of becoming a contributor is taking action to make that goal happen. Few of us can afford to sit around hoping to an e-mail or phone call asking us to submit a query or idea for a project.

Got a great idea for Creative Income? Got a project you know would make a great magazine article? Have a how-to video that can teach someone a technique? Don’t just sit there waiting …

By: Maria Nerius, Resident Craft Expert

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