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How To Become a Syndicated Columnist: 7 Simple Tips for Writers

Allison Spooner

If you want to work in journalism but like expressing your opinion more than the facts, you might make a great columnist. And if you’re a columnist who wants to build a career, you might be interested in syndication. 

So, you want to know how to become a syndicated columnist? Just like any writing career path, being a columnist has its ups and downs and there is a certain amount of preparing that needs to be done before you get “picked up.”

Let’s take a look at the world of column syndication so you can decide if it’s right for you.

What is a Syndicated Columnist?

A syndicated columnist is a writer whose columns appear in multiple newspapers or publications at the same time. Think Dear Abby and Dave Barry. Mitch Albom has a column called Tuesday’s With Mitch and many politicians have popular columns. 

A column becomes syndicated when a syndicate, an agency that sells the writers work, sells the column to one or more publications. The big three national syndicates are King Features, Creators Syndicate, and Tribune Media but there are also smaller agencies you can also work with. 

Think of the syndicate like an agent for a writer. 

  • Once the syndicate agrees to work with the writer, they distribute the column to possible publications 
  • The outlets, or publications, then decide if the work is right for them
  • Once a column is picked up by one outlet, it’s possible that it becomes popular and is picked up by more 
  • The outlets pay a fee to the syndicate to use the work and the syndicate splits that money with the writer based on an agreed-upon split 

How to Become a Syndicated Columnist

But how do you get started, find a syndicate, and make sure your work is good enough to get picked and make money beyond the first sale? These next tips will help. 

1. Write Well and Frequently

This might seem obvious but, if you want a chance at becoming a syndicated columnist, you need to be a good writer. So study, practice, get feedback, and then do it all again. When you’re starting out, write whenever and wherever you can, about anything. This contradicts advice we’ll give here shortly, but hang tight…all will be revealed. 

By the time you’re looking to submit, you should have your work in at least 10-15 different publications. Local publications are a great place to get started. Look for publications that don’t have anyone writing in an area you’re interested in. The more you write and submit, the more clips you will have to build a portfolio. 

2. Stick to a Niche or Theme

If syndication is your dream, you’ll eventually want to pick a niche or a theme. Whether it’s politics, family life, entrepreneurship, or baking, it will be easier to build a readership and a reputation if you stick to one niche. 

Having a specific niche will allow you to focus your energy and expertise into your chosen field and will make you more attractive to audiences and publications. 

3. Know Your Target Audience 

This is where the previous tips will really start to come in handy. If you’ve got a niche and are writing locally and seeing a good response, you can start to narrow down your target audience. Once you narrow down that audience, learn everything you can about it! 

  • Average age 
  • Goals 
  • Pain points and challenges
  • Are they parents or grandparents (maybe pet parents!)
  • Where do they vacation

You get the idea. Knowing as much as you can about your target audience will be important as you move forward. 

4. Develop a Brand 

Now that you know everything you need to know about your target audience, it’s time to build a brand that will be there for them. Being a writer, particularly today, isn’t just about the words on the page. Your readers are going to look for you online. They’re going to see if you practice what you preach (no matter what that is). They’re going to want to come to you with questions about your niche (because by now you’ve established yourself as an expert). 

If you build a brand your readers can trust, you’ll put yourself in demand, and editors want writers who are in demand. You will also give yourself the ability to make money beyond the fee you get paid for syndication. 

If you have a strong brand, everything you put out into the world will be in demand. You could create courses around your niche or write a book. You could start booking speaking gigs and reach an even wider audience. Having a strong brand before you get picked up will make you more appealing, but continuing to build that brand will be an asset for the future. 

5. Find a Syndicate or Explore Self-Syndication

Before you’re ready to start down the road to syndication, you’ll want to consider how you approach it. You could use a syndicate agency like we mentioned earlier or you could choose self-syndication. The difference between going through an agency and self-syndication is akin to the difference between traditional publishing and self-publishing. 

An agency or syndicate will utilize their existing contacts and resources and do the work of finding and pitching potential syndication opportunities. They will also take a (sometimes large) portion of your profits and have a significant amount of control over your career. 

When you self-syndicate, you do the legwork and research and outreach yourself but you keep profits and control. Carefully consider your goals and explore all your options before making a choice. 

6. Understand Analytics

To help yourself stand out in the world of journalism today, you should not only understand your audience, but your analytics. Where does your audience spend time? How many reads did you last article get? When you post online, how many times does it get shared? If you can come to a syndicate or publication with these numbers, you’ll be able to prove they should pick up your work. 

7. Understand Emerging Platforms 

By understanding and keeping an eye on the latest emerging platforms, you can stay ahead of the trends your audience might follow. This doesn’t mean you have to be on all the platforms, or that when a new platform is introduced you need to create an account. It does mean that if you think your audience might make the move, you should be ready to as well.

This also means publishing your work on the newest platforms. We all know print isn’t confined to the page anymore so you should be publishing digitally and exploring online options for publication. 

How Much Does Syndication Pay?

There is no easy answer to this question. A columnist at a newspaper will get paid a salary if they are on staff at that paper or publication. When you’re syndicated, you sell your work to the syndicate and they distribute your work, paying you per placement. This might pay between $4 and $35 for every paper your column appears in. 

This is why it’s a great idea to use the tips in this article to not only explore how to become a syndicated columnist but how to build a brand that will allow you to make money beyond a column. 

Getting syndicated isn’t an immediate road to riches but it is a great way to get your name and words out into the world.

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