Successful columnists understand their readership and deliver timely, useful information to satisfy their cravings. Craft columnists publish creative ideas well before each holiday season begins. Technology columnists publish gadget reviews that overlap product launches and promotions. The ability to instruct and inspire readers is essential for an aspiring columnist.
Hone Your Skills
Columns are ongoing publications and require persistent innovation from their writers. Aspiring columnists need experience meeting deadlines, generating thematic ideas and writing in a consistent style. Starting an original blog in a niche subject area can display your creativity and work ethic. Completing writing jobs on freelancing sites such as oDesk and Elance can also build your reputation and portfolio. Attending writing seminars, conferences, and workshops can also improve your skills and provide networking opportunities. Asking an established columnist to serve as your mentor can provide you with a sounding board and ally along your journey.
Find Your Voice
Effective columnists stand out from their competitors. Broad subject areas are no excuse for delivering generic content. A classic example is how twin sisters Pauline Phillips, aka Abigail van Buren, and Eppie Lederer, aka Ann Landers, approached their respective advice columns. While “Dear Abby,” penned by Pauline, featured snappy comebacks and one-liners, “Ask Ann Landers,” penned by Eppie, offered more congenial, comprehensive advice. Both advice columnists gained loyal audiences and acclaim while sticking to their individual styles. There is no way that "Dear Abby" and "Ask Ann Landers" would answer the same question in the same way. Reading columns in your genre can help guide your tone.
Create Sample Material
Preparing sample columns that appeal to your target audience can give publishers a better sense of your abilities and vision. Publishers desire columns that will keep readers reading over numerous installments. Writers don’t get kudos for thinking up interesting ideas with short shelf lives. Matilija Press recommends compiling at least a year’s worth of ideas for a monthly column and three months worth of ideas for a weekly column. Be sure to pick engaging, memorable names for your column titles.
Advancing into column writing involves taking calculated risks. National Society of Newspaper Columnist Archivist Dave Astor shares insight on becoming a columnist in an article published on Columnists.com entitled “How to Be a Columnist.” His suggestions include transitioning into column writing from other journalism roles, driving interest for your work with blogs and approaching local and national publishers with strong pitches. Journalism is a competitive, dynamic field. Waiting for managing editors and publishers to contact you is counterproductive. Developing solid sample columns along with a strong portfolio can boost your chances when pitching to local or national publishers. Results speak for themselves while intentions often fall short of promises.