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Contributing writers are writers who are not employees of a publication. Instead, a contributing writer contributes to the publication on a freelance basis. Another term for a contributing writer is a freelance writer. If you'd like to become a contributing writer for a publication (or many publications), there are a few things you need to keep in mind.
Have a good command of the English language. In order to become a contributing writer, you need to show your editors and publishers that you have a strong understanding of word usage, punctuation, grammar, style and tone, among other things. If you're a budding writer, acquire a copy of Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style," and keep it at your writing desk. There is a link to this book in the "Resources" section below.
Get some experience. No matter how strong your writing is, an editor needs proof. This can't come through in your e-mail or letter (although it can help), so you need to provide clips (copies of previous work) or links to your previous work that appears online.
Learn how to write query letters. Query letters are the letters you'll send to potential editors, asking for their permission to write a certain article for their publication. If you don't know how to write a powerful query letter, find a copy of "The Writer's Digest's Guide to Query Letters." This will teach you the proper techniques for contacting publishers. There's a link to this book in the "Resources" section below.
Study the publications you want to write for. Whether it's a newspaper, magazine, or web site, you need to become completely versed in their style and tone. You can't do this successfully with just one issue of a magazine — read at least four back issues in order to have a good understanding of the publication.
Study submission guidelines. Writers' guidelines vary from publication to publication. You need to familiarize yourself with the guidelines for each individual publication you want to write for. Print out the guidelines and put them in a notebook so that you can refer to them before submitting query letters or your actual writing. Some publications will allow contact via e-mail, while some require that all contact be done by postal mail. Sending your query or work the incorrect way is a sure-fire way to get yourself on the "do not hire" list.
Develop a thick skin. No matter how strong your writing is, and how much some editors love you, there will come a time in every writer's career when an editor sends you a rejection letter. In fact, in the beginning of your career, you will likely see more rejection letters than acceptance letters. Don't allow this to discourage you from writing. Instead, write more. Write daily, and send out query letters at least once a week.