Getting published as an author isn't simple. But it's not difficult, either. Every day, hundreds of books are published and thousands of articles go into print. Here's the truth: Some of them aren't that good.
So what's the difference between them and you? They know how to get published.
Before you jump into this world of publishing, spend some serious time growing as a writer. Too many people dream of getting published, because it sounds glorious. Take some time to refine your skill; it'll make what you have to say more meaningful and give you a humility check.
Here are a few quick tips on how to get published as an author:
1. Learn how to pitch. A lot of writers make the mistake of coming up with something they want to say, spending hours or days working on it, and then pitching it to a publication or publishing company. This is backwards. Start with a few loose ideas and contact the publication in which you'd like to be published.
Present your ideas in a way that is a clear win for them; explain how your piece will be relevant to their readership. If you're pitching to a magazine, try following the tips in eHow's “How to Pitch a Magazine Story“.
For book writing, visit the publisher's website or picking up a book on their pitching guidelines. Each publisher has a unique format that they want their authors to follow. Before writing a book, try starting small with a magazine article or blog.
2. Pitch multiple ideas at a given time. Many people I know who get book deals tell me how the idea that they least likely expected is the one that the publishers end up choosing. This is an important lesson: you don't get to decide what makes a good idea. If no one will read your article, then it doesn't matter how good of an idea you think it is, at least not in the realm of publishing.
Staying flexible and humble like this will make you a much better writer and pitcher. Before pitching, gather a few ideas that you think are worthwhile, and try pitching them to several publications or publishers. Keeping several irons in the fire will increase the likelihood of at least one getting published.
3. Be prepared to write and rewrite a lot. For every 100 words that I write, I plan on spending about an hour of editing and rewriting. A piece that runs about 2500 words (the length of a feature magazine article) usually takes me 20-25 hours to write, edit, and rewrite. When you break it down like that, earning a few hundred bucks per piece isn't really worth it. If you are not prepared for this somewhat arduous process, it will be a rude awakening when you come in contact with your first picky editor.
4. Be Persistent. Many of the publications with which I work are bogged down with loads of submissions every month. They don't have time to remember who I am or what I wrote three weeks ago. So, I follow up with them regularly just to check in on the process.
Think of it as the process you follow after interviewing for a job. Checking in weekly (so long as the publisher hasn't communicated otherwise) just to see the status of your submission is a good way to stay in the forefront of the editor's mind. Be flexible and offer to rewrite the piece, if necessary.
Let me them know that other publications may also be considering the piece, and put a little pressure on them to make a decision. For magazines, the industry standard is that if you haven't heard back within 4-6 weeks, they aren't going to publish your piece.
5. Make building long-term relationships your goal. Wherever possible, build relationships with publishers. With many publications, once you have your foot in the door, it's much easier to get a second or third piece published. Capitalize off of your relationships and write multiple pieces for places that have previously published you.
Ask for referrals and look for networking possibilities, so that you can have more opportunities to write and get published. Make it a relational transaction, not a business one.
The most important of these five tips is the first one: if you can learn to pitch well, you'll get an article published. My advice is to keep persistently pitching and not get discouraged. You'll find the right outlets for your message.