It’s happened – an editor is interested in receiving an article from you. However, that doesn’t mean it’s a done deal.
Write something interesting, engaging and unbiased, and he’ll publish your work – get it wrong and your words will be filed in the ‘trash can’.
With that in mind, here’s what our experience of ghost-writing copy has taught us:
1) Stick to the Script
A synopsis has probably already been written to secure the placement, so it stands to reason that the finished article follows this outline. Many of you reading this will think that’s ‘stating the bleeding obvious’ but I’ve read enough articles over the years that don’t even have a passing resemblance to the pitch that means it’s worth repeating!
Similarly, if the Editor has offered a word-count, don’t ignore it. While no-one expects you to be bang-on 800 words, there is usually only a 10% leeway either side. Again, experience tells me there will be someone reading this who will have offered a 1,000 word prose for a 500 word placement!
It’s also worth reiterating that deadlines aren’t plucked out of the sky. Ideally stick to the Editor’s timeframe but, if something comes up and you’re going to need more time, ask for it as early as possible. There’s nothing more irritating then being told at the last minute something won’t be ready on time. Actually there is – not telling someone and waiting for them to find out for themselves!
2) Plan Your Piece
Before you put pen to paper (or start typing) scope out what you want to include in your article – remember, every good article has a beginning (introduce the theme or argument of the article) a middle (the issue or argument) and an end (a conclusion, summarising the key take-away and ideally a call to action).
It also helps the natural flow of the piece if there’s a progression through each element being covered. As illustration – there is a problem; this is what happens if you ignore it; and this is what you can do to stop it being a problem.
Remember, editors – and so by association readers, love statistics – but they’re useless if you don’t reference whose research it is. After all, anyone can claim that eight out of 10 cats like something – but if you don’t know who said it, how do you know it’s true. Similarly, if it’s an independent study or a respected individual, it will carry more weight than a popular cat food vendor’s claims. That doesn’t mean as a vendor your research is worthless – you just need to make the case for why it shouldn’t be ignored. And sample size is king – if we return to cats who like fish, if you offer 10 cats the choice or 1,000 which sample is likely to yield the better results?
While on this point, most publications like text to include hyperlinks to external reports, quotes or other material – or include these details as a footnote. If in doubt, check with the publication to determine its preference.
3) Don’t Speak Geek
The IT sector, and security particularly, is full of acronyms and phrases that get Sheldon Cooper hot under the collar (you know – the tall one from the Big Bang Theory.)
While you might understand why limiting “buffer overflows, HTTP header vulnerabilities, binary or non-ASCII character injections, and exploits such as SQL injection, XSS, and worm attacks” is important, there’s a lot of people who wouldn’t.
Similarly, don’t be condescending.
If you’re unsure, research other articles published by the title to determine the right technical tone to take. If in doubt, ask – that’s what account managers are for.
4) Offer Practical Advice
Lots of the Editors we speak with like practical articles that include top tips, best practice and step-by-step guides – i.e. the five things that, if done, will help solve an issue, secure a network, or even write a good article!
Be clear in what you’re asking the reader to do and don’t assume prior knowledge, even of simple tasks. If there’s an order, or priority, label it as such. Include warnings of what not to do, things that can go wrong or even consequences of not following protocol correctly. And link to additional reading or supporting material where further help and assistance can be obtained.
5) Don’t be Biased
This is the golden rule of ‘editorial.’ While it’s tempting to talk about your product and how it perfectly addresses the challenge end-users face, this is the most common reason that an article is spiked (that’s publishing speak for ‘binned, canned, or filed under trash.’)
It’s okay to talk about how a technology or solution addresses an issue, as part of a wider balanced article – just don’t make it the only focus for your piece, definitely don’t lift the text from your datasheets, and never ever name it.
Hopefully that helps next time you’re asked to produce an article.