How to Get Published

How often have you thought about writing something? Anything? A book, an article, a short story, even a poem. At some time, most people do just that, they think about it. But there are lots of reasons to take action, to get your ideas on paper and share them with others, and this article is designed to help you do just that. Of course, the editors of the Quality Management Forum would like you to consider writing for us, and we want to encourage first-time authors. However, the ideas in this article apply to almost any kind of writing.

 

For most people, just getting started is the hardest part. So let's begin with motivation, identifying a reason for writing that will get you past the thinking stage. Some fortunate few just like to write. They have an intense desire to share their ideas with others. If you are among that small group, you are probably already an author. But if not, let's consider some of the reasons to get started.

 

If you are a frequent reader of the Quality Management Forum, you have probably gotten some ideas that you can use in your own organization. I know I have. One way to repay the favor is to write your own article, sharing your experience or good idea with other QMD members. You can also report on the ideas, activities, and successes of other quality professionals and organizations.

 

As you look at the articles in the Quality Management Forum, you will notice that many have been written by consultants and other service providers. For them, articles are a way to sell their ideas and their services. Reprints of their articles become an inexpensive yet powerful sales tool, much more effective than professionally written, four color brochures.

 

Even if you are not a consultant, writing an article can still bring you and your company recognition. Just knowing that thousands of quality professionals around the world are reading your words is a good feeling. Around the world? Sure. For example, I recently received an E-mail from the People's Republic of China requesting permission to translate and reprint the QMF article series on Quality in Sales.

 

Getting published can also enhance your credibility within your own organization. This is especially valuable if you are trying to sell senior management or your peers on your ideas. They look much more effective when they appear in a newsletter, magazine or newspaper than in an internal memo or proposal.

 

Writing for professionally edited publications such as the Quality Management Forum can help improve your writing skills too, and the ability to communicate effectively in writing is one of the most important in business today. The feedback you get from professional editors can help you hone your writing skills while you share your ideas with others. Just remember not to take editorial feedback personally.

 

Whatever reason you pick, it has to be one that motivates you to take the time and maybe a little risk to get your ideas on paper. If you are not sufficiently motivated, you won't finish your writing project. If you don't finish, you won't feel good about yourself, and that defeats part of the purpose of writing.

 

Part of getting motivated is to pick a topic in which you are interested, and about which you have something of value to say. Of course, you could pick a topic foreign to you and do lots of research. But it is much easier to begin with a familiar subject, one where you have knowledge or experience worth sharing with others.

 

It also helps to select a publication or a class of publications before you start. In the quality field there are well over two dozen magazines, journals, and newsletters. Of course, the Quality Management Division publishes the Quality Management Forum, and every other Division has a newsletter as well. Most ASQ Sections also publish a monthly newsletter. These newsletters are a great place to get your first article published. Also consider writing a paper for the next Quality Management Conference or World Conference on Quality & Improvement. Although finding a place to get your work published may sound like a daunting task, remember that every magazine or the newsletter has an editor who has to find good articles to fill their publications. Editors have deadlines, and they need your timely work.

 

After selecting one or several publications to target, the next step is to get a copy of their Author Guidelines. These guidelines will provide structure for your work and may save you from making revisions later in the writing process. In addition to article length, author guidelines will give you information on format, photographs and illustrations, and how to submit your article. (Click Author Guidelines on the previous page to view QM Forum guidelines) You can also call the publication's editor to see if there are any topics of current interest that you can address or special issues coming up on the editorial calendar.

Reading your target publications will also give you an idea about what they want. But don't stop there. Read the best business publications as well. Publications such as Fortune, Forbes, Business Week, and the Wall Street Journal will give you ideas on writing style and topics of current interest.

 

If you haven't started already, now is the time to begin gathering your thoughts and ideas. Write them down as they occur to you. Unfortunately, if you are like me, your best ideas may come at inopportune times such as when you are exercising, taking a shower, driving, or lying awake in the middle of the night. To capture these ideas, keep a pencil and notebook handy. Put a pad of paper by your bed. Write down your thoughts immediately. To me, nothing is more frustrating than to have a bright idea and then forget it before I can get it on paper.

 

You may also get ideas as you read business and professional publications. Keep a pad of Post-itTM notes handy. Highlight the quotation or idea and put a Post-itTM note in the page with a few key words. It won't take long before you have a file of ideas that you can use. Just remember to give credit to the authors and include a reference in your bibliography.

As you accumulate ideas, you may think of an expert to quote or a historical references to use in support of your ideas. Before you do, it is imperative that you check every item for accuracy and provide references. One of two things happen when facts and quotes are misstated. You lose credibility with those who know the facts, and you perpetuate myths among those who do not know. Neither is an acceptable outcome.

 

With a topic, collection of ideas, and target market in mind, the next step is to assemble your writer's tools. For some people, this is as simple as a yellow pad and a box of Number 2 pencils (with erasers of course), but with today's software, almost everyone uses a personal computer and a full-function word processor. Full-function includes spelling and grammar checking capability and a good thesaurus. It also includes document and readability statistics. More on these statistics later.

If you are really serious, consider buying more software writing tools such as the American Heritage Dictionary and Correct Grammar. Not every publication provides help with copy editing, and you certainly don't want spelling, grammar and punctuation errors in your article. If you would like to dictate your copy, consider one of the new voice recognition programs such as IBM's Voice Type. You can dictate to your computer from a working outline. It's faster, and encourages you to write in a conversational voice.

 

It's still not time to start writing yet, but you're getting close. Now think about your audience. Put yourself in the position of your intended reader and think about what you would want and need to know. If you are writing for the Quality Management Forum, remember that each year 25% of QMD members are new to the Division, and many of them are new to quality management as well. They need information on the basics of getting started, and they may not understand our quality jargon. On the other hand, some of our members have been around since the Division started. They are more interested in advanced quality techniques and leading edge applications.

 

The last step before putting ideas on paper is to write an objective for your article and put it where you can see it. I usually type it at the top of the first page and refer to it often. To keep it visible, you can also write it on a Post-it and stick it on the edge of your computer screen. Keep referring back to it, and it will keep you focused. (By the way, the objective of this article is "to provide potential authors with an incentive and sufficient information to create articles of interest for QMF readers.")

All right, now you can begin putting your ideas on paper. However, unlike quality, doing it right the first time might not be a good idea. For some writers, trying to write the perfect sentence or paragraph is a sure path to writer's block. Here are a couple of approaches to avoid that problem.

 

I begin reviewing those notes and references that I have been accumulating before getting started. I sort them into categories, and each category becomes a section in the article. Then I begin at the beginning, with a split screen, my list of ideas and references on one side and my draft on the other. For each category, I write a topic sentence and then fill in the details.

 

My partner has a different approach, one that would probably get the approval of writing instructors everywhere. She creates a topic outline first. A good word processor will help out here with an outline style. When she has a solid outline with all of the facts, her next step is to write a sentence for each outline topic. These topic sentences form the backbone for her work. The outline sub topics fill in the details.

 

As you fill in those details, remember to keep your writing as simple and easy to read as possible. That is not always easy to do in the quality field since we have a lexicon filled with long words and complex ideas, but you want your work to be read, and keeping it simple will do that.

 

Earlier in the article, I mentioned the document and readability statistics found in the more powerful word processors. Here is where they come in handy. Check your work from time to time to find out just how readable your copy is. My personal objective is to keep the readability around a 10th to 12th grade level. While you are checking readability, look at the number of passive sentences. As a personal objective, I try to keep those below 10%. Active sentences are easier read and make your copy much more interesting.

 

Even with all of these ideas, you may get stuck from time to time. Most writers do. Just stop for a while, take a break, and put your copy aside for a while. Your subconscious mind will keep working on it, and you can get on with other things. When you come back, the block will be gone, and you will be refreshed.

 

After your piece is finished, put it aside again. When you read it again tomorrow, you will find lots of changes you will want to make. As you review and revise your work, keep looking for ways to take words out or use smaller, simpler words. Try to make sentences shorter and easier to read. Remember, you are trying to communicate your ideas, not impress readers with the size of words and complexity of sentences you use.

 

Making your writing interesting is more that just using a conversational writing style. Make it come alive with specific examples and stories. Theory is fine for academic publications, but most quality managers and professionals want real world examples. Remember, Tom Peters got rich and famous telling stories. Leave the theory to the academics.

Here are some questions that you can ask yourself as you reread your final work product. After reading your article, can your readers do something that they could not have done before reading it? Do they have information that they can use to sell an idea or project to their peers or senior executives? Does your article meet the objective that you set for it when you began writing?

 

If it meets these tests, you are ready for feedback. If you are lucky, you will have a spouse, friends, or business associates who will read the piece and give you good feedback. Just remember, feedback isn't personal, and it will help you express your ideas in ways that will be easier to read and more meaningful to others.

 

Now, go back to those author guidelines and see what your target publication is expecting to receive from you. Virtually all of them will want an electronic copy. If you are sending it on a diskette, the editor will probably want a hard copy as well, so he or she can see how you think the article should look on paper. Microsoft Word is virtually an industry standard. If you aren't using that, the next best thing is ASCII text format.

 

Before you put it in the mail, it is a good idea to put the copyright symbol on your work. Many publications will allow you to retain the copyright, and this will give you the right to have it printed in more than one publication. It will also encourage people wanting to make copies to contact you for permission.

 

Now you are ready to put your diskette and hard copy in the mail and wait for results. You may be fortunate and have your article accepted with little or no change. The publication may also respond with suggestions for major revisions. Don't despair. Your ideas have been accepted but may need some polish or reorganization.

 

If your work is not accepted, you may get feedback from the editor telling you why. If you do not, call the editor and ask for the reasons. In many cases, the rejection is not a criticism of your piece. It just may not fit the publication's editorial calendar or theme. Just remember, the odds are in your favor. Those editors do need your work.

 

As you can tell, there is more to writing than just picking up a paper and pencil or sitting down at the keyboard. However, it can provide a great deal of psychic income and maybe even financial rewards. I hope you will consider joining our other Quality Management Forum authors in sharing your ideas and insights.

 

Finally, this article is not intended to be the definitive work on publishing major works. For that, I refer you to Judith Applebaum's classic work, How to Get Happily Published. It is in its fifth edition and has sold well over 250,000 copies. You can find it in virtually any bookstore or on Amazon.com. Good luck and good writing.
 


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