How Do I Become a Columnist?

M.C. Huguelet

Many aspiring writers and journalists dream of someday having a column in which they can discuss the topics that most interest them. If you want to become a columnist, following a few tips may help you realize your goal. First of all, columnists must be excellent communicators, and you should therefore take every available opportunity to polish your writing skills. Secondly, your opportunity to become a columnist essentially comes down to whether an editor decides to give you a chance. To increase the probability of impressing an editor, familiarize yourself with the publication in question, propose an original column topic, and demonstrate that you are an expert in that topic.

A columnist must be able to write about topics that interest a newspaper's readers.
A columnist must be able to write about topics that interest a newspaper's readers.

It may seem obvious, but if you want to become a columnist, you must be able to write well. Perhaps more importantly, you must be able to show a prospective editor that you can write well. Therefore, before pitching a column, you should spend some time polishing your writing skills. You could, for instance, start a blog, or you could contribute articles to your local newspaper. Be sure to save clips of your published writing, which you can later show to potential editors as concrete proof of your talent.

Columnists may gain experience by writing a blog.
Columnists may gain experience by writing a blog.

No matter how strong your wish to become a columnist might be, actually getting your own published column will largely come down to whether an editor decides to take a chance on you. If you are currently a working journalist, getting the column of your dreams may be a matter of putting in some time and then pitching an idea to your editor once she has become familiar with your work. Should you lack a professional relationship with the editor of the publication for which you would like to write, you will need to make an effort to get her attention and prove both that your column idea is worthwhile and that you are the best person to write it.

One of the most important steps you can take before pitching your column to an editor is familiarizing yourself with her publication. Read several issues in their entirety, and then make sure you understand the publication’s tone and target audience. Analyze its existing columns, asking yourself whether yours will be a good fit, or whether it addresses an area already covered by another columnist. Many editors say that one of the main annoyances of their job is receiving pitches from writers who are obviously unfamiliar with their publication. Therefore, only after you feel certain that your column is appropriate to a publication should you attempt to pitch it.

Another tip which may help you become a columnist is that you should approach a prospective editor only with ideas that are both original and well-defined. For instance, a pitch proposing a column which covers world travel may be rejected both because it has been seen many times over and because it is so broad that it seems vague. Try thinking about your area of interest from a specific angle. If you are a European travel enthusiast who frequently vacations with your children, for example, you might propose a column about family-friendly European vacations.

Finally, even if an editor likes your column idea, she will need to be convinced that you are the best person for the job. No matter your proposed topic, be prepared to discuss your credentials. If you are pitching an economics column and you have a master’s degree in economics, proving your expertise is simple. Should you wish to write on a topic which offers no such concrete proof of expertise, on the other hand, your best bet may be to submit sample columns which show that you can write about that topic capably.

Many columnists take photos to accompany their article.
Many columnists take photos to accompany their article.

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