Big Bylines: How to Get Your Work Published on Big-Name Sites

Nov 21, 2016

How do you get your work published on well-known sites?

It’s a question nearly every newbie freelancer has. And, trust me, I get it. I spent my early days as a freelancer writing about storage units and assisted living facilities, wondering how those other people managed to pull off such impressive bylines. What was I doing wrong?

I actually wasn’t doing anything wrong in those early days, per se. But, I wasn’t doing much right, either. I was so focused on taking on any client in the interest of growing my business, that I wasn’t necessarily setting myself up for success—I was making it that much tougher to achieve the things I really wanted.

Needless to say, I’ve learned a few things since then and have since managed to score bylines with outlets I had previously assumed were mere pipe dreams. So, how exactly did I do it? Well, let’s get to the good stuff, shall we?

But First…

Before we dive into those nitty gritty details you’re so eager to get your paws on, I want to preface this with a bit of a disclaimer, if you will.

Often, I receive emails from freelancers wanting to know how to get published on major sites—which is, as I mentioned, totally understandable (we all want to knock our careers out of the park, don’t we?). But, there’s only one problem: More often than not, these freelancers don’t have a single published piece of work to their name.

Now, I don’t mean to ever, ever, ever be discouraging. However, I do feel the need to inject a little bit of realism here. So, consider this your dose of reality:

Your very first byline likely won’t be with a major publication. As a writer (or as anything, really), you need to walk before you can run.

Your first byline likely won't be with a major outlet. You need to walk before you run. Click To Tweet

If you’re heading into this thinking you’re going to kickoff your freelance career with those big, glossy bylines you always dreamed of, it’s time to come back to earth for a minute. Those brag-worthy bylines can definitely happen—it’s just going to take some time, elbow grease, and patience first.

get your work published

How to Get Your Work Published on Big-Name Sites

Alright, so now that we have that reality check out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the strategies I used to score my bigger bylines.

1. Start Small

I know I just mentioned this before, but I think it deserves some repetition. If you’ve set your sights on getting published with some larger outlets, you need to be prepared to start small.

Think about it this way: If you wanted to become a football player, you likely wouldn’t think to yourself, “Oh, good, I think I’ll join the NFL!”

No, there are many steps that come before that. So, start getting your name out there by completing work for some smaller sites. Focus on building up a solid portfolio, and it’ll be much easier to land a byline with those big guys.

2. Choose a Niche

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Choosing a writing niche early on is oh-so-helpful. Why? Well, to put it simply, it’ll give you some focus. Rather than building a portfolio of work that’s all over the place, you’ll establish yourself as a credible expert on a specific topic—which makes your pitch that much more impressive.

Choose a niche and begin chasing assignments (yes, even the small ones!) in that area. Soon enough, you’ll have a solid body of relevant work you can use when pitching those bigger outlets.

get your work published

3. Actively Promote Your Existing Work

This surprises many people, but many of those sites you’re familiar with (think Forbes or Business Insider, for example) don’t publish only original content. As a matter of fact, a lot of the stuff you’ll find there was originally published elsewhere first—whether that’s other websites or even on a personal blog.

For this reason, you should plan to actively promote your existing work. Republish (get permission from your particular client, if required) your work on platforms like Pulse or Medium. Share your articles on Twitter. Start your own personal blog where you can write about the topics that matter to you, and then share those with your followers.

Do whatever you can to get your name and your work out there, and—who knows—those bigger outlets could wind up approaching you (rather than the other way around)!

4. Be Aggressive (and Patient)

Of course, just because those outlets might approach you once you’ve established a reputation, doesn’t necessarily mean you want to wait until that happens. So, when you’ve managed to build up a somewhat solid portfolio, it’s up to you to grab the reins and approach those outlets you’ve been dreaming about.

Search the website for an email address you can use (many larger publications have their editorial contacts, a masthead, or even a “How to Pitch” link at the bottom of the webpage), and then reach out with your pitch.

Start with just one or two sentences describing who you are and what your background is. Then, share your story idea. Include the headline and then two or three sentences describing what exactly your story will cover. Keep in mind that you want to reach out with an actual story idea—and not just a general topic.

That’s it! I know it’s tempting to want to share your life story. But, remember, these places likely receive hundreds of pitches each day or week. So, brevity is important. The more concise you can keep things, the higher your likelihood of actually being read.

After that? Be patient. Again, these places are often swamped by hopeful prospective writers. So, resist the urge to follow up a mere 24 hours after submitting your pitch. If you haven’t heard anything after two weeks, then you can follow up again.

5. Focus on Value

Here’s one more pitch tip you’ll want before reaching out to those big-name publications: Focus on what you bring to the table, and not the other way around.

I see too many freelancers (myself included!) fall into an overly complimentary trap. They start their emails with, “I’ve admired this publication for so long. It’d be a dream to write for you!” and so on and so forth.

This might sound brutal, but most editors don’t care. So, instead of placing all of your emphasis on what writing for this publication will do for you, you need to focus on what your writing will do for them. Do you have unique background or experience that would bring a fresh voice to their site? Do you have a brilliant idea for something you haven’t seen written about anywhere else?

That’s what you need to highlight—and not how much you’re dying to write for them.

Everybody wants to land a byline with those big-name sites we all admire. And, while there’s no tried and true formula for achieving just that (believe me, I wish there was!), these tips should definitely help you get your footing and make some progress.

Give them a try, and let me know how it goes for you. I’ll watch out for your byline as I’m perusing the internet. 😉