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This article was co-authored with Sue Williams.
Entrepreneurs who write for high profile publications can dramatically enhance their reputation and expose their business to new audiences. But figuring out how to break in can be difficult. It’s not just a question of finding the editor’s contact information and hewing to the outlet’s requirements for length and topic.
A subtle but essential nuance that entrepreneurs often miss is how to adapt your writing voice to suit different publications. An editor knows their section and/or publication’s voice in depth, and will quickly reject a poor match. Tailoring your voice to fit a specific market or audience, however, will help you stand out when you need to excel.
As a professional writer, ghost blogger, and editor, one of us (Sue) publishes her work under various names and using various styles — everything from young adult literature to business writing. Meanwhile, Dorie has written for many major business publications. We’ve discovered techniques that any professional can use to break into top-tier outlets. Here are four ways you can match your voice to any target publication, so your style is “just right” for them.
Examine the level of formality.
First, look at whether the most popular writers at your target outlet typically use the first person (“I’ve worked with several companies that did XYZ”) or the third person (“It’s common for companies to do XYZ”). Publications that favor the first person point of view are often casual, chatty, and might include personal anecdotes and clearly stated viewpoints. Meanwhile, writers using the third person often seem to not express their own opinions, subtly presenting their views through quotes and examples from others instead.
If you’re having trouble gauging levels of formality, try placing an article from your target publication against a similar post from a rival publication. How many personal anecdotes do you find in each? Do both writers use the first person? Do you notice a difference in formal or informal style?
Search for signature words.
Are there any buzzwords that your target publication uses repeatedly? Drawing on these is a great way to prove your suitability. Read several sample texts from your target publication, noting any buzzwords or phrases that they share. If your target market’s sphere is motivational or inspirational, you might find “personal goals” is used instead of “aims” or “resolutions.” If you’re writing for a business magazine, you might find that “brand” is used more powerfully than “identity” in certain contexts. If you’re writing for an online publication, remember that the buzzwords you find might be website keywords, too. If so, using them will prove your SEO chops.
Study the rhythms and flow.
Any writer with a strong voice uses innate rhythms and flow to sound cohesive. Publications often have a typical way they structure sentences. For instance, how many sentences are simple and concise, and how many are long and flowing? Is there a sweeping grandeur to the sentences, or are they fresh and crisp? Do they include plentiful adjectives and adverbs, or are they generally succinct? Do they roll and lilt? Do they fuse together simple sentences that could easily be split? You can apply this research to your own writing in order to tap and echo a brand’s sentencing. Use the rhythms and/or flow that target samples share to immediately sound like you’re “their people.”
Tap the tone.
Sometimes tone is obvious—in ironic commentary, for example—but when it is quieter, cracking it can be powerful. Read through several samples from your target publication, noting down the verbs that stand out the most. Do they share a particular quality? Do they feel intense and active (e.g., “energize,” “erode,” “entitle,” “disarm”), or are they simpler and more detached (e.g., “lift,” “take away,” “aim towards,” “remove”)? Next, jot down some keywords on the topic that you need to write about and head for a thesaurus. How can you make your words and terms feel similar in mood to your target sample? This exercise can be done with other word types, too, such as adjectives or abstract nouns. If word-level grammar confuses, don’t worry. Look for stand-out words in general.
Follow the above tips as you research your target publication, and your written voice will start to sound like a fit. When that happens, it’s far easier to break into even the most coveted publications and accelerate your business growth.