How to get your start as a writer

When I was a freshly minted librarian working in a corporate library, one of my colleagues came in one day over the moon about getting a picture of herself in a trade magazine, showing it to anyone who would look. While I was happy for her, I thought it would be even better if it were an article. She had years of experience, and someone new to the field (like I was at the time) could gain a great amount of value from what she knew.

Many professionals think they don’t have enough knowledge or that their experience isn’t important enough to be published. But I’m often impressed with their expertise when we’re having conversations or in online discussions. Before I started writing, I felt the same way. I was a good reader but never considered myself or my knowledge to be up to snuff to have others read what I had to say.

My colleague said she didn’t have time to write, and I thought back to all the papers and book reviews I’d written in grad school. So I tried writing a book review to send in for publication. The exercise helped me not only with my professional development but also led to my first publication. My team’s leadership at work was impressed that I had been published, and I went on to write an article.

Since then, I’ve expanded to publishing in not only the library field but also in technology and evaluation, from short blog posts to 2,000-word articles. I keep myself up-to-date on relevant topics in each of these fields because of the research required to complete these pieces. I also contribute to the learning of other professionals.

If you’re interested in getting published—maybe even here on NTEN’s blog!—but don’t know how to go about it, here are some tips based on my experience.

Co-author with a colleagueSophia Guevara quote

Finding someone either inside or outside your organization who can serve not only as expertise for the project, but can also walk you through the publishing process. In my own experience, I found it helpful to partner with others so I could learn from their expertise. It also helped to have them shepherd me through the pitch, writing, and publishing process with a new editor.

Consider other formats

Don’t know what to write about? How about working on a book review or writing about attending a recent conference? I found that writing a book review was probably the easiest way to get into publishing but if you’ve attended a conference or two, offer to write up session summaries for those who may not have been able to attend. You could also interview fellow attendees or professionals in the field. In my own experience, these were great ways to get published while providing readers with an opportunity to learn from other experts.

Write for free or a fee

I started writing for a state-wide library association and then moved onto writing for bulletins of state and national groups within a special library association. After I had gained a few publications under my belt, I started looking at writing for magazines. In this case, the editors were interested in learning more about my previous experience writing in other publications. Some of these opportunities paid and others did not. My past experience as a writer of shorter pieces helped me land paid opportunities that stretched my writing to pieces that were about 2000 words each.

Follow guidelines set by the editor

In order to make the most out of your writing experience, pay special attention to contributor guidelines. Sometimes the guidelines are available on the publication website. If you don’t see them, ask the editor or editor’s assistant for their location. By following the set guidelines, you can avoid a lot of back and forth if your submission is accepted or avoid an outright rejection of your piece.

Use writing as a networking tool

For those who are just starting out and may not have much in the way of funds to attend professional conferences, look at writing as a way to get your name out to people who may serve as your future colleagues. Published pieces are a good way to show your current or future employer that you are serious about your professional development and are contributing to the learning of others.

Sophia Guevara
Sophia Guevara, MLIS, MPA, is the Virtual Events Committee Chair for the Special Libraries Association Information Technology Division. She is also the co-chair of the Social Network Analysis Topical Interest Group at the American Evaluation Association. She is currently looking for presentation and writing opportunities.