Syndication 101

Syndication 101

How to get your foot in the door without getting it stepped on.

By Perucci Ferraiuolo

It has long been held that an editor is a man or woman who knows exactly what he or she wants, but doesn’t know what it is.

Never is it more true than within the syndication marketplace. And, I’ve found that most editors know what they want based on what they DON’T want. In other words, they know the “junk” and are only looking for the “treasure.”

So what’s the treasure? You know. Copy that sings, grabs, shakes, and is so good it stuns. If you want syndication you’ve got to write so well that, as humorist Fred Allen puts it, it makes all other writers feel like putting their quills back in the goose.

Many times an editor won’t know how good a piece is until it is read. A good article or good column is one that immediately changes the editor’s day – and plans. Before you venture into the churned waters of syndication, though, make sure you’ve got the best product you can possibly offer – you may not get more than one chance to impress.

Many (writing) industry publications say that a great way to break into syndication is to start out writing columns for local newspapers, develop a following, and then get picked up by a syndicate. Nice if it works. Most of the time, it won’t work. Chances are that if you’re reading this (or them) you’re not working for a newspaper, are not a columnist now, and don’t have THE voice of any given region.

What you need in appealing to any syndicate (who are really column and one-shot article brokers) is a big gun. If you haven’t got name recognition, you should be writing cutting edge copy with one hand while having a finger of your other hand on the pulse of current trends, beliefs, platforms, and attitude.

So here’s the ABC’s: Choose a syndicate (heck, choose all of them). Phone them (or write) for their guidelines. And try like your professional life depends on it to get the name of the editor you will attempt to attract (the Writer’s Market has a good listing of many good and reputable syndicates).

Remember, syndicates are sales organizations and handle columns and one-shots (feature articles) like K-Mart handles merchandise. The bottom line is sales. If you don’t give them what they can sell, you won’t be picked up (given a contract). You have to become a salesperson yourself and develop solid, professional marketing techniques to close your own sale to the syndicate.

Perhaps the single most important strategy in syndication or in searching for a place in any publishing organization is to build a rapport with the editor. If you know what sports team, what restaurant, or how many kids the editor has, you’re on the right public relations road. “Nobody,” a salesman friend of mine once said, “but nobody ever buys from a salesman they can’t stand.”

Lastly, be a Don Drysdale (if you don’t know who he is, I feel older already) and pitch, pitch, pitch. “If you throw enough balls out there, you’re bound to get a few strikes,” Don said once in an interview.

But pay attention: Never, ever send a syndicate anything that is over 500-600 words (columns) and 1,000 words (features). And, always remember that syndicates sell to newspapers. If you can’t or won’t fit in there, you won’t fit in at the syndicate.

Do you have a fresh voice; a different spin on things; or march to a different beat? There’s a syndicate out there just dying to hear from you. Go ahead. Pick up your pen. And then change the world.