Learning how to become an advice columnist for a newspaper is a simple, but often time consuming process. Becoming an advice columnist for a newspaper begins with having an idea, creating samples and submitting a proposal to the newspaper.
- Decide on an idea. Every advice columnist begins with a central idea based on the type of advice column they are writing. Determine what type of advice you want to give based on your area of expertise. Do you want to give legal advice or advice for small businesses? Are in interested in writing relationship, lifestyle, financial or career advice? You could write an advice column for a newspaper about gardening or raising animals. The important thing is to choose an area you are familiar with and one that readers will be interested in.
- Review several newspapers. Familiarize yourself with the structure and format of existing advice columnists in as many different newspapers as you can. Make notes as you read the advice columns. Note the similarities in tone, style and format. Also note any similarities in topic–are there any patterns in popular topics? Determine what has already been overdone and what you could expand on. How can your newspaper advice column be unique and take a different approach to popular topics?
- Create a portfolio. Begin your portfolio with a background of educational, employment and life experience that is relevant to your chosen topic and qualifies you to write an advice column for the newspaper. Do not underestimate life experience – if you want to write an advice column about gardening and have been successful at growing a small home garden, include that in the portfolio. Highlight any experience, including organizations you belong to, relevant to the topic.
- Prepare writing samples. Make a list of possible questions that readers might ask in your chosen topic. A mix of vague questions with specific detailed questions is best. Obtain real reader’s questions from existing advice columns. Write your own column answering these questions as you would if you were the advice columnist for the newspaper. Create a good mix of at least ten writing samples, showcasing your best writing.
- Query newspapers with ideas. Choose which newspapers you want to write for. Consider the newspaper’s size, readership and existing advice columnists. Write a query letter briefly discussing your idea, qualifications and what you have to offer the newspaper. Include samples of your advice column from the portfolio. Continue querying newspapers and pay attention to those that turn you down. What are their reasons–are they lacking in budget? Do they already have a similar existing advice column? Are they looking for a different topic? Ask them what they are looking for and update your portfolio and proposals as appropriate.
"You Can Write a Column" by Monica McCabe Cardoza
"You can be a Columnist: Writing Your Way to Prestige" by Charlotte Digregorio.
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