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Writing Columns For Syndication

Writing for newspapersMany years ago I tried to become the Dear Abby or Ann of single parenting.

My vision was clear. I’d answer (wisely of course) answers from single parents all over the country and make my fortune.

Obviously, before this could happen, I had to do some stuff first. (Highly technical term, there.)

I Wrote Sample Columns

I’d figured out that most newspapers would want at least six actual samples and would probably want as many possible questions as I could come up with. The package would, I thought, go a long way toward reassuring them I could sustain such a venture.

I put the package together and began sending them off to local weekly papers.

Much to my amazement within a week I got a call from the editor of a weekly in a town just north of me. He was interested.

It turned out he had recently been divorced and was going to have custody of his children. Talk about timing!

The negotiation was simple. He asked how much I wanted and I said I didn’t really know, but had heard I might get as much as $xx a column. He smiled and explained that would only be true with a circulation roughly the size of The New York Times; his paper was willing to pay me $x – I’ve actually forgotten the numbers now, but I accepted.

My Own Syndicate

We agreed that I wouldn’t sell the column to other papers in his immediate region and I was on my way, sure soon I’d have a major crowd of readers and questioners.

After several issues had been published I took copies and packaged them along with my list of possible titles and began mailing them to newspapers all over the state. California is a pretty big state and had lots of newspapers then.

Sure enough two more papers bought and I now had a mini-syndicate of three papers. I doubt I was making $100 a month, certainly not much more than that, but I kept at it.

I also looked daily in my mail box for questions which were to be forwarded from the newspapers. I looked and looked in vane vain.

A friend was teaching a class at a community college and asked if anyone knew of the column. She reported 10 or 12 did. When she asked if any of them had asked a question, none had. She tried to find out why and never got any definitive answer.

The columns ran for a couple of years before three papers canceled them – one at a time.

Columns Can Lead Somewhere

It was worth doing even though I never made my fortune. The columns became my first book, Successful Single Parenting – long out of print. That book led to others.

I was also hired by a big syndicate to do some ‘one shots.’ They paid me a pittance and didn’t have much luck selling them and I moved on to other things.

Although I did a fair job of marketing that column, I recognize now that I should have done much more. Speaking engagements, press releases, interviews – the whole thing. But I didn’t understand about marketing then. Still, it was a worthwhile experience, one I’m glad I have under my writing belt.


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{ 11 comments… add one }
  • I write a wildly funny dating advice column and am moving towards self-syndication, so your experience was very interesting. I get dozens of letters in per week, but of course I am using social media, three websites, and an internet radio show to market myself. It’s so funny to me that people think advice columnists have the time or imagination to think these crazy letters up. My imagination is not that good, trust me. LOL! People are crazy!
    Deborrah Cooper recently posted..My Girlfriend is Ruining Our Sex LifeMy Profile

    • Wonder what my column would have done if I did it now with social media? Pretty sure that’s what I’d do… self-syndicate again.

  • potterprose

    Hi Anne,

    Do you think it’s essential to have a website with clips and other info about me before you begin sending packages about the column I’d like to sell? I’m thinking of starting with smaller, local/regional weekly or monthly publications. I also have an opportunity to publish it just on a local weekly’s website, but without pay.

    What areas of interest seem most popular right now? Self-help, how-to, anecdotes, Dave Barry-esque commentaries, local interest subjects (informative or subjective?), specific subjects (theater, art, sports, human interest, volunteering, parenting, advice, etc.), etc.?

  • I suspect the questions used for such columns are 90% author-generated. The other 10% come from college fraternities. Or am I being too cynical?
    jorgekafkazar recently posted..Watcher in the Night decipheredMy Profile

    • Anne

      You may be right, although I think for Ann and Abby I’ve read of bags and bags of mail.

  • Anna

    Great article. Only nit is in the wrong use of a word in the sentence “I looked and looked in vane.” It should, of course, read “vain.”

    • Anne

      You know, I wondered about that when I wrote it… and then got distracted and didn’t look it up. Thanks,

  • Donna Fuller

    Great timing for me too…Can you elaborate on the “marketing” options of column and self-syndication?

    Thanks again for the great website.

    • Anne

      Donna, do you have some specific questions?

  • Great timing with this one… I’ve been kicking around the idea of a self-syndication project… Now that I know you’ve been through the process, I’ll undoubtedly be picking your noggin!
    Carson Brackney recently posted..My Mohawk at FWJMy Profile

    • Anne

      That’s why I’m here, Carson.

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