As a coach, writing articles to get your name out in the public is a great way to reach new clients. But, if you don't have much formal writing experience, getting published can seem like a daunting task.
Having been both a coach as well as a journalist for several years, I'd like to share my perspective. When I started out writing training articles for D3Multisport.com in 2004 I was a newly certified triathlon coach. I wanted to get my name out in the public to attract potential new clients. Those early articles got me started and soon I was writing for other publications. I worked as a freelance writer for several years and was the editor of TRI Magazine and Associate Editor of ROAD magazine before joining TrainingPeaks this past spring as an Education Specialist.
Throughout the years, I've picked up on some best practices for making a name for yourself as a writer. Here are some guidelines for how to get published in the endurance sports industry.
Start with your own website.
Writing for a publication or web source can be a bit of a catch-22. They will likely want to see other published works before green lighting your article and if you don’t have anything to show, you’re back to square one. By writing on your own website or blog you create a resume of your work that you can show to potential outlets. It’s OK to start with some basic topics and build from there. I started writing for D3Multisport.com, whom I still coach for. From there I built a small portfolio that I could send to potential outlets as samples.
You don’t need to rock the scientific world with your first article. Keep it basic and on topic. Remember that while you may have read about the importance of aerobic training 50 times there are always new athletes coming into the sport. Some topics are what we call "evergreen"; they are always relevant because everyone has to start with the basics.
Look for submission guidelines.
Many publications and website have their guidelines available to potential writers. Look these over and follow them intently. Think of this as the publication telling you exactly what they are looking for. Use it to your advantage to create focused content. Not following the guide is a surefire way to have your submission thrown away.
Know the publication.
This may seem simple but it is a key. As a freelancer I spent hours looking at magazines and websites to gain insight into their readership and style. Each publication targets a specific audience and you need to know it. Are they focuses on the beginner or advanced athlete? How many training articles are there and what topics do they cover? Are they looking for new information or do they stick with the tried and true? Knowing the readership will allow you to shop your story to the correct publications or tailor it to a specific publication. Editors want to know you understand their audience and can speak to it. Also, look at the departments of the magazine or website and send your article directly to the editor of the department or section that the article would work best in. This shows that you’ve researched their publication and have a better attention to details.
Don’t write an article then look to shop it around.
Always send a query letter or email to the correct person that outlines your topic, states why it fits with that particular publication and gives potential sources you may cite. Be specific giving an approximate word count that you are targeting. If you’ve written the article and have no takers you’ve wasted your time (unless you can put it on your own blog).
Think about the time of year.
Consider the time of year when you send your query. Sending an article about race specific tactics for publication in January is not a smart bet. The more timely the article the better. However, if you are looking to be published in print know that editorial calendars are set months in advance so your article that is perfect for June needs to be sent out in March or April. Web sources have a shorter lead time so you can submit stories in a shorter time frame. When researching publications look for any contact information and write them to ask for an editorial calendar. Knowing what each issue will be centered around can help you come up with an appropriate topic.
Submit multiple ideas at once.
Show that you can be a source for multiple articles. When sending a query give the editor multiple options to choose from. Some topics can cover a two to three month period, others are much more specific. For instance, you can write about threshold training for May, June and July, but a nutrition article on holiday diet tips is good only for December.
Be the expert, but cite sources too.
As a coach and author you are the authority in the field. Use your own experiences and knowledge to shape the article but give examples and instances that give you credibility. If possible and when needed, cite documents that support your ideas. Just have a certification isn’t enough, you need to be able to support your ideas, concepts or theories in a real world manner.
Be on time.
This may be the single most important element to getting more assignments. By on time I mean early. Missing a deadline means that you are much less likely to get an assignment again. When I started out freelancing my mentality was that if I was late I would never write for that publication again and I never missed a deadline. As an editor, nothing made me angrier than a writer, especially a new one, missing a deadline. Editors remember who comes in on time and who they have to chase down. I had a one time policy as an editor and I heavily favored writers I knew I could count on.
In short, the idea of getting published may seem intimidating, but in the end it is definitely possible if you are diligent, professional and of course if you write great content. Practice on your own outlets, build a portfolio, do your research and be responsive and timely. Keep at it and in time you can build a name for yourself not just as a coach but as an author too.
AJ Johnson's varied background spans coaching, racing triathlon professionally, freelance writing and most recently being the editor of TRI and ROAD Magazines. At TrainingPeaks, AJ helps coaches and athletes as an Education Specialist. Naturally, he also writes for the newsletter, blog and other outlets. He is also a triathlon coach for D3 Multisport. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.