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How I became a Syndicated Columnist

I’m often asked, by aspiring writers, how I got my column into so many newspapers. Well, I’ll take and tell you (as my grandmother used to say), for maybe the first time in my life, I listened to someone. The former publisher of the Mt. Pleasant News, Emery Styron, took me under his wing and told me exactly how to go about it. When he was a journalism major in college, he had a syndicated column that was carried by a number of newspapers. What he did was go around and personally visit each newspaper office (unannounced), ask for the publisher or editor, then show them a sample of his writing. Styron would offer to let them run his work for free to gauge reader response and then called them back in a week or so to see if they would like to add him as a regular columnist. The key is that Styron was presenting himself and his work in person. In this manner, the publisher or editor had a visual and personal encounter with Styron, formed an immediate opinion of who Styron was and what his writing was like.

Never ever solicit by email, fax or telephone. Newspaper editors are bombarded with solicitations. The majority of these solicitations are ignored. By making a personal visit, a bond is established. First impressions are the longest lasting.

I followed Styron’s directions exactly and it works. I took a few days, traveled around the state, dropped in on newspaper offices (unannounced), asked to see the publisher or editor and my Empty Nest column is now in more than 40 newspapers in three states. Always drop in unannounced, never make an appointment — you will be put off. The publisher or editor will always come out to see you because they think it’s a disgruntled reader with an ax to grind. They are so relieved to see that it’s just another columnist, they are more than agreeable to look at your work and now they know who you are.

I have added a new twist to Styron’s detailed formula for getting newspapers to accept my column. I bring Ginnie. I introduce Ginnie as my wife and editor. Publishers and editors love this — a husband and wife team, meaning the column is fluffed, puffed and spit-shined. One look at Ginnie and they know my writing has been cleansed.

Since including Ginnie when I drop in on newspaper offices, we are batting 100 percent acceptance. And it’s a fun day out, which usually includes lunch and a little site seeing.

One more thing: I write for free. Writing is my love, my art form, my life. If you love something, you will practice it whether you’re paid or not. Example: church organists. As you know, newspapers across the country, with the advent of the internet, are struggling financially. They’ve lost a big chunk of advertising dollars. Therefore, they love writing that has an established following and doesn’t cost anything. Little do they know they are doing me a favor. By accepting my column, they are providing me with a creative outlet and the discipline of a weekly deadline.

So, if I write for free, am I syndicated? I don’t see the word “paid” included with the definition of “syndication.” At least one of the newspapers that carries my column calls me a “syndicated columnist.”

I also stick with human interest. Of course, I have strong political opinions, but every time I write something political, I get crucified. I’m a people pleaser to the max and would rather write human interest. It’s more refreshing, positive and a nice break from the political war that’s raging.

My goal is 200 newspapers. Which would put me right up there with the likes of “Dear Abby,” “The Amish Cook” and “Dr. Oz.” With Ginnie as my editor, it could happen.

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Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526.