Editor’s note: before we jump in…
How do you get published in major publications like Inc Magazine, Forbes, TIME, The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, Fortune, Apple News, and more?
If there’s one person who knows better than anyone, it’s Nicolas Cole—a 26 year old who has more writing accolades attached to his name than most professional writers twice his age. We recently did a piece covering Cole’s journey to the top of the digital writing world. He is a 3x Top Writer on Quora with close to 20M views on his content there alone, as well as one of Inc Magazine’s most popular writers with several more million views on his daily columns there. He has had work published in over 20 of the Internet’s biggest publications, everything from Forbes to Fox News, and he is a ghostwriter for C-suite executives, serial entrepreneurs, and prolific thought leaders.
Hearing Cole explain it, he has “cracked the code” on how to build a personal brand on the Internet, and generate more PR for himself than any PR agency could for any one of their clients. In fact, there was a time during Cole’s peak on Quora where he was having one of his Quora answers republished by a major publication every single week for almost 6 months straight.
How did he do it?
So you want to get published by major publications?
Then chances are, you are probably:
1) A blogger that wants to know how to write for the big publications in your industry.
2) A business owner that wants to generate PR for your company.
3) An industry expert and you want share your knowledge and be known as a thought leader.
4) An author, speaker, or entrepreneur that wants to generate buzz around something up-and-coming: a book launch, a speaking tour, a new app launch, etc.
5) A writer that wants to one day have a column in a major publication.
Then you’ve come to the right place.
This is what I want to teach you: there is a method to climbing the ladder and having your content published by some of the Internet’s biggest and most credible publications. I would know—I climbed my way up the ladder the hard way.
The power of Quora to get your name out there.
It all started back on Quora. Have you ever heard of Quora?
If you haven’t, you need to, and here’s why:
What I didn’t know about the Question/Answer site, Quora, is that their internal team has close relationships with many of the big publications: TIME, Inc, Forbes, Fortune, The Huffington Post, Business Insider, Entrepreneur, Apple News, and more.
I didn’t know this.
For the first few months of my writing on Quora, I was just writing content I felt like I wanted to write. Some of it was good, I suppose, but a lot of it lacked any real aim. I was just writing for the sake of writing.
This is the mistake so many content writers, business owners with a blog, entrepreneurs on social media, and more make. They create content (sometimes a lot of it), but they don’t really know who they are talking to, or why they are writing what they’re writing in the first place.
…More on that later.
About 4 months into my writing on Quora, I had my first answer republished by Inc Magazine. If you click that link and check out the article, you’ll see that the author of the article is “Quora” and then at the start it gives me, the author, credit for writing it.
This is one of the things not many people know about the publication world, and Quora isn’t the only platform that you can “hack” to climb the ladder.
Sites like Quora basically provide free press release distribution.
You see, once I had my first piece published in Inc Magazine through Quora, I started to dive deep into how that process works and how I could get more and more content placed.
Here’s what’s most important, and what I want to stress to you here:
If you write something that gets published in a major publication like Inc Magazine, or Forbes, or TIME, that level of credibility puts you leagues above the competition.
4 years ago, I was nothing more than another kid who had graduated with a degree in creative writing (not a very popular major, in case you were wondering), with no portfolio.
Now? I have had work featured in every single major publication on the Internet.
I have had over 20 articles go viral, accumulating anywhere between 100,000 and 1M+ views. I also recently self-published my first book, Confessions of a Teenage Gamer, which debuted at #2 in two different categories on Amazon.
These are just some of the benefits of having work featured in major publications, but the real value is in becoming a trusted and valued thought leader in your industry.
Having this sort of credibility under your belt is the first step to building a powerful personal brand for yourself, which you can then leverage for your business or any other ventures.
This is what people don’t understand:
When you become a thought leader in your industry, the opportunities come to you.
Whether you’re an aspiring writer, or a C-suite executive, the Internet today is everyone’s go-to resource. Before you go meet with someone for coffee, you Google them. After you meet with someone, you Google them. When you’re considering whether to hire someone, you Google them. When you’re looking for helpful information in your industry, you Google it. And the people who appear and you see as valuable resources are the people you inherently see as “leaders.”
One of the best ways to become one of those leaders is to be the one creating and authoring the content. It doesn’t matter what industry, what your skill set, what you’re passionate about, as long as you’re the one creating the content that people are consuming.
But here’s where everyone goes wrong when it comes to knowing how to get an article publication in a major publication:
DON’T START WITH A BLOG.
Have you ever wondered why some people’s content performs extremely well, and other people write blog post after blog post and never see any traction?
Before we get you having work published on big blogs or major publications, let’s talk about the actual writing for a second.
Here’s a little secret (well, actually it’s a big secret) that I am going to share with you about content writing, creating articles, and even the world of blogging:
You should never start with a blog.
When people want to start positioning themselves as a thought leader, sharing their voice or knowledge with the world, they assume the best place to start is their own blog on their own site.
That’s actually the worst place to start—because not only do you have to figure out how to build a blog worth coming to, and post content worth reading or looking at, but you also have to work really, really hard to let people you know you exist in the first place.
Social media, or platforms like Medium or Quora where social elements are integrated, is a much better place to start. Here’s why:
1. You will get immediate feedback.
Starting on a social platform instead gives you the opportunity to practice out in the open. In order to become a really great content creator, you need to go through a lot of years of public practice—and truthfully, it never stops.
You need people to comment on your content with things like, “This was the worst thing I’ve ever read in my entire life. Thanks for wasting ten minutes of my time.”
That sort of feedback, although not necessarily the easiest to hear, is what ultimately makes you better. You have to listen to what people are saying, contemplate it, and then figure out how you can continue to improve. Otherwise, you will write by yourself, post your work on an empty blog, gain no feedback, and then have no idea if what you’re doing is wonderful and amazing or horrific and shitty.
2. You can build an audience.
As I mentioned, the biggest benefit to building out a social platform instead of a blog in the beginning is that you can build an audience.
It’s a lot easier for people to follow you on Twitter or Instagram than it is for them to subscribe to your blog, or remember to check your site every couple days. Also, the audience is already there on that social platform. You can tap into millions and millions of people by using relevant hashtags or keywords, or shouting out and collaborating with other influencers in your space. Instead of trying to convince everyone to come join your own unique party, go join theirs first. This goes for any platform with users: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, all the way over to Quora, Medium, LinkedIn and more.
Once you have an audience, you can direct them to your blog.
3. Social media is a blog in itself.
When I first started posting on Instagram, the way I approached it was like a micro-blog. I wrote really long captions with every post. Everyone told me I was doing it wrong, and that on Instagram you were supposed to use short, quick captions. But I am a writer. I wanted to share more of me, and I did so through writing long captions.
That approach to Instagram is what ended up allowing me to build an audience of 20,000+ followers. People looked forward to what I was writing even more so than the photos I was posting. It became a mobile blog, and no different than how I would have posted that same sort of material on a website, instead I was posting it on an app where an audience already existed.
This can be done with any social platform. I’ve seen people do some really cool things with Snapchat stories. Twitter short stories. Long Facebook captions. Etc.
Social media is a “blog,” but each platform has different rules and restrictions. Success on each platform then comes down to your ability to use the restrictions of the platform to your advantage and create something new and different.
4. So when should you start a blog?
You should only start a blog once you’ve done all of the above.
You should spend a considerable amount of time practicing in public, getting in front of people, posting content where it can be easily found. You should begin building your audience, and figuring out what it is they are looking for and how you can provide real value you them. And you should start putting the puzzle pieces in place so that, down the line when you do launch a blog, you can use social media as the entry point and then guide people to much longer form content.
Because the truth is, you can only drive traffic so many ways:
2. Collaborations / Shout Outs (from other blogs, social pages, etc.)
4. Social Media
5. Word of mouth
Especially today, social media is by far the most effective (and free—it just costs time) way to get people to know about you and know about your blog. So until you have that, in some shape or form, there’s no point to invest (time or money) in building a site nobody knows exists.
It’s amazing how many people don’t know this. But hey, now you know.
In order to build yourself into a thought leader and gain exposure for yourself, you have to think hard about what questions your target audience is asking.
Now, in order to actually attract readers (and the attention of the big publications that you want republishing your content), you need to not only be writing in social environments FIRST, but understanding what your target audience is actually looking for in the first place:
The #1 question you need to ask yourself before you write a single piece of content is this:
“What are the pain points of my target audience?”
Here’s what I mean by pain points:
1) What is your target audience struggling with? What are they having trouble “figuring out?”
2) What do they want to learn? More specifically, what questions do they have?
3) What is holding them back from taking that next step forward? What are they afraid of?
4) What sort of content are they already looking for? How can you deliver that content even better than the competition? How can you make it easier to understand, or more accessible, or more entertaining, or more professional?
5) What is confusing to your audience, based on their skill level? For example: what do all beginners in your field or niche struggle with? What about people who have been in that market for a year or two? Etc.
The more you can get clear on what people are struggling with, the more you can cater your content as solutions to those problems.
Because think about it: why do people use Google? Why do people search for things?
They’re searching for Questions. They are looking for Answers.
This was really the big “ah hah” moment for me on Quora. Since Quora is a Question/Answer site, I was forced to answer people’s questions—that’s the whole point of writing there. However, I also realized that the best answers were the ones that were written a lot like articles. They were structured to provide high quality information, they were just executed specifically to answer the question that was being asked.
600+ Quora answers and 200+ columns for Inc Magazine later, and now this is the way I approach ALL of my content.
Every single time I sit down to write, I ask myself, “What question am I answering?” And the way I come up with that question (if I am starting with a blank slate, like when I write for Inc), is by getting clear on what my audience wants help with. What question would THEY be asking that I could answer?
Once I have that question in mind, I write the article in a way that clearly answers that question.
I’m sure you’re wondering what all this has to do with getting work picked up by major publications:
This way of writing is exactly what I believe has gotten me published so many times.
In fact, there was a period of 6 months when I was having a different Quora answer republished by a major publication every single week. Seriously. Every week they would publish their Publication Features (Quora content that got republished elsewhere), and every week my name would appear somewhere: TIME, Forbes, Fortune, The Huffington Post, Observer, Slate Magazine, Fox News, Apple News, Entrepreneur….
It was absurd.
But what I started to realize was that all I was doing was writing in a way that spoke directly to a very targeted reader.
Most people write content that doesn’t have a focus. They talk about one thing, and then they bounce around to something different, and then go on a tangent, and then try to wrap things back up in the end—and you’re not really sure what the point of the article was.
The other unfortunate truth is that most people write content that is extremely self serving.
That’s not what makes great content.
What makes great content is providing value to your target reader, and in order to do that you have to know what question you’re answering.
The writing aspect is the whole art.
So, how do you attract the attention of the big publications and get huge social media exposure?
Alright, before you go crawling the Internet for editors and columnists (like myself) at major publications, asking for them to write about you or to help you get published there yourself, let’s talk about how you can do all of that yourself.
Do you know how all these big blogs and major publications survive?
They survive off of page views. That’s how they generate revenue is by selling advertising space by the page view. (You probably already know that.)
Ok, so in order to generate page views, what do all these sites need?
Great content. Sharable content. Content that they can post once and is going to be viewed hundreds of thousands, even millions of times.
As a viral writer and someone who drives a significant amount of traffic through my writing, this is something I have learned very, very well.
Publications are constantly on the lookout for the next great piece of content they can publish.
So, aside from having their own contributors, where do you think they go to find content?
I’ll tell you exactly where:
These are the top three. There are more—in fact, there are a lot more, and that’s one of the big takeaways here: there is more than one way to climb the ladder and succeed.
However, these are the 3 that I have found drive the highest amount of results.
All 3 of these platforms not only have their own internal syndication processes, but big publications, websites, and well-known blogs keep their eyes peeled here for amazing content.
So what if you were regularly posting valuable content in these places?
Chances are, you’d have happen to you exactly what happened to me: slowly your content would find its way up the chain.
Again, why is this valuable to you?
Well, here are just a few things I have personally experienced after people started seeing my content published by major publications:
1) I wake up every single morning to 5-10 inbound leads of potential clients in my inbox looking for me to help them with their digital marketing strategy, their personal brand, and their content writing.
2) I have been approached by agents with book deal offers.
3) I have been invited to speak at a variety of events.
4) I have appeared on major podcasts right alongside some of the biggest names in the marketing and branding industries.
5) I have sold copies of my book in over 30 countries worldwide.
6) I have been able to leverage my credibility to interview massively successful thought leaders, such as Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary from Shark Tank.
7) I have been fortunate to connect with so many industry thought leaders who have read my content and reached out to me, and built an extraordinarily powerful network as a result.
The list goes on and on, but these are just some of the benefits of people seeing your work on the “big stage.” It’s just a different level of credibility.
So let’s go back to what I was saying above:
One of the best ways to get your voice out in public and shared on these major platforms is by first delivering value to the free platforms.
What a lot of people don’t know is that Quora, Medium, and LinkedIn, all push the best content that gets published on those platforms out to their newsletter lists, meaning that your work has the opportunity to get seen by thousands upon thousands of people.
In addition, like I mentioned a few minutes ago about Quora, these platforms have relationships with major publications because they are always looking for great content to repost. So you could write something on Medium, and if it starts to gain traction and someone from a big publication sees it, there’s a good chance it will get republished there as a result.
It’s a ladder, and if you want to climb it, you have to start at the bottom.
Now, a lot of people think that this is the “long road.” They would rather take a shortcut and just go straight to the top.
Yeah… It doesn’t really work that way.
Instead, it’s a whole lot better to build a sound foundation for yourself. Build an audience for yourself. Get your voice and your value down. Start writing things that matter on platforms like Quora, Medium, or LinkedIn, and let the market carry you to the top.
If you do this the right way from the beginning, you’ll understand the game and be able to get things republished over and over again.
Nobody cares about your content (now let me tell you why, and how you can fix that)
Finally, I want to point something out that I haven’t really touched on yet:
You cannot write articles as if they are promotional pieces for yourself. You just can’t.
I swear to you, being a columnist for Inc Magazine, I get PR pitches in my inbox every single day. And do you know what all of them share in common?
“Hey Nicolas! I am reaching out to see if you’d be interested in writing about our CEO. He has done a few cool things in his career, and he’d love for you to write about him. Let me know!”
…I don’t care.
In fact, nobody cares.
That’s the truth, and I hate to be the one to say it.
What makes an article valuable isn’t who it’s about (unless you’re, you know, a celebrity or someone like Elon Musk, I suppose).
What makes an article valuable is what it teaches the reader. What it helps them with. How it enriches their life and provides them value.
As much as PR companies want to think that their article draft about a CEO who just started a new company is valuable, the truth is it’s not.
What would be more helpful to a reader would be for that CEO to share 5 mistakes he made starting his first business—and if he could do it over again, what he would do differently.
Do you see the difference?
People think that by focusing on the value, they won’t “sell” the reader or direct them to where they want them to go. But that’s the irony of the whole thing. If you try to “sell” the reader, they’re gone. In fact, they never cared in the first place—because they aren’t searching for your self-promotional story. They are searching for an Answer to their Question.
But when you write content in a way that answers that question and caters to that thing they’re struggling with, now you’ve earned their trust. And in some cases, if they find your content to be extremely helpful (and see you as a valuable resource), they will reach out directly and seek out your services.
That’s the entire goal—and I swear to you, this happens. Every single one of my clients is inbound. They read my content, they learn something new, they see me as a knowledgeable resource, and they reach out because they know that I know what I’m talking about.
That’s what I want to teach you how to do.
You now understand the value of writing and building credibility for yourself online.
You also understand where you should start writing: Quora, Medium, and LinkedIn, so that you can start building an audience and catching the eyes of the major publications.
And you also understand how the content ladder works.
The next step is learning how to structure your writing in a way that has the ability to not only be instantly republished by these major publications, but has the potential of going viral.
For being a PRSUIT reader and taking the time to learn from this Playbook, I want to give you 75% off my online writing course, How To Get Published In Major Publications. Use code [Prsuit] at checkout to get this deal.
In the course, I actually walk through my process for writing viral content—pieces that have gone on to accumulate anywhere from 100,000 and 1M+ views, each—and content that has been republished by major pubs like Forbes, Fortune, TIME, The Huffington Post, Newsweek, and more.