Establishing a Seamless Working Relationship With Attorney Submissions Editors
By Brenda McGann
March 16, 2023 | 6-minute read
Communications Message and Strategy Planning Content Type Article Additional Options Content Level: Essential
Marketing Management and Leadership
Publishing attorney-authored articles is a tried and true marketing strategy. As publications move from print to online editions, their need for content expands. At the same time, the style and format of attorney-written articles continues to evolve, with a preference for shorter, skimmable pieces with opportunities for illustrations and callouts. Legal marketers can lead a firm’s content marketing efforts by establishing a symbiotic relationship between attorney-authors and outlets and understanding what editors appreciate and expect from the process.
Submit an Abstract First Rather Than a Complete Article
Once you determine the publication accepts contributed (aka, bylined) content and reaches the appropriate readership, submit an abstract to the designated editor or managing editor. The abstract is one or two brief paragraphs explaining the topic the attorney-author’s article will address. If editors are interested, they will reply, usually within one to two days. If they don’t, it’s acceptable to follow up or contact them by phone.
I recommend against having the attorney-author write the article before it gets a placement. Waiting is much more efficient than writing an article in advance, then seeking an outlet for that article. Often, an editor will have already published a similar article, but will suggest another angle for your author’s piece.
Obtain and Follow Writing Guidelines and Submission Criteria
If the editor did not send writing guidelines in the acceptance email, ask for them on your author’s behalf. Some guidelines are posted online, so you may already know what the publication expects. Still, you should iron out any details and ask questions before committing your attorney-author to write the piece. Don’t ask for too many concessions and be willing to make some adjustments, too, such as narrowing the scope of the article.
You should also be aware that an article acceptance is often tentative and does not guarantee publication. Some editors will tell you the article is conditionally accepted dependent on final review. Others may return the article with requests for more analysis. Usually, an author is easily able to meet the editor’s requests, but in rare circumstances, an editor may decline to publish for reasons over which you have no control.
Follow Word Counts and Deadlines
Guidelines typically include minimum and maximum word counts. For digital pieces, word counts run from 700 to 1,200 words, but some publications offer opportunities for longer submissions upon request. The trend toward shorter articles represents a growing understanding that business and legal audiences no longer have the time nor attention span to read long, technical subject matter. The demand is growing for succinct articles, with internal headings and bullet points substituting for introductory sentences and long paragraphs. Blocks of legislation or quotes from rulings should be paraphrased, summarized or synthesized. As an added bonus, this means your author can cover more ground with fewer words.
Deadline extensions are the number one request writers make to their editors. Some deadlines, particularly for print publications, are inflexible; for online outlets, editors may have some leeway. Still, if you really want to impress an editor, train your attorney-authors to honor deadlines. You will build trust and credibility with that publication, and editors will choose to work with your lawyers over others who are not as dependable.
A more recent development in the online outlet world is providing no deadline at all. Once the publication is submitted, it is placed in “the queue.” Those articles are edited in the order received and published when editing is complete. While this method takes some pressure off authors, the onus remains on you to ensure the article moves along and is ultimately published.
When is an article ready to submit? Here is a short checklist:
- The scope and content of the article cover what is outlined in the abstract.
- The word count is within the agreed-upon length.
- The article is clear, concise and does not overwhelm the reader with legal jargon.
- Spelling and grammar are checked and accurate.
- All photos, charts, illustrations and other accompanying materials, including headshots and bios, are included or were previously submitted.
- No marketing language is included in the text or the bio unless previously agreed-upon with the editor.
- Headlines and subheads are included, even when the publication reserves the right to use their own.
- Double-spaces between sentences are deleted.
- The article is not posted or published elsewhere.
- The article has been through the content approval process at your firm, including any applicable conflict checks or peer review.
If you can do all of the above — and meet the editor’s deadline — they will want to work with your thought leaders again and again.
Include Additional Information Upfront
When it comes time for you to submit your attorney-author’s article, it’s important to also include additional information such as a headline, subheads, a bio and headshot. Although most publications reserve the right to create their own headlines, best practice is to include a suggested headline with your submission. As for the byline, it should be placed at the top of the submission between the headline and the first paragraph (called the “lede” in newspaper parlance), unless the guidelines specify an alternative. Be sure to also include a headshot, even if you were not asked for one, and a short bio at the end of the article unless directed to do otherwise. When editors request graphics, include uncopyrighted illustrations, photos, graphs and charts to accompany the article. You should be prepared to submit these materials along with the article.
Understand the Final Edit Review Policy
Most editors understand the importance of allowing authors to review the edited version of the article before publication. You shouldn’t depend on that being the case, however, so ensure you know the editor’s or publication’s policy about a final review as part of your due diligence process. Some publications only provide final reviews to authors when editors make substantive or substantial changes. Edits for style and punctuation, and sometimes rewrites of entire sentences for clarity (such as changing passive voice to active voice), are not substantive. Most publications follow Associated Press style or will state their style preference in the guidelines. To avoid editing disagreements once the article is submitted, learning and following the style requirement is essential. You and your attorney-author should attempt to submit an article that will require very little editing, if any.
Sign Licensing Agreements
For many publications, licensing agreements are mandatory and not negotiable, including any changes to the language. Your attorney-author may object and want to modify the terms, but insisting on different conditions is not worth damaging the relationship you have or are forming with the editor. Typically, the agreement transfers first publication rights to the outlet along with any other rights for how the publication plans to use the article. Allowing the publication use of article for expanded circulation, such as in a newsletter without password protections, can only expand the readership for your article. The agreement will likely prohibit the author from publishing the article elsewhere for a period of time, such as 90 days or one year.
If you are agreeing to submit a previously unpublished work from your attorney, make sure it has not appeared elsewhere — even on your firm’s website, social media or in client-alert newsletters — before the outlet publishes the article.
Discuss Reprint Rights After Publication
Having the article published is likely only part of your marketing plan. A few publications allow use of the article free of charge, others encourage social media links or even request you distribute the article on your social media. Some will ask you to purchase reprint rights via the advertising department before you use the article in any fashion. While editors may be able to give you a name and phone number, if you do wish to purchase reprint rights, you should address the purchasing and money issues with the appropriate person after the article is published.
Because editors are still people and not machines (yet), treating them with respect, following their suggestions, understanding how they do their jobs and letting them know as soon as possible when your attorney-author may need more time to complete an article will help you maintain a friendly working relationship for years that will follow you both from job to job.
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