Welcome to my new advice column for the Alibi. Ask anything about anything, and I'll do my damnedest to answer you. I'll even test out my own tips before I give them to you.
The best way to get started is to dive right in, so let's get to my first letter!
How does one go about writing an advice column for a local alt.weekly newspaper?
P.S. I love your work!
Aw, thank you!
Authoring an advice column is easy, whether it's for an alt.weekly or anywhere else. Gaining a following is another trick altogether.
But here are a few tips on how to get started:
• Have credentials. You don't have to advertise them and don't expect folks to ask about them, but you should at least have a reason for believing you are capable of knocking out an advice column. Why should people ask for your opinion? For instance, my credentials are that I'm edumacated (I even got me a master’s degree) and, maybe more importantly, my friends ask me for advice all the time. Plus, I've got a somewhat successful blog full of wonderful advice at katcox.wordpress.com. Readers won't care that you're not a therapist, psychologist, lawyer or doctor, as long as your counsel is good enough (or at least moderately entertaining).
• Do not ever claim to be a therapist, psychologist or doctor. Unless you are one. In which case, get a lawyer to draw up a disclaimer for your column and prepare for the lawsuits.
• Remember that the best prescription for most situations is that which the asker already knows but is unwilling to face. You've got to be prepared to be brutally honest. Tell it like it is, or at least tell it like you think it is.
• Discuss relationships and sex as often as you possibly can. This is what the public likes to read about. In fact, it's probably what you're going to get questions on, anyway. People from outer space will read your column if you write about threesomes, even if your advice is just “don’t ever have a threesome.”
• Make yourself accessible to people looking for advice. They have to feel free to ask about anything at anytime. Have a Facebook account and an email address and even a physical mailing address where readers can send you questions. (See below.)
• Make anonymity a priority for your advisees. Even if someone willingly gives you extreme life details, change this information in the question before you publish. In a practical way, this saves you from liability, but it also opens up the possibility of making your advice more universal. Specifics are good; if you can change those specifics and still get the message across, your recommendations will be even better.
• Edit questions as necessary, especially for spelling, grammar and punctuation errors. People shouldn't feel like their grammar and spelling are going to be under scrutiny, unless, of course, you're publishing advice on grammar and spelling. You should be able to keep the author's personality intact without printing really embarrassing typos.
• Be ready for criticism. Folks have different ideas of "good advice." In fact, the crazier your counsel is, the greater a following you’re likely to have just because people will want to correct you and counter it. Furthermore, if you publish an advice column, you're setting yourself up for scrutiny—especially if you don't follow your own advice.
• If nothing comes in, write about your own life and your friends. Just keep it anonymous and open it up to a greater audience.
• Be prepared for people to follow your advice to the letter. Although the average reader of the Alibi is probably at least a few points higher on the intelligence scale than a lot of literate Americans, the written word gets taken more literally than you could ever fathom. Even if you scribble a scathing post dripping with sarcasm, people are destined not to get the joke. So beware.