Young people are unique, creative and insightful. Your voice deserves to be heard!
This is a guide to help you successfully have your own work published. It may also be useful to understand how publications work if you are planning to create your own.
Pitching your work
Many websites, magazines and other platforms will require you to ‘pitch’ your work. This means you send a short, clear summary of your idea (the pitch), and then they will decide whether or not to ask you to write or create it for them. Here are some points to consider when writing a pitch.
What is the tone and form of the platform you’re pitching to?
From how you email the editor to the actual idea you’re pitching, show you understand their platform. Ask yourself questions like, is their web layout formal and sleek, or casual and relaxed? Do they use professional wording or do they like some slang words? Do they use industry jargon or are they speaking to ‘everyperson’? Are they big on listicles or do they favour long-form essays?
You normally don’t have to have the title of your piece worked out when you’re pitching, but if you would like to suggest something it’s good to do something in their style.
Do they prefer certain topics?
The editor wants to know that their audience will be interested in your work, and making something about a topic they already speak on is a clear way to demonstrate they can bet on you. Look at things like their most popular posts, sections, subheadings or series on their platform. But beware: you don’t want to write something they already have plenty of.
Follow the submission guidelines
Also known as contributor guidelines, these are not optional! The editor will likely not consider your pitch if you don’t follow the submissions guidelines. This also means sending the pitch the right way (do they use emails or an online form, for example?) to the right person (use their name or title).
Who wants my work?
Aside from YACVic’s blog Elevate, there are plenty of places for young people to get published or share their stuff!
- Voiceworks is a Melbourne-based print publication that publishes work by Australians under 25 years of age.
- Archer Magazine
- Kill Your Darlings
- The Penny Mint
- South Asian Today
- Your school or university magazine
- Farrago at University of Melbourne
- Lot’s Wife at Monash
- Catalyst at RMIT
- Wordly at Deakin
- Many student groups and societies also have their own publications
- Local zines (or start your own!)
- Local film festivals for filmmakers
- Programs like FReeZA and AmpedUp TV for music
You should have a clear conversation about who has rights to use your work, and in which circumstances. There is a difference between owning the copyright of your own work and letting someone use it (this is called licensing your work – see below for more information), and giving away or selling the copyright of your work. Make sure there is an agreement in writing about this, particularly when making money is involved. Unfortunately, some platforms try to take advantage of young or early career creatives, so it is always important to be explicit about what you are and aren’t agreeing to.
Note: YACVic is not a legal service. This is general information, not legal advice.
What are my rights to my work?
Under Australian copyright law, unless you are an employee who is creating something as part of your role, or you have sold or signed off the rights to your work, you generally own your own copyright. You don’t need to register for copyright to own your work; as the ‘author’, it is automatic. According to the Australian Copyright Council, you still own the copyright of your work even if:
- Someone else owns the physical copy of the work
- Someone else asked you or paid you to make it (for example, a logo design or a piece of music)
- A publication asks you to publish a piece with them exclusively
This only applies to original elements of your work. For example, a graphic designer who uses fonts or photos made by other people, or a filmmaker who uses someone else’s music, needs to make sure they have the correct license.
What is a license?
A license is permission to use someone’s work under certain conditions – like personal use, promotional use, editorial use or commercial use. They may differ depending on the user, too – for example, an ‘author' may charge commercial use differently to a non-profit organisation than it does to a for-profit business.
You might license your own work to someone. For example, you could provide a commercial license to a band who wants to make money by selling merch with your drawing on it.
You need to license the work of others to use it in your own work, or work you do for others. For example, fonts, music, photos, icons, and even software need to be used with an appropriate license. For an installable item like a font or software, there will usually be a ‘read me’ file that covers this information. For downloaded items like photos and music, the website hosting them will normally have a page with license information.
Licensing can be expensive. If you’re studying, your school might also have institution or library access to licensed materials that you have access to. People like librarians or those in IT help can help you understand what you have access to, and under what conditions.
Sometimes, materials are licensed under Creative Commons (CC) licensing. According to Creative Commons Australia:
“The CC licences provide a simple standardised way for individual creators, companies and institutions to share their work with others on flexible terms without infringing copyright. The licences allow users to reuse, remix and share the content legally.”
Normally, the author of the work will specify what type of Creative Commons license you are allowed to use their under. Creative Commons Australia has a simple table explaining this.
Did you know?
You can narrow your search on Google Images to only show results that have CC licenses. That way, you can be sure you don’t accidentally infringe copyright if you want to find pictures to use in your work.
When you do a Google Images search, click ‘Tools’ underneath the search bar. There, you can search by ‘Usage Rights’.
There are also many open source websites that provide free or cheap materials. See the tables in the Directory below for suggestions.
For your audience to actually enjoy your work, it has to be accessible! This means it is presented in a way that suits their ability to learn and understand information. Some examples of access needs are:
- Plain language (writing that is easy to read). This helps people who might have trouble with reading.
- Clear image visibility, like high contrast colours. This helps people with low vision or colour blindness.
- Audio versions of text. This helps people who are blind, have low vision, or have difficulty reading for other reasons.
There can also be conflicting access needs. For example, someone who struggles with reading might prefer plain language, but some autistic people prefer language that is more formal because that helps them understand. This is one reason why it’s important to ask the people who will actually be involved in or reading your piece what they prefer - never assume. One great part of creating your own publication, for example a zine, is that you can have different pieces that suit different access needs, so that there’s something for everyone.
What can you do to make your work more accessible?
- The font should be clear and easy to read. This means choosing a font style that is simple, but also using a font size of at least 12.
- Use image descriptions and captions for pictures that support the ‘telling of the story’ of an article. Any decorative elements don’t need a caption.
- Think about colour contrast – are the colours clear to see? People who have low vision struggle to see pictures with low contrast. People who are colourblind struggle to see pictures with certain colours together, even if they are high contrast. You can use Webaim’s Contrast Checker tool to check colours.
- Consider if your target audience can understand the type of language you use. Is it hard to understand, or does it use complicated English? If so, think about how you could make it more simple. HemingwayApp.com is a free website that can help you do this. Are there any terms that people might not understand, but are necessary to the story? If so, try to explain the term in the next sentence. If there are several terms that should be explained, you could also consider a little ‘vocab bank’ with definitions on the side of the page.
- For people who prefer to listening to text, you could record yourself reading it and then upload it to a free audio streaming service like Soundcloud. If the piece is digital, link or embed the recording at the top of the page. If it is in print, you can put a QR code or shortened link for people to open the recording on their device. This is an especially good idea for long articles, as it’s really helpful for people who struggle with reading.
Sticking up for yourself and problem-solving
Scenario: a platform asks you to publish a work exclusively with them but is not offering any payment
There are various reasons why you may not accept payment – you’re building your portfolio, the platform is non-profit or to raise money, or you are accepting non-monetary compensation, for example. Nevertheless, every piece of work you create is valuable and something you took time to make. Publishing exclusively on a platform that is not paying you means forfeiting your ability to make money from that work at all, so you might like to negotiate.
- Thank you for your interest in publishing my article about Blue Water High and Dance Academy. However, in the absence of payment I would like to negotiate publishing it exclusively in your magazine. Could we work on a modified version that focuses only on Blue Water High, so that I may use the longer form elsewhere?
- Thank you for your interest in publishing my comic. However, in the absence of payment I would like to discuss the terms of publishing it exclusively in your magazine. Could we negotiate my also using it in my own comic collection so I can sell it too?
Scenario: you’re interviewing someone for a story you’re writing and you aren’t getting much from them in the interview
There can be different reasons why someone is nervous or unresponsive. A lot of people get nervous just about the idea of an ‘interview’ and wanting to present their best self. You can do things to make it more comfortable, like making it more like a conversation. Don’t just ask question after question, respond to their answers and tell them what you think, if you agree or if you relate to their experience. Your interviewee will be more likely to open up to you if they feel you are warm and open – not just in the way you speak, but also in your body language.
If they’re only giving vague or general responses, try these strategies:
- “Can you give me a specific example?”
- “Can you describe what that was like?” (You can even prompt them to use adjectives)
- “What do you want people to know about this?”
- Give them a sentence to finish – for example, “I’m most proud of...”, “The biggest lesson of this experience was...”
- Ask what they want to talk about!
Also consider that they might need a break, or even have become uncomfortable with the interview and not want to continue, but don’t feel comfortable to say so. Gently check in about this if you feel it might be the case.
These are some suggested resources to find free or cheap materials to make work with. Always check the websites themselves for the most up-to-date licensing information.
These websites provide illustrations that are free, including for commercial use. They are also free to modify.
Many of the fonts from these sources are free for commercial use, but check if some fonts have other specifications.
- Google Fonts
- Font Fabric: some free fonts available
- Fonts Arena: all fonts are free to download, but not all are free for commercial use - check each font’s individual license.
- FontSpace: some fonts are free for commercial use - check each font’s individual license.
- Behance: some fonts are free for commercial use - check each font’s individual license.