As I’ve said many times, I’m not a big believer in writing to fulfill some dream of fame and fortune. To me, writing is therapeutic and nonnegotiable. I’ve always been a storyteller, and writing is an extension of that. Nevertheless, I spent years yearning for a creative career – I went to film school, and then I slogged through three years of law school writing plot outlines and tiny poems in the margins of my notes on Contracts and Constitutional Law. So understand the urge to earn a living doing something you love.
Which is why I’ve always kept a keen eye on the world of marketing original content. How do you sell yourself? How do you convince someone to write a check? Here are some writer’s workshop tips to help you along your way towards a career – or side job – as a working writer.
There’s no perfect combination of talent and moxy that’ll get you in the door. It’s often more a combination of serendipity and simplicity – you happen to have exactly what an editor needs, and you’re able to explain your work in a clear and precise manner. As an editor, I’m often tasked with dismissing queries by aspiring freelancers – most of the time it’s got nothing to do with their talent or their topic, but more with my budget constraints and editorial needs. But if that initial contact includes a topic I’ve had my eye on, or reveals a unique angle on a subject we’ve covered many times, I’m willing to give the query a second look. I may not end up accepting the submission – the hard, hard truth is that most editors are comfortable dishing out assignments to a set group of writers they know and trust – but I’ll certainly flag that query, and keep that writer on my radar…and now they’ve managed to get their foot in the door.
Some other query letter tips, courtesy of the writer’s workshop:
- Treat your writing life the way you do your profession life, with preparation, research and a professional demeanor.
- Lead with the most compelling part of your story.
- Evaluate your letter to make sure it speaks to the right demographic, that the topic is timely, and that the information is delivered in a way that’s interesting and entertaining.
- Structure is key: hook ‘em in the first paragraph, use your second paragraph for a synopsis of your submission, and finish up with your experience and credentials.
Last week I got the chance to attend a conference put on by the Western Publishing Association) in Los Angeles. The conference – Navigation. Innovation. Growth http://www.wpa-online.org/wpa-2012-conference/ – included insight from a variety of publishers and editors involved in trade and commercial publishing, with a focus on E-media marketing and “strategies for selling in the multiplatform environment.”
One of the sessions – “Five golden rules when writing for publications, blogs and online postings” – evolved into a conversation about what editors want from freelance contributors. Led by Rieva Lesonsky (CEO, GrowBiz Media) and Stuart Levine (Assistant Managing Editor, Variety), the session involved discussion of appropriate story pitches and the new responsibilities for writers in this E-media landscape.
Below, some highlights:
Levine – who says he’s always looking for pitches – declared, “Once I find a good freelancer, I use them forever.” That being said, he expects freelancers to take control of the story. “I don’t want to have to handhold through the entire process.”
As such, Levine expects his freelancers to develop their own contacts, resolve unexpected issues and challenges independently, cultivate dependability and reliably deliver appropriate content. Additionally, Levine advises that you if you’re interested on writing about a particular topic, you work at absorbing all there is to know about that topic.
“The best way to write about television,” he says, “is to watch television.”
Levine also suggests aspiring freelancers be inquisitive and innovative. “I hate freelancers who say, ‘I want to write a story for you.’ That’s not a pitch.”
Instead, Levine recommends suggesting a different point of view or a unique perspective or argument. Don’t just retread old coverage, find a new way to tell the story, or find a different story to tell.
One last piece of advice – blog!
“If you want to break in, write your own blog,” advises Levine. “Use it to promote your writing, then send it out to a slew of editors.”
Lesonsky spent time explaining how to capture the attention of the online reader and contrasting the difference between print content and online content. For example, while print media is focused on creative headlines, online it’s all about key words and search engine optimization (SEO). As such, you need to learn how to promote and package your content depending on the medium. A dual header is one option – with a key word or topic as a title and a more explanatory (and enticing) subhead or deck to draw readers in.
Lesonsky also advocates using social media to promote your content. Twitter, Facebook, even Pinterest, are all free and easy ways to connect with potential readers. With Facebook, you’re connecting to folks that are already your “customers” and thus you can capitalize on the opportunity to further the conversation, going deeper and establishing a stronger relationship with your “friends.” Twitter is about broadcasting ideas. Lesonsky compared it to going to a bar – “now you’ve got the chance to entice new people.”
The trick, according to Lesonsky, is to balance between what pulls people in and what makes them come back. Both Lesonsky and Levine suggest keeping an eye on breaking stories and news trends and finding a way to incorporate those topics into your story or article. While it may not seem intuitive to talk about the Superbowl or – god forbid!- the Kardashians in your blog, mentioning pop culture subjects can be an effective tool to drive traffic to your site or blog. The real challenge is to keep people there once they’ve arrived – and the best way to do that is by crafting unique, interesting and intelligent content.
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