Make an 'almost' into a 'sure' sale
Published: March 8, 2002
|10 dynamic tips for selling your articles|
Confessions, they say, are good for the soul. And the truth is that most instructors take away as much, or maybe more, from their classes than the students themselves.
For the last decade, I've asked students in each of my feature-writing classes to share tips and techniques that have brought good things to their mailboxes. You know-those white envelopes that reflect green when held to the sunlight. To put it another way, those ideas that turn recreational writing into more of a business and less of a hobby.
Here, then, are 10 of the best. Some you may already be using; others may be a valuable addition to your writing arsenal.
1. Before beginning a project, write a sample headline and one-sentence promo, like a lead-in for the evening news on a local TV station. (Example: "Write or Wrong? Find out how wedges of free time can put a writer on the road to $uccess.") Keep these guideposts in front of you as you write. Seeing the headline and promo not only is inspiring, but helps prevent you from wandering off on a tangent.
2. Writers always seek to differentiate themselves. One step toward that goal is creating a title page featuring a strong visual. For a story on the Oregon coast, for example, a writer created a page in a desktop publishing program with an intriguing view of Haystack Rock at low tide.
3. Most of us dread deadlines, but they can work in a writer's favor. They help you overcome inertia. A deadline doesn't have to originate with an editor. Give yourself a date to shoot for and tape it to your computer as a constant reminder.
4. Include an author's note at the end of the manuscript. It adds to your credibility, reassuring an editor that he or she is dealing with a pro. Example: "Mike Swanson is a Detroit advertising executive who has written extensively about his favorite hobby—cross-country bicycling. Next on the family's vacation agenda: a two-wheel ride across his native South Dakota."
5. Tricky spellings—especially of names—trip up many a writer. An author's reputation suffers irreparable harm when he or she misspells a word. Sure, the spell check helps. But one of my students also posts the correct spelling of difficult names just below her computer screen to make certain she doesn't stray, particularly on subsequent reference to a challenging name.
6. Speaking of accuracy, little is more important in compiling a manuscript. Forward movement, a smooth flow and a compelling arrangement of facts rank right up there, too. One writer uses a Three-Pass system. She reads the final copy on her computer screen. Next she reads a printed version of her material. ("I see things more clearly on my printouts than I do on the computer monitor," she says.) The third time around, she give her ears a chance to help her eyes. She reads the manuscript aloud. "It's an excellent way to pinpoint the awkward words and phrases, and to smooth out the bumps in the sentences," she says.
7. Circle your verbs. They're the sentence "ringmasters," says another writer. Isolate the weak verb choices and see if you can't replace them with stronger, more descriptive alternatives.
8. Readers and editors love good quotations, because they speak directly to the reader. Quotes are a fine way to present a story in human terms. As an aid to the editor, set aside, in larger type, some of the best quotes from the text, which can be highlighted in the layout.
9. Every strong article contains at least one and often several anecdotes—episodes that dramatically illustrate the theme. After completing the first draft, circle the anecdotes in your copy. Check to be sure that the writing is colorful, lively and supports your theme.
10. For today's see-it-at-a-glance readers, include a timeline as a sidebar. For example, if you are writing a profile of an actor, highlight the most important dates in his or her career. #