Overview of LDS Storymakers Writer's Conference-
Carolyn Campbell is a woman of great success. Her stories have graced the cover of People Magazine. She has regular articles in Lady's Home Journal, Redbook, and nameless other smaller publications. She has had thousands of articles published and averages numerous projects every week.
So what's her secret?
I raised my hand, skeptical that everything she touches turns to gold and asked how many rejections she gets. She shrugged and said about half of what she sends out gets turned down, but since she submitted five queries a day- that is still a lot of copy that actually pays.
AND at $500 to $1000 per article, she's making more in a few afternoons than I did over the six months it took me to put together my first book. Of course, her resume is impressive, but I'm ready to start trying. Carolyn outlined the way to start to make it all happen.
Choose Your Prime Time for Writing-
You need to face your writing seriously. She has a specific routine which she tries not to deviate from. Everyday she begins by sending out five queries. After an hour or so of doing that, she starts writing her current work in progress. She continues until two o'clock and takes a break. Then sometime in the afternoon she spends another hour on marketing and interviews. Just before bed, she plans what she'll accomplish the next day so that she stays on task.
According to Carolyn by:
- facing your writing like a business,
- keeping the pipeline full with new queries,
- holding yourself to time limits so you take breaks and
- varying your activities,
it allows you to stay productive without getting burnt out.
Sending Out Queries
Unlike writing fiction where you write first, sell later, this non-fiction venue is just the opposite. She must have told us at least four times DON'T WRITE YOUR STORY UNTIL IT IS SOLD! I think she had to repeat it so many times because we couldn't believe her. She also reminded us that seasonal stories must be queried six to eight months out. Get ready for Christmas!
So what's in a query? This is Carolyn's formula:
1. The Lead-
Begin with something that will surprise people and give them a visceral reaction. A girl got in a car wreck while text messenging. Carolyn found out the girl had 11,000 text messages that month. That was her lead. Another Calculus teacher was leaving high school to paint lines in parking lots. When the camera crew showed up to take his picture, they were so entertained one said "This is a huge loss to education." That was her lead. Start with what about your article will speak to people.
2. Why Should We Care?
The next paragraph should explain what impact this story has on what segment of the population. Use statistics, regional interest, news pegs, or the obscure.
3. Why Should You Be The One to Write it?
So if you've sold the article with the first two paragraphs, now is the time to sell yourself. If you've got past writing experience include it, but more than that, include how you are connected to the article. What experience do you have in the field or how do you know the person you are writing about.
If you don't have that, tell them you called the resources at the center of the story and they have already agreed to an interview. (If you say this, really have done it.) She also said they love photos, so if you have pictures or the ability to get pictures, that's a big plus.
4. Ending Phrase-
Carolyn said she ends all her queries almost identically. Her words are "If you will send me an approximate word length or deadline, I will begin on the article immediately." Now you might want to tweak it a little so it sounds like you, but in essence here is where you ask for the job.
That's it. She also said that after you develop a relationship with a publisher she sends out mini-queries. From what I could get the only difference between a full-blown query and a mini one was the third part of the query on selling yourself, because they already know you.
What Do You Write About?
Carolyn is always on the lookout for good stories. The kernel of an idea can begin any number of ways:
What's going on in your schools, in your town? What are your friends worried about or talking about? Read your local paper and magazines. Listen to what people around you care about because chances are that other people care about it too.
Personal Connections -
Do you have friends, relatives, church contacts with a friend of someone who might be newsworthy? Is there someone they have spoken of that seems fascinating. Don't be afraid to ask. (Carol is fearless when it comes to interviewing. She said that she had one person say they didn't want to comment so she got the article from getting information from all his friends and then called to see if he wanted to comment on their comments. He did.)
Personal Passions -
Is there something you are passionate about? If you care about it, that emotion will shine through your writing. Passions could include things like quilting, scrapbooking, geneology, organization, fitness, health issues you've dealt with, humanitarian aid. Anything you really feel strongly about could make a great story.
Follow Your Instincts -
If your ears are open, you'll read a word or two or hear someone say something and it might spark something in you. When that happens, trust that feeling and pursue it. She told of many stories that started with an idea that panned out. One time her sister called and told her there was a contest she was sure she could win in the paper. When she opened the paper, her face fell. It was a contest for the messiest house. Well, she entered and WON! With the before and after pictures, Carolyn wrote an article about herself and it did really well. She was able to spin it and sell it multiple times. All because she followed her instincts and moved forward.
Types of Articles-
I know I didn't catch all of these so if anyone went to this session, please add the ones I'm missing in the comments, but here are the five types of articles I did get:
Informational- This article answers a question. If you want to know more about something chances are other people do too. More about the swine flu, the truth about global warming, more about the effects of mold and where it grows... whatever.
How-to- Begin with your own experience but make sure you FIND AN EXPERT for this type of article. Her example was a story she did on "The Healtcare Jungle" that explained her experience trying to find insurance. If you've been given the run-around, write about how-to avoid your mistakes. She also spoke about "Take control of the clock" and talked to a number of time management experts. She loved it because it was something she wanted to do better. Nothing like free advice AND getting paid for it.
Profile- If you hear or read about someone who's done something remarkable, call them and ask for an interview. She spoke about a woman who was told she couldn't make a scrapbooking magazine but did anyway and just sold it off for $15 million. That's a story! She heard about another woman that was in counseling that was speaking about her adopted teenager. The counselor explained that she had given a baby up for adoption and they found out it happened to be the same child. Wow! The person doesn't need to be famous to be fascinating.
Personal Experience- If you have started a business, lost your wallet, entered a clutter contest. Do wild things so you can write about them- think travel magazines.
Inspirational- As the ecomony gets tougher, inspirational stories will sell well. Look for people that have triumphed and tell their story.
Some tips for how to find people or stories-
The Encyclopedia of Associations is a great resource for finding experts. It should be in the reference section of your library. Don't choose the best expert but the most interesting. One who speaks with visual terms.
Also, Infotrac or EBSCO can give you great articles to start with and you can go from there, expanding or going into more depth.
Find the editor's name to send it to. It may take some digging but you can do it. If all else fails and you have the name, look for the email format of the magazine and guess, based on the other emails.
Also, www.mediabistro.com is worth the $40 per year. When looking for names you can also look in www.writersmarket.com. Check under the advertising section or media kit if you can't find the name you're looking for.
If you've got a great story, make sure you spin it and try to sell it multiple times. Organizing your office can be with business magazines or at home. Time management can apply to any number of fields.
Story lengths have changed. A long article is 1000 words. A regular article is only 500 words.
So roll up your sleeves and go for it!