Tag Archives: Writing Articles

Writing for The Examiner; An Exercise in Stupidity

Okay, I will admit it.  I was appealed to by the idea that I could write on a topic I love – horses – and get regional exposure.  So I signed on to write for The Wilmington Examiner.  I went through the application process and they did a background check on me that would have made a police department blush.  I was found “fit for writing” and given a chance to provide content to them.

I wrote for them from September 16th of 2009 until March of 2010.  Six months ago I stopped writing for them.  I held off posting this because I needed to decide if I was overreacting.  I don’t think I am.

I published close to 3 dozen articles that were well-written, well thought out, contained original content and included interviews with local, regional and national experts.  Then, one morning I received an email from The Examiner “auditor” informing me that an article I posted on natural fly control was not “local”, got  a verbal slap on the wrist and was reminded that I w0uld not get paid for articles that were deemed not local.

When I was done laughing, I sent them a note telling them why I would no longer be writing for them.

If you write for the The Examiner, you really cannot be writing for money.  Local articles earn the writer $1.00.  No that is not a typo – that’s 100 pennies.  The article in question took me several hours to put together.  At my usual writing rate, I would get $200 for 4 hours of work.  By writing this article, I lost $199.00 in income.

Beyond the obvious, if I had been writing for money, why would I have spent 6 months writing solid, appealing articles about horses, horse rescue and horse care to earn a total of $12.34?  I earn 4 times that, per hour, for articles written for three magazines for which I am a regular contributor.

So this is NOT about money.  This is about trying to contribute content about a topic I love so that people who live in the tri-state area (or anywhere in the world since the web isn’t geographically limited) would have yet another resource for solid information and entertaining stories about the equestrian world.  My average page views ran 1210; Wilmington Pets ran at a rate of 1228 and the average for pets, in general was 1457.  I’d say I had a readership.

The article in question covered a topic that a LOT of equestrians are interested in and used experts from several companies/places discussing their respective products.  It was linked to different web sites which should increase traffic to The Examiner’s site and was tagged for SEO.

So, who is the editorial genius that says writing from my desk in Pennsylvania has to be limited to….well, Pennsylvania?  And why?  This article was about flies.  Flies don’t limit themselves to the tri-state area.  They aren’t restricted to ADIs or zip codes.  Last time I checked, flies tend to hang around stables and barns.  And Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland are… duh…in horse country.

If The Examiner wants to incent writers to leave their enterprise, this is the way to do it.  As a former journalist and a frequent contributor to several magazines with readerships in the hundreds of thousands, I find their approach short-sighted and insulting.  I have written my entire life and the product that I produced for their web site was  top drawer.

The operative word in that last sentence is “was.”  I officially resigned and have not written for the Examiner since the email from the auditor.  To their credit, the auditor did send me an apology for the email but the damage was done.  Theirs is a business model that works for them but, not, I would wager for 99% of the writers toiling over articles for this company.  If you are a writer and you are smart, you will save your words for someone who appreciates the effort, literally and figuratively.

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Filed under Copywriting, Equestrian Articles, Freelance Writing, Mid-Atlantic Horse Stories, Writing About Horses, Writing Articles

Assigning Your Own Stories? Advice on Getting Started

What happens when an editor decides to move from handing out assignments to making you responsible for finding your own stories?

At first, it can be a little scary.  How do you get started?  Where do you start?

It’s a little easier if you have been writing for that editor and for the magazine for awhile.  You know the topic areas the magazine covers and you know what kind of stories the editor likes.   But even if you haven’t, even if you are new to the publication, there are some basic steps you can take to begin to wrap your arms around being your own assignment editor.

First, hold a call with the editor or drop by for a quick meeting.  This gives you a chance to ask some questions and make sure that both of you have the same understanding of just what your new role is.  Here are some of the questions I ask and the reasons why I ask them.

  1. What story types are you looking for – cover stories?  Features?  Profiles?   One editor I work for covers 7 states and has two regional editions to fill.  I would love to do cover stories for her because I earn the most money from covers but I can’t assume that’s what the editor has in mind.  So ask where can you be the biggest help to this editor?  You will pitch the right stories but you will also begin to build a stronger relationship with the editor because you are making his or her life easier.
  2. Do you have an editorial calendar that I can review?   This can really help you start to think through topics that might fit into that month’s issue or this quarter’s volume.  Your story ideas will fit better if you know what the editorial direction of the publication is.
  3. Are there any topic areas of special interest?  Most editors know their audiences so well that finding stories is easy for them.  This question helps you to make it easier for you, too. 
  4. How many stories will you be able to take from me?  Editors usually have a stable of freelance writers that they like to work with so they may only be asking for one or two story ideas a month from you.  That takes a little pressure off your back and makes it easier for you to find and flesh out story ideas that really might interest the editor.

These few questions will help you to cut through the “gray” area that suddenly appears when you become your own assignment editor and makes it easier for you to start generating ideas.  The faster you generate them, the faster you can write them and the faster you get paid!

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Writing for the Web – Just The Beginning

Anyone who has written for more than a few years might feel a little intimidated when someone asks, “Do you know how to write for the web?”

It’s writing, right?  I write for a living, right?  What’s the big deal?

Writing for the web is not a big deal; it still requires writers to pay attention to word choice but with an added consideration — making sure what you write is optimized for organic search.

Before you panic, stop and think about it.  When you need background on someone or statistics to round out a writing assignment how do you use search engines?

You put in a string of keywords related to the topic you are looking for and wait for the results to show up on your screen, just like everybody else.

Let’s say you were searching for statistics on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.  If you want current data, the timeframe is important.  If you want statistics, you need to include that word, too.  Then you have to direct the search engine to the topic for which you want statistics.  So maybe you would enter this phrase:

2008 statistics prevalence Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

This phrase helps the search engine to know what sites to bring back to you.  Search engines scan millions of pages for those keywords and bring back the sites that match them most closely.  If you don’t choose your words wisely, you could get hundreds of thousands of sites, most of which won’t help you at all.  As specific as this phrase was, it still brought back close to 20,000 results.  The first page of results was spot on — and from reputable organizations like www.birthdefects.org/.

So what does this have to do with writing for the web?

For all the articles that my very directed search brought back, there are probably 10 times that number of relevant articles on the Internet that did NOT get found.  Why not?    The writer forgot to use the keywords that people searching for his or her topic used.  If the keywords that people use to search for information are not included, the search engine is going to skip right over your article.

Two questions probably popped up in your head as you read that last paragraph. 

How do I know how people are searching?  Even if I did know, why would I change a really well written article by stuffing keywords in it?

The first question is easy to answer.  Try using a tool like Google AdWords – https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal – to see how people are searching for this topic.    Select “descriptive words or phrases” then enter your search terms or search terms that you think are related to your topic, into the text box to the right.  Leave Use Synonyms checked and click on the Get Keyword Ideas button.

Google will bring back keywords in the order of highest search volume to lowest.  So, now that you know the keywords that people use to search for information about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, what do you do with them? 

This goes to the second question — if you write an article but don’t optimize it for search engines….they will not come unless they get lucky!  If you want your articles, pages or press releases to be found, you have to use commonly searched key words or phrases in them so search engines can find them.

Using keywords and keyword phrases in your writing is not as hard as it sounds.  If you can find out what the primary keywords are before you write, you can work them in while you are creating.   If you don’t, you can get a handle on how people are searching for your topic after the fact and revise your article to include them.

Either way, knowing how people are searching for the topic you are writing about then using some of the keywords and keyword phrases in your article may help your writing to rise to the top of the search engine results when people search for your topic.  And isn’t that what all writing is really about — getting people to read it?

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Filed under Copywriting, Freelance Writing, Writing for the Web

Writing Resolutions

We all make them but writers tend to make New Year’s resolutions that actually sound like they can come true!

Part of the reason our resolutions sound plausible is our facility with words.  Part of it is that anyone who writes for a living often thinks about the future and how they will manage as the economy shrinks and traditional publications fall to online magazines and, you guessed it, blogs.

So, what resolutions am I making?  The first one is to share as much of what I have learned in this freelance writing business with anyone who is trying to get started in it.  Why would I do that?  Why would I give away what it has taken me more than 18 years to learn?

Because I wish that someone had shared their knowledge, their insights with me.  It would have made the first 17 years just a little bit easier.  So, without further ado, here are some of my thoughts about and tips on freelance writing.

Freelance writing is tough at the very beginning because everyone wants to see samples of your writing and prefers writers that are published…which makes it harder to get published.  That said, there are a couple of places you can look for freelance jobs. 

 

Of course, one of the first places I check is www.craigslist.org .  I look in both Philadelphia and Delaware.  Click on the Writing/Editing link almost at the bottom of your screen – just right of center.  I have found a couple of freelance jobs through this listing.  One caveat – for every writing job I got through Craigs List, I probably submitted 100 queries.

 

I also subscribe to one free newsletter which has job listings but, more importantly, has tips, ideas and stories about writing and how to get started and keep going.  It is called Writer’s Weekly by Angela Hoy.  You can subscribe by going to http://www.writersweekly.com.

  

You also may want to look into Writer’s Market.  It is published every year and half of it covers book publishers, editors and agents and the other half covers magazines.  You can look at it at Barnes & Noble or maybe your local library would have a copy.  The good thing about Writer’s Market is that it includes all the information about the magazine including the editor’s name and contact information, the percent of the magazine which is written by freelancers and story ideas the magazine is seeking.

 

Oddly enough, I got the writing job with Equine Journal by answering an ad in their magazine.  So another tip would be to read through magazines and see who is looking for freelancers.  The down side is that some magazines only pay a very small amount — $60 per 600 word article – just 10 cents a word.  But I love horses and love writing so it works for me.  I also write for Advance Magazine for Nursing and The Art Times Journal. 

 

And I write for businesses but that is harder to get into and stay into.  To get jobs with businesses, you really, really have to network.  More on that later.

 

Those are a few of the ways I just stay tapped in.    I hope they help you meet some of your New Year’s resolutions

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What Do Healthcare and Horses have in common?

No, that’s not a trick question.  It is the question I get when I tell people I write for Advance Magazine for Nurses, The Art Times Journal, MD News and The Equine Journal.

The answer is really simple.  A good writer can write about anything!

Good writing is not about being an expert in any one subject, although that can make it easier but it also limits your freelance opportunities to just that one area of expertise.   Good writing is all about knowing how to write.  The basic elements of hammering out an article, a brochure, a corporate report and even a short story or a novel are about the same:

  1. Select a topic.  Getting an assignment from an editor makes this easy.  The more you write on a topic, the more ideas you will get on your own.
  2. Get a handle on your audience.  You won’t write the same way for teenagers that you would for adults or the same way for engineers as you would for bankers.  Your target audience will help you to find the right voice and vocabulary to use.
  3. Do your research.  No matter how often I write about horses or web site planning or healthcare, I ALWAYS do research before I ever contact anyone for interviews.  TIP:  if you are writing an article, make sure you save documents and sources so you can cite them.
  4. Determine which sources, which people you want to interview.  Your research may help with sources; your editor may as well.  And as you build experience in a subject area, some of your professional acquaintances my help, too.
  5. Conduct interviews.  My editors don’t care what I think or know.  They are looking for insights and information from industry experts.  That’s where interviews come in.  Interviews will form the meat of your article.  TIP:  I always record my interviews to make sure I accurately represent what the subject matter experts have told me.  A small digital recorder that connects to your cell phone makes this incredibly easy.  I got a TinyTEK from www.pimall.com and have been using it for 4 years.
  6. Type up your notes.  Why you ask?  There are two reasons — it makes it much easier to find an answer while you are writing if you can word search or scan a type written documents rather than notes on a legal pad.  Secondly, typing the notes actually begins the process of writing.  My brain, my subconscious, starts to put together connections and write the story while I am actually typing the notes.
  7. Read your notes then walk away!  Vacuum.  Mow the lawn.  Do something mechanical and repetitive and wait for your brain to begin the magic of writing.
  8. Clear your desk off.  Get a cup of coffee or tea.  Sit down and begin to write.  Write quickly, almost in outline form, inserting quotes from the notes and creating the beginning, middle and end.  TIP:  if you are having trouble getting started just think to yourself, “What am I trying to say?  What story am I trying to tell?”  Then tell it.
  9. Read your first draft OUT LOUD.  That’s right, read it out loud and you will instantly find places where the language doesn’t flow or the logic doesn’t work.  Mark up the draft, revise it and read it out loud again.
  10. Follow this process and edit until you are comfortable that it is in pretty good shape then read it again and this time ask yourself these questions.  Does it tell the story logically?  Completely?  Compellingly?  Does it make you want to know more?  Take action?
  11. Check your references and citations.  Make sure they are correct and that the format you use works for the publication you are writing for.
  12. Ask a “neutral 3rd party” to read the article.  You will be surprised what someone who hasn’t lived with the story, who doesn’t really love it or isn’t invested in it, can find.  TIP:  take the observations, changes and questions with good grace.  If this reader misunderstands or gets lost, you can bet the magazine, report, brochure readers are going to misunderstand or get lost, too.
  13. Make the final changes then, guess what?  Read it out loud one more time.  TIP:  if my gut says, “Don’t send the article right now.” I wait, sometimes overnight.  My subconscious is seeing something I am not seeing so I give myself another chance to read it through before hitting the Send button.
  14. Send your article, report, brochure, short story winging on its way to your editor and get started on the next one!

Follow this approach and you can write about horses, cardiology, surrealism, defense contracting and any other topic.

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Filed under Art Journal Articles, Equestrian Articles, Freelance Writing, Medical & Nursing Articles