10 Ways to Be a Better Writer—Right Now

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Recently on my podcast, Write About Now, I talked to writer David Hochman about the secrets behind his success. Hochman, who calls himself “The Freelance Whisperer,” has penned hundreds of stories for magazines, newspapers, websites, and books. And his UPOD Academy workshops offer freelance writers valuable tips and tricks for getting published.

The guy knows from writing, so I asked him to share some whisperer wisdom to help other writers improve their game. Here are some of the highlights of what he said...

1. Notice What You’re Noticing

Hochman credits this Buddhaesque phrase to New York Times journalist, Taffy Akner, a talented and prolific culture writer who also appeared on a podcast episode. What she means is that there is no better arbiter of what makes an interesting story than your own instincts. If you notice that you're noticing something, there's a good chance what you're noticing is pretty interesting. 

Writers ask me all the time, “How do you come up with story ideas?” and I wish I had this answer at the ready. Notice what you’re noticing. Damn you, Taffy, it's so simple but true.

"Be a good observer of what people are talking about but not naming," says Hochman. For example, I noticed that I was getting a lot of telemarketing calls on my cell phone from phone numbers that were almost exactly the same as mine. It really bothered me and I wanted to know why. So I pitched that story and got an assignment. 

"Be the person who is putting those strings together and putting meaning in them that you can then take to an editor," Hochman says

2. Explore the Adjacent Future

It sounds like an episode of Nova on PBS narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson but bear with us. David explains, "It's the idea that there’s this shadow future that exists right next to you." All you have to do is look at something familiar in a new way and a whole new reality opens up to you.

So how does this future stuff apply to writing? David gives this example from his own life: One day as he was training his son to go potty, he said to his dad, "I want to go on the potty train." A lightbulb flashed, violins began to play. This was a children's book idea just waiting to happen.

David had never written a children's book in his life. But he sat down and wrote his masterpiece, The Potty Train with the catchphrase "chugga chugga poo poo" in 45 minutes. He sold it to Simon & Schuster who found him an illustrator and now the book is #71 in all sales on Amazon. 

David is amused and horrified at the fact that his most successful piece of writing is for an audience of readers who can't even read. 

3. Find Your Diddy Hours

On the podcast, David tells the story of the awkward interview he did a while back with Sean "P-Diddy" Combs for Playboy. The interview was not going particularly well, and Diddy was reluctant to answer in more than one- or two-word sentences. Sitting with Combs in the backseat of his Maybach, David began to panic a little. He asked him how he's able to keep it all together running so many different companies. Something about the question caught Diddy's attention.

"We all have Diddy hours," he said. "You have the same diddy hours I do. You have the same 24 hours I do."

In other words, that excuse that we all use that you just don't have enough time to write or to finish your story or to pitch ideas doesn't really fly in a P-Diddy timezone. We all follow the same clock. It's how we manage our time that's the difference. 

4. Take a Social Media Timeout

I'll admit, when David dropped this tip I checked out for a minute. I could get with the whole P-Diddy thing, but give up my Instagram and Facebook feed? That's blasphemous. But David correctly believes that going cold turkey on social for an hour or two a day gives you extra time to really get stuff done. It will also put you in a better mood. Studies show that social media causes acute anxiety, which doesn't help your writing—unless you're Larry David. 

5. Be Done, Not Perfect

Here's another pithy phrase I wish I'd thought of first: "Done is better than perfect." Damn, that's good. How often do you tweak and polish your copy over and over again, fearing that it's just not ready for general consumption? I would imagine, like, often. Like, I'm doing that right now and it's late and I really should be going to bed soon. 

"Don't agonize over getting it perfectly," says David. It's not going to happen, especially if you're the final judge. Sometimes the simple act of just finishing something is enough. Someone once said, "Perfection is the enemy of progress." It took him four hours to come up with the perfect way to say that phrase, but that's not the point. 

6. Exit Your Bubble

Like it or not, we all inhabit some sort of bubble of common interests and values. It's human nature to want to seek out similarities. Familiarity might breed contempt, but similarity breeds contentment. Just witness how happy you are when a friend shares an article or a TedTalk on a topic that you totally agree with. 

But living in an echo chamber can also make us deaf to new ideas. Good writers know when to put a pin in it and enter alternative realities that might not be as comfortable. David recommends wandering out of your neighborhood (maybe write in a cafe in a completely different part of town), meet new people, and do something that's totally not you, like take an improv class or learn taxidermy. 

You don't have to do it all at once. Slow and steady bursts the bubble. "Build a bridge to a bridge," David says, "If you feel overwhelmed think about what are the next things I am going to do. What are the next two things I can do? Remember to build little bridge to another bridge and eventually you get there."

7. Ask for 100 Percent

You want to be an accomplished writer, act like one. "Ask for 100 percent of what you want from 100 percent of people in your life 100 percent of a time," says David. It's very easy to not commit fully to something. I do it all the time. Not eat sugar for a week? Maybe just one bite of a donut. Meditate every morning for 20 minutes? Maybe five minutes when I'm really busy.

No! You need to be in all the way. That means if you tell an editor you're going to get them a story in on time, you get it to them early. If you call accounts payable about where your money is, you don't hang up until you have an answer. 

As someone much smarter than me once said, "Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it;
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it."

8. Ask If Not You, Then Who?

It rhymes and it's the truth. Doesn't get much better than that from a writing perspective. Seriously, though, we all need to ask ourselves this question a lot more. "If you’re not going to be the one to tell the story, you’re leaving it to someone else," says David. 

Don't allow yourself to stand there in the dust while someone else steals your thunder, says me, the Mixed Metaphor king. If you have a great story to tell, tell it immediately. Which leads me to the next crucial question: "If not now, when?"

9. Capture the Unicorn

Every editor has that one story or book they really want, but are too busy, too stuck in the weeds, too distracted with a million other things, to find. We call these ideas unicorns. And if you can catch one, you will make magic happen.

How do you track a unicorn? You can start by asking the editor what they are, says Hochman. In a move that I have since blatantly stolen, David likes to sit with his editors and future employers and ask them point blank, "What's the one story you've been wanting to get but haven’t been able to find?"

If there isn't a unicorn on their wish list, ask what kind of stories they're looking for, what their audience wants, "thenI go back and re-engineer it to fit that need. This is so much simpler than "trying to squeeze your idea into their thing," he says.

10. Thumb Slam!

This is a technique that David suggests you use when you need to send a difficult email, or you're pitching a story that may be a stretch for you. He advises lifting your hand up from the keyboard and then, in a forceful motion, slamming your thumb down on the send key. "It feels good doing that twice a month," he says. Sounds good to me.

Writers don't often get a chance to high-five or chest bump. They're often a team of one, alone in their offices or coffee shops, quietly reveling in their own triumphs. The act of doing a thumb slam might bring some well-deserved joy into your life.

Listen below to hear the full interview with David:

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5 Things Literary Agents Wish You Knew

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Man, the process of getting a literary agent can suck. You send query after query and receive rejection after rejection—if you receive a response at all. Trust me, I feel you. I’ve had enough thanks-but-no-thanks letters to wallpaper my home.

But, in the traditional publishing world, an agent is a necessary and valuable ally on your path to book deal, Population: you. I like to think of agents as The Night Watch, guarding the impenetrable Wall that is Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Agents are the gatekeepers. You just need the key. I eventually found it—and you can, too.

To get the inside scoop on what makes agents sign you or decline you, I spoke with big-time, literary agent, Stacey Glick, on my podcast Write About now.

Stacey’s been in the game for 20 years with the NYC-based agency, Dystel, Goderich, & Burrel, She represents an eclectic stable of authors, who write everything from memoirs to cook books, picture books to children’s non-fiction.

You can hear the entire interview on my podcast Write About Now. Here are some key takeaways.

Think of Yourself As a Pizza Pie

I’m a New Yorker, so I know from pizza pies. This advice really resonated with me.

Stacey encourages writers to think of themselves and their brand as margherita. Having a great book idea is one slice of the pie, so is having amazing writing chops—but it’s not enough. “The rest of the pieces of the pie need to be filled in before you have a book deal." These include your social outreach, your audience, your ability to market and sell yourself without dipping into the publisher’s piggy bank.

Have a Unique Take

Seems obvious but you’d be surprised how many people don’t heed this advice. “What’s your saying has to be unique or different,” Stacy says. The world doesn’t need another World War 2 book, so what is it about your World War 2 book that’s never been done before?

Also, Stacey encourages you to run your book idea through the magazine test. Could your point be explained fully in an article, or does it require an entire book? And while we are on the subject of articles…

Write an Article First

Think of an article as a trailer for the movie that is your book. If you write your book idea first as an article, and said article goes viral, they will come in droves. Heck, you might even be able to get your book in a bidding war. Stacey has many tales of books that started off as articles. For example, she signed  Amy Morin, author of  13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, based on an article she wrote in Forbes magazine.  Says Stacey, “Ideally you want speak to a cultural concern or issue of something that hasn’t been explored or told in a way that will resonate with people and offer help,” Stacey says.

Think Non-Fiction for Children

We often think of the publishing industry as stagnating, and this is true in a lot of ways. But Stacey sees one big market opening up that you might be not have been aware of. Non-fiction for children.

She encourages writers to take a look at the Rutgers University Council of Children’s Literature. “There are so many resources for perspective writers there,” she says. Much more than on the adult side.

She also recommends the Society of Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators (SCBWI) as a terrific resource for networking.

Thrill or Instill Confidence

Tracey says that thrillers are all the rage in the adult fiction side. What kind of thrillers? “We joke about it in the business, but if it has the word “girl” or “woman” in the title, it’s gonna be a bestseller.” Think Girl on the Train or Woman in the Window.

Whatever you do, don’t get all Hunger Games or Twilight. Says Stacey, “There was a long time where you could sell anything dystopian and before that vampires, now you can’t sell anything dystopian or vampires.”

On the non-fiction side, the big sellers are books on doing something irreverent with R-rated titles like, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F$#k and You Are A Badass. But she stresses the facts that the authors of these books had big platforms that they mobilized to get sales.

 

 

 

 

5 Pitch Mistakes You Shouldn't Make

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Last year, I pitched a story to a major women's magazine, which I won't name but let's just say it rhymes with Hood Mousesweeping, that recounted the harrowing experience of a Spokane, Washington mom. Angel Fiorini risked her life to save her daughter from a horrible house fire.

The story hadn't been widely reported, and it fit right into Food Spouseleaping's sweet spot: They often published stories featuring "real life heroes," and Angel was similar to their readership—married, mom, 30s, heartland. Check, check, check, check. 

I wrote up a proposal and fired it off to the appropriate editor, confident that I'd struck gold. When I didn't hear back right away, I was surprised. I waited a few weeks than I contacted the editor again. She said liked the story, but in order for her to sell it to her boss, the editor-in-chief, she needed it to fly off the page. Like the reader flipping through the magazine, this editor needed a reason to stop on this story and start reading—immediately.

So I rewrote the pitch. I added a catchy headline, included a family photo, and tweaked the intro so that it put the reader right in the middle of the fire. In short, I pitched the story as a mini me version of how it might read in the magazine.

As a long-time editor and writer, I've had the opportunity to be on both ends of the pitch process. I've fielded hundreds of pitches (at one time I was in charge of a magazine's so-called "slush pile"), and I've fired off just as many story queries to various magazines, newspapers, and websites. I'm still learning how to to pitch perfect.

While every publication has different guidelines, if they have guidelines at all, there are still some tried-and-true techniques that will help improve your chances of getting your pitch seen, considered, and hopefully assigned.

Unfortunately, too often I've seen the same mistakes made over and over again. So in the spirit of helping you understand what to do, here's what not to do.

Canvas the Town with Your Idea Sending your story idea to multiple publications at the same time, is a big no-no. Target the specific pub you want to run your story and send it there. If you don't hear back in two weeks, move on to your next choice.

Send Pitches Blindly I can't tell you the number of times I received pitches at Glamour about gardening, or submissions at Stuff about poetry. It's as if the person pitching never read the magazine. Study the publication you're pitching. Know their tone, style, and subject matter. If you're targeting a website, look at their content categories to understand the topics that interests them. If you're pitching a magazine, take a look at the different sections/columns. If there are no pages dedicated to, say, first-person essays, don't expect them to make an exception just for you.

Pitch a Copy-Cat Story I always do a google search before I pitch, just to make sure the publication I'm hitting up hasn't run the story already. In fact, I usually do a broader search to make sure that no major national publication or competitive pub has run the same story. 

Pitch a Dated Story In an age where information moves faster than any time in the history of our planet; it's hard to be first to break a story. Unless you work at a daily, I wouldn't recommend playing that game. Being topical and relevant is important, but you don't have to be first. Instead, try approaching a story from a fresh angle. Have an original take or an original piece of reporting.

Pitch the Editor-in-Chief Don't pitch the people at the top of the masthead. Although they sign off on all stories, they rarely, if ever, assign them. Instead, target your pitches at assigning editors or even editorial assistants, who may be hungry to make a good impression at work. Don't know who these people are? Do a LinkedIn search for names, then a social media search for contact info. If someone has an assistant next to their name, they might be a good place to start. 

Ok, so now that I've told you what you shouldn't do, here are some examples of what you should do. I'm not trying to boast—trust me, many more of my story pitches have failed than sailed. But I thought it might be helpful for you to see some story pitches that got me jobs.

Good Housekeeping

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You can read the final story here

New York Times

Last month, I pitched three stories to the New York Times Arts section. Guess which one they chose?

Marcia Clark’s Second Motion

Twenty years after disappearing from the public eye, the infamous prosecutor is back in a new role as TV detective in Marcia Clark Investigates The First 48. On the show, she examines the first 48 hours after high-profile murders, such as the death of Casey Anthony’s daughter, the murder of Robert Blake’s wife, the fatal shooting of Jam Master Jay, etc., trying to get closer to the truth. Clark will also be hosting a true-crime docudrama.

As The Americans Bows Out, Holly Taylor is Just Getting Started

Holly Taylor, who plays Paige Jennings on The Americans, is perhaps the most underrated but polarizing character on the show. A few seasons ago, she outed her parents as Soviet spies to her minister, incurring the wrath of the show's fans. On the sixth and final season, which premieres in late March, she may join them in the family business. Would you consider a profile of her as a fresh new face? 

Is David Chang the Next Anthony Bourdain?

Celeb chef David Chang’s new docu-series “Ugly Delicious” premiers on Netflix on February 23. On the show, he travels around the world with celebrities, food critics, etc, exploring different cuisines and talk about cultural barriers and misconceptions around food. It’s sort of a Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee meets Anthony Bourdain. 

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You can read the final story here

And here's the Facebook live video I recorded!

7 Insider Tips for Aspiring Health Writers

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Do you have a health or wellness story you want to get published? Or maybe you’re considering a career as a health and wellness writer? You’ve made a wise choice. Stories about our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being are in massive demand in our health-obsessed world. You just have to know what the hot topics are and how to pitch them.

On episode 29 of the Write About Now Podcast, I spoke with Lisa Lombardi, a former executive editor at Health magazine and co-author of What the Yuck: The Freaky and Fabulous Truth About Your Body­, about breaking into the health and wellness writing world. Here are some key takeaways from our lively conversation.

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First-person health stories kill it online Personal stories about your struggles and triumphs over illness, body image issues, and psychological disorders, are highly-coveted by editors, according to Lisa. She says this is particularly true online, where the appetite for these kinds of tales is particularly voracious.

“If you’re struggling with a health issue and you’re comfortable writing about it, I would say that’s a great hook and a great way to get a relationship (with a publication),” she says.

The great thing about first-person stories, in general, is that you’re the only one who can tell them. So no need to worry about sounding “authentic” and “original.” They also offer wonderful opportunity to help others who may be struggling with the same issues.

But first-person health stories also require an extra layer of fact-checking. Your story may be very impactful, but if the science is wrong it could have unfortunate consequences. “Make sure that you understand your own condition— that it’s clear and not misleading,” Lisa says.

The #1 topic is… What do you think the perennially most popular health topic is? According to Lisa, it’s stories about sleep, and lack thereof. Reader can’t only get enough shut eye, they can’t get enough information about it. Just writing that sentence made me sleepy “The new challenge today is feeling overstimulated,” Lisa says. It’s your job to tell people how to chill out, calm down, and get some shut eye.

The next post popular topics are… Diet and fitness, for the win! Stories about how to maintain your health and lose a few pounds in new and exciting ways are always a welcome read. Two things to watch out for, though. First, so much is written about diet and fitness that you’ll need to work extra-hard to find a fresh and new angle. Perhaps a celebrity trainer has a new workout regime, for example. Second, diet stories are different now than, say, 5 years ago. Says Lisa, “We noticed readers were less interested in complete diet plans, but more in everyday lifestyle tweaks and strategies. They like knowing that people who eat yogurt tend to have less belly fat, or eating fiber and protein will fill me up so I can go longer between meals.”

Stories on health trends also do well Articles that either explain or debunk new health trends are definite winners—people are always looking for an authority to make sense of all the new research out there. Is coffee really good for you? Are legumes really bad for you? But if you write this kind of story, you’ll need to enlist the help of doctors and qualified researchers to make your case.

Timeliness is next to publishiness  No editor wants to get called out for covering old news. For this reason, they’re often hyper-vigilant about making sure that they’re on the pulse of whatever subject matter they cover. At the same time, no editor wants to miss out on a hot story. Try to give the stories you pitch an element of timeliness or a news hook. Even if you’re not the first to report on a piece of health news, have a fresh take on it.

Blogs are helpful For aspiring wellness writers, Lisa advises creating a blog or website that features some of your health writing. The standards for health writers is probably a little higher than other types of writers, due to the sensitivity of the subject matter. Case in point: If the only thing you’ve ever written about is fashion, it will hard to convince an editor that you’re qualified to write a health story for her.  

So is reading As Stephen King, who writes more about death than health but whatever, once said: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” So true. In order to understand what great health writing looks like, you need to read the best. Lisa suggests The New York Times, Washington Post, and of course Health.

LISTEN TO THE ENTIRE PODCAST

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On this week’s Write About Now podcast, I visit the New York City offices of Real Simple magazine to talk clutter with new Editor-in-Chief Leslie Yazel. Leslie opens up about her impressive career as a writer and editor, which started on the mean streets of Des Moines and continued all the way to the top spot of a major Time Inc. publication.

She also gives me a tour of the office, including the legendary fashion closet. I had a secret fantasy that Real Simple's offices would be complete mess with piles of stuff scattered everywhere. Not a chance. Befitting of the mag’s title, Leslie runs a lean and mean ship.
 
Prior to helming the SS Real Simple, Leslie was director of editorial content at Cosmo, deputy editor at the Wall Street Journal, and she held senior editorial positions at The Washington PostRedbookMaximSeventeen. We first met as young, idealistic editors at Glamour magazine, where we both received an invaluable education in the Bonnie Fuller school of grab-em-by-the-lapels journalism.
 
Both Leslie’s career path and her knowledge about the craft of editing are super interesting and instructive. Here are some snippets I took away.  

  1. She honed her “down-and-dirty” newspaper skills as an investigative reporter at the Des Moines Register—her hometown newspaper. One of her biggest scoops was uncovering that the new University of Iowa sports complex was slipping off its foundation.
  1. She prefers editing to writing, making decisions about which stories to run, who should write what, and which photos to choose. She says, “As an editor you have to be able to work with a lot different people, you have to have trust of writers, and you have to be a person who can manage down as well as up.”
  1. She says that another secret skill of the best editors is “knowing when to say no.” Even if a writer really wants to write a story, you can’t have too much of their times spent on just an ok story.”
  1. One of the first things she did when she took over at Real Simple was remove a lot of the puns. “Something about having cutesy puns was dissonant with a magazine that had real information,” she says. Sounds like a Real-ly good idea (sorry).
  1. She once had a boss at The Washington Post named John Pancake, who was married three times but, surprisingly, none of his wives took his name. Oddly, I once had a boss named Ben Waffles. Actually that's not true.

5 Things I Learned from Music Critic Ben Ratliff

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Ben Ratliff has a dream job. He gets to listen to music all day, go to concerts all night, then get paid to write about it in prestigious publications that everybody reads. 

In my interview with him on the Write About Now podcast, I wanted to know how he went from the sweet and smart kid I knew in high school to one of the most well-known music critics around. And what did he learn on the way to the top? The interview was rich with insider tips and practices. Here are 5 lessons I took away...

1. Be a Journalist not a Shrink

Ben has written hundreds of profiles of famous musicians, trying to get at the heart of what makes them tick. One of the lessons he learned early on at The New York Times is that it's not a journalists responsibility or goal to play mind reader. "You can’t think that you can get inside of the head of someone you’re writing about," he says. "You can’t pretend to think that you know how they think. You have to stay outside their head. You’re an outsider you don’t know what this person thinks. You are making your own conclusions."

2. Write Reviews for the Audience not the Artist

Ben says one of the most common misconceptions of a critic's job is that he/she is trying to tell the artist how they can be better. Wrong! "You’re not giving them pointers about how to be better. I mean that’s insane," he says.  "You’re writing about it (their performance) from the perspective of the person in the audience, and you’re writing it from your experience." I asked him who he writes for. "Me," he said, "and the people I respect."

3. Follow the Pleasure Principle

Not, I'm not referring to Janet Jackson's hit song—although I do suggest you rock out to it during your next workout. I'm quoting my friend Ben, who tells me that's the guiding maxim at the New York Times critics desk. "If we got really excited about some music that we heard, it gave us a feeling of pleasure, we would follow that and try to write about it," he says. That didn't necessarily mean they were going to write a glowing review, it just meant, "There was something there for you that you just want to get inside of."

4. Run Before You Write then Nap

Many writers I talk to have rituals they do before they start the tortuous process of writing. Ben likes to run three to five miles. It enables him to get away from everything and clear the way to "think thoughts that are mine only." Jogging around his upper Manhattan neighborhood, he says he's "getting that very important feeling of motion and the range of things you notice when you’re in motion. It is so rich and complicated and you just start to feel drunk on it.  He also likes to take a nap every day at around 3 pm. "If you eat something a little salty, maybe a little oily for lunch than you’re just ready for a nap," he says. I'm in.

5. Writing Cliches Isn't So Bad

I always say that you should avoid cliches like the plague. Always the contrarian, Ben doesn't entirely agree. In fact, for his next book, he's considering writing about the complicated idea of cliches. He says, "We are always told they (cliches) will weaken your language and lead you to a thought that’s not authentic to you. There is also a a way that they are natural or necessary. It’s all about you using them rather than them using you."

How the Story of the Amazing Finley and Christina Came to Be

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Good Houskeeping magazine recently published my story on the inspiring Smallwood family (no relation). I felt incredibly fortunate to meet them, and I was honored that they agreed to invite me into their home and into their lives to share their personal journey with the world. 

People often ask me how a story like this comes about. How did I find the Smallwoods? How did I get in touch with them? How did I get the story published in Good Housekeeping? The story was a combination of tried-and true old-fashioned reporting, good timing, and just a really amazing story that basically wrote itself.

So in the spirit of sharing, I thought I'd break it down step by step:

  1. I contacted an associate at Good Housekeeping to ask if they were hiring freelance writers. She put me in touch with a senior editor there. After a bunch of emails back and forth, I was able to get her on the phone for a few minutes. In a brief conversation (editors don't have a lot of time), I was found out the kind of stories they were looking for. One of the items on the menu stood out for me: Stories About Inspiring Moms.
  2. As soon as I got off the phone, I embarked on what I thought would be a light google search. Four hours later, after an intense session of binge browsing, I came up for air and made a list. Turns out there were quite a few stories of inspiring moms, but I wanted to find a story that hadn't been reported widely--if at all. No stories that were already national news. 
  3. I whittled my list down to three potential stories, did a brief summary sentence or two with a catchy headline, and sent them to my editor. She was very interested in Finley's story, and asked for a more detailed proposal that she could run by the editor in chief.
  4. At this point, I felt there was sufficient enough interest to contact Christina directly to find out if she'd be interested in participating in the story. 
  5. Thankfully, Christina is very active on social media. So I was able to contact her via Facebook. When she got back to me and expressed interest, I asked if I could have 10 minutes of her time to do a quick pre-interview. She graciously agreed.
  6. Armed with new and updated information, I put together a more formal powerpoint one-sheet pitch for Good Housekeeping, which included a lovely photo and a few paragraphs summarizing the story and my unique angle for magazine. I tailored the story to the magazine's readership, which as moms 35 and up.
  7. A few days later, I got the greenlight. Whoot! Next, I made plans to visit Christina and Finley in Corona. If possible, I will always try to meet a story subject in person. This allows me to add color and details that you just can't recreate from talking to someone over the phone. 
  8. Armed with two recorders (I always have a backup) and a camera (many pubs now require that the reporter takes photos), I visited Christina and Finley. I asked if I could come on a day when Finley was having a dance lesson and they granted my request. Christina also scheduled a physical therapy session for Finley while I was there, which I greatly appreciated.
  9. I shadowed the two for the day, and then Christina talked to me for a few hours at her home. Because Christina is a working mom with a 4-year-old, I made sure beforehand that we would have some time to talk alone one-on-one. I planned this portion of the interview after we'd spent the morning together. This way a certain trust and comfort level had been established, and I wouldn't be some random reporter asking her a bunch of personal quesitons.  
  10. I brought along prepared questions for Christina, but I also added to the list as the day unfolded. During our interview, I made sure to really listen to her answers and follow up on any questions that may arise. Knowing that Good Housekeeping (like all good publications) likes to infuse their stories with feeling and emotion, I asked Christina to recount not only what happened but what it felt like every step of the way. I left the interview with more than I needed--which is always a good rule of thumb. 
  11. Back at home, I did phone interviews with Josh Smallwood and Dr. Park and other people Christina mentioned. I also did extensive research on cerebral palsy and SDR surgery. 
  12. With all my informaton in hand, I wrote up an outline then embarked on a first draft. After doing a few passes, I sent the story to Good Houskeeping. They were very pleased with the story and had a few questions--most of which I could answer from my notes. For the others, I schedule a brief and very pointed follow up interview with Christina, who was more than generous with her time and candor.

I handed in the second draft a few days later. It received a lovely polish from my editors. And the result can be found here.

Since the story appeared in the September issue, Christina has received many kind words, donations, and notes from parents all over the world wanting to learn more about SDR surgery.  I am also pleased to announce that Finley is making incredible progress and may be walking completely unassisted soon.

Please leave your thoughts on the story in the comment section. If you have any further questions about the pitching and writing process, I'm here to help!

Until then, do the write thing!

How An NFL Linebacker is Tackling the Business World

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I recently had the opportunity to hang out with Derrick Morgan, an NFL linebacker for the Tennessee Titans. It was part of an Entrepreneur story focusing on a new sports agency started by marketing guru, Gary Vaynerchuk. Morgan recently signed with the boutique agency because he felt a kinship with its founders' entrepreneurial spirit.

Unlike many pro athletes who end up bankrupt after their short careers, Morgan is planning a future for himself after football. “You always hear about statistics of players going broke,” he says. “I didn’t want to be a statistic. I realized I needed to invest in myself outside of the game.” Check out the story here and let me know what you think.