How the Story of the Amazing Finley and Christina Came to Be
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!