7 Insider Tips for Aspiring Health Writers
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.
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.
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