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My new book is here!

11 May

I’m so excited to announce the arrival and release of my new book for writers. It’s now in my hot little hands and for sale from the back of my van. (I jest. Well, sort of. But not entirely.)

The book is a practical, how-t0, hands-on, step-by-step guide for getting published today. It’s perfect for anyone who has dreams of getting published, but doesn’t quite know how to get started and where to go.

The entire publishing process is covered in the book, with everything from coming up with marketable ideas, to writing query letters, to writing leads, to working with editors (and everything in between) highlighted.

It also includes a number of “extras”–“Writer Spotlight” interviews with professional writers and editors, “Writing Advantage” sidebars, sample query letters and articles, and learning exercises with every chapter.

The chapters in the book will give you a good idea of what you can expect between its covers:

1: Magazine Writing Today

2: Writing Features for Newspapers

3: Writing for Online Publications

4: Writing for Trade Publications

5: The Magazine Article

6: The Writing Process

7: Generating Ideas

8: Marketing Your Writing

9: Query Letters

10: Research & Interviews

11: Writing a Feature Article: Structure

12: Outlining, Drafting, Revising

13: Writing a Feature Article: Style

14: Final Steps to Publication

15: Business, Legal, & Ethical Practices

The book will be marketed as a textbook to college feature writing and magazine writing courses, but it is also a wonderful resource for aspiring freelance writers (or successful writers who want a jumpstart to their work).

I’m looking forward to talking about the topics in the book to writing groups and at writing conferences in the next months. If you would like to have me as a speaker for your group, let me know and I will get you on my schedule (email me at cherylswray@gmail.com; comment on this post; or visit me at “Cheryl Sloan Wray” or at “Writing with Cheryl” on Facebook).

If you’d like a copy of the book, let me know and I can mail one off to you. It retails to colleges for $31.95, but I can sell individual copies for $20. (I’ll even autograph it for you!)

A new book is always an exciting thing…and I’m especially excited that my book is designed to help writers find publishing success.

(Look for more things here related to the book soon. I will be posting some excerpts, speaking news, and other items related to it.)

Have a wonderful…and productive…Friday and weekend.

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A fun little tease…

26 Mar

Working on a book can be a laborious process.

There’s all the planning; then the drafting and writing; then the rewriting; then the proofing.

It can sometimes seem like you’ll never hold the book in your hot little hands.

When you start to see signs, though, of the book being “real” it becomes very exciting. You can see the end of the tunnel, the culmination of the creative process. (And then you can look forward to the sharing of the book with other people.)

I’ve just seen the cover designs of my new writing book, and I am quite excited (to say the least!).

I thought I’d share a peek of the back cover with all of you, mostly because I want to share my excitement with someone other than my husband and daughters but also because the cover gives you an idea of the content of my book. It gives an outline of the book chapters and special features found in its pages. (Click on it for a larger view.)

I’m really looking forward to having this book available soon (it will be sold both as a textbook and also as a popular book for aspiring writers). I will be doing some book signing events and also speaking with writing groups and at writing workshops as a way to get it out there. (And I hope I will see some of you at these events.)

The path to publication…ALWAYS exciting!

What about multiple submissions?

16 Mar

In talking with writers who have an interest in writing for and getting published in magazines, a common question I get from them is: “What does it mean when an editor says he doesn’t want to receive multiple submissions?” And, close to that question, is this: “Can I only send one article at a time to a magazine? That seems like a waste of time to me.”

It’s difficult to get many articles published if you query on only one idea at a time. However, many publications ask that you not send them multiple submissions.

So, as a writer who desires publications and payment, what do you do?

In dealing with the dilemma, it’s important first to understand the concept of
multiple submissions. Sending multiple submissions means that you are sending the same article to more than one magazine at the same time. It would be an ethical issue if you had competing magazines (magazines that have the same audiences) with your same article on slate for publication. Ethical and intelligent ways exist, though, to increase your chances of success and not cause a problem among different publications. Here are the two basic principles to follow:

1. Do send as many query letters on the same article idea to as many magazines as you can think of.

While you must not send the same, complete article to competing magazines, you should send query letters to as many magazines as possible. All of them will not be interested in your idea, but perhaps one or more will be. Imagine, though, that you have created a list of 10 magazines you think might like the idea and you send a query to only one magazine at a time, waiting to get a response from it before querying the next magazine on your list. Also imagine that, on average, it takes each magazine one month to reply to your query and that the first one to accept your idea is the seventh one you query. That means it would take seven months before you get a go-ahead.

Instead of waiting so long, go ahead at the beginning and send queries to all
10 magazines.

2. Do not send the same manuscript to competing magazines, but come up with
other slants to the same general idea.

Most competing magazines–all women’s magazines or all teen magazines,
for example–publish articles on the same general topics (health, relationships,
diet, etc.). So several of them could be interested in the same idea about which
you query. If you send out multiple queries at the same time, then, it is possible that more than one magazine will give you a go-ahead. If more than one magazine wants your article, you then have the following
options:

a. You could send your article to only one magazine and tell the others of
your decision.

b. You could send your article to one magazine–and not reply to the other
magazines–and then, in the event the first magazine decides not to publish the
article, send it to a second magazine.

c. You could write an article for each of the magazines that give you a go-
ahead, with each article taking a distinctive approach to the idea.

Multiple articles on the same general idea are not a problem. Keep in mind that magazines in the same field publish numerous articles about the same topics issue after issue. If two or more magazines want an article from you, simply assure that you use different material–such as sources, quotations, and anecdotes–for each article.

When you sell an article to one magazine, take your success as an indication
that you have a good idea, one that might interest other magazines. So work with the idea, slant it differently, and propose an article to a competing magazine.

(This post is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Writing Feature Articles: The Professional Guide to Publishing in Magazines, Newspapers, and Online. It will be available in Summer, 2012.)

Writing Effective Leads–12 Different Approaches

20 Feb

As you get ready to write your article (whether it’s for a magazine, newsletter, newspaper, or website), you will probably first consider how you want to START it.

The first impression you give is of upmost importance, after all. You want to start an article with a catchy lead, capturing the reader’s attention from the get-go.

Here are 12 different techniques to consider using for the next lead you write:

1. Summary Lead

A summary lead — which is sometimes thought of as the straight news lead — states the key point of the article. (For example: “Howard B. Unruh, 28, a mild, soft-spoken veteran of battles in Italy, France and Germany, killed 12 people with a war souvenir Luger pistol in his home block in East Camden Tuesday morning. He wounded four others.”)

2. Direct Address Lead

A lead that is a direct address to readers  —  a “you” lead  —  is calculated to induce them to continue reading because it involves them to some degree. (“If you have a shape like a pear, don’t let it bother you. You are more likely to succeed in life than most people.”)

3. Anecdotal Lead

      An anecdotal lead tells a real-life story that illustrates the point of the article. While not always the case, anecdotal leads can be emotionally charged (poignant or humorous, for example). (“It’s the night before Sarah’s wedding. The images she’d dreamed of for years — the perfect dress, the meaningful vows, the sumptuous cake — now seem to reside only in the land of fairy tales. Her bridesmaids are fighting, her groom hasn’t reported on the state of his vows, and the wrong flowers were ordered. Thinking of the disarray around her, Sarah bursts into tears. This isn’t the way her wedding day is supposed to be.”)

4. Descriptive Lead

A descriptive lead describes a person, place, or event. It transports readers immediately to the location or helps them “see” the setting of the subject the article will be about. ( “The long line of Khaki-clad youths stood at attention. The last notes of a bu­gle across the parade ground floated through the late-afternoon light. In the dis­tance, a warm window light shone, and John Henry felt a lump growing in his throat.”)

5. Why Lead

A why lead emphasizes the “cause” and is combined with the “what.” ( “They told Williard Johnson he’d never be a football player. After all, he had only one leg.”)

6. Unbelievable Lead

An unbelievable lead grabs the reader’s attention by revealing something startling. The reader will say, “I almost can’t believe that,” and then will want to continue reading to find out more.   (“Five out of 100 people have an extra rib. Every three days a human stomach gets a new lining. The record for the loudest burp is 118 decibels, which is as loud as a chainsaw.”)

7. Cliché Lead

      A cliché lead takes a familiar saying and puts a twist on it. The saying must be related to the theme of the article. Avoid bro­mides, platitudes, and triteness.  (“A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it’s not worth much of anything if it’s out of focus.”)

8. Contrast Lead

A contrast lead combines two or more antithetic elements to make an idea more significant or interesting.  (“School teachers went on strike this fall for the third time in eight years, but the city’s 62,000 public school pupils were told to report to class.”)

9. Quotation Lead

A quotation in the lead can draw readers into the ar­ticle. The quotation, though, should be brief and part of the gist of the article — and, most importantly, it should be powerful enough that it deserves being used in the lead. Don’t just use just any quote.  (“One evening in January when their children were in bed, Richard and Eu­genia Smith sat before their television set, talking. ‘All right,’ Richard said coolly, in re­sponse to an accusation from his wife. ‘I don’t love you, I haven’t for some time, and I want a divorce.’”)

10. Figurative Lead

Metaphors, similes, and other figures of speech may be used in a lead. Be certain, though, to avoid triteness and banality. (“The colorful dark horse wearing a white rose, running headlong into the election of 1872, hoped to buck the ‘superiority of man’ harness off America’s women.”)

11. Question Lead

A good question lead makes readers want to know the answer. Don’t ask a frivolous question. Choose one that provokes your reader’s curiosity.  (“Were the best presidents of the United States the sickest ones?”)

12. Combination Lead

      Leads may combine two or more of the preceding types of leads. You might, for example, combine an anecdotal lead with a question lead. Such a lead would present readers with a real-life situation and then ask if they have ever been through a similar experience. Or you could combine a quotation lead with a direct address lead … or you could use any other combination of lead types.

Generating Ideas for Magazine Articles (Part 2)

20 Jan

You know the old adage that you should “Write what you know.” Well, it’s an old adage for good reason. It’s natural to write about the things you know about and feel comfortable with — whether it’s a hobby you have, a place you visited, or a special expertise you possess. Let’s break down your knowledge into four specific areas (personal experiences, personal interests and passions, talents/areas of expertise, and experiences) and think about how they can help you develop marketable article ideas.

Personal Experiences

Personal experiences are among the best sources for article ideas. For many writers, such experiences provide the source of most of their ideas. And it’s natural that they are. When we experience something that we have learned from, or enjoyed, or have been inspired by, or that has simply made our life easier, we want to share it with other people. As writers, we find that our natural instinct is to sit down and write an article based on that experience.

As you look at the things you experience, consider two sources: the mundane things you experience on a daily basis and the bigger moments in your life. Both types of experiences can develop into marketable articles.

Ordinary, mundane moments — your commute to work, exercise regime, date night with your significant other — can become articles such as “De-Stressing Your Morning Commute,” “Soccer for Grown-Ups,” and “Fun Stay-at-Home Dates.’

Bigger moments — the birth of a child, failure of a relationship, summer vacation — can become articles such as “10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Having a Baby,” “Be a Better Listener,” and “Disney on a Budget.”

Think back on your life and recall moments that were especially meaningful to you. They may be humorous moments (a fun vacation), significant moments (college graduation), emotional moments (birth of a child), life-changing moments (a divorce), sentimental moments (conversation with a grandmother), even small or seemingly routine moments (watching a sunrise).

These experiences — whether they taught you something, or entertained you, or changed you in some way — can develop into effective, marketable articles. They might develop into an informative piece on how to handle a certain situation, a descriptive travelogue on a specific trip, or a personal essay on a memory from childhood.

Any time you are writing about something close to you, that intimacy in understanding and feeling will shine through in your writing.

Personal Interests and Passions

What are you particularly interested in? What hobbies or special activities do you engage in? What causes or topics are you particularly passionate about?

If you love something, it’s a perfect subject to write about. After all, won’t you be more passionate in your writing if you are passionate about the topic to begin with?

Think about the many things that personal interests and passions could encompass. Do you love photography, or wineries, or reality television? Do you crochet, or run marathons, or grow blueberries? Are you passionate about single-parent issues, or health care reform, or breast cancer?

Those interests and passions can easily develop into the types of articles that magazines need.

Talents/Areas of Expertise

Another important area of “what you know” revolves around those things that you are good at — whether a physical talent or skill (such as running track or playing a musical instrument), psychological talent or skill (listening to and counseling others), or a professional area of expertise (teaching math or coaching softball).

The nature of feature writing is such that, once you have a byline in a publication, you are considered an expert. If you are a freelance writer, you are marketing yourself as an expert on a topic or issue. While you will back up your own areas of expertise with quotes and information from other expert sources, starting with something you are good at or know well is a great way to begin.

All magazines — both general magazines and those that specialize in certain nichés (such as hiking, teaching, music, or gardening) — need articles on specific skills, and they need skilled writers to write about those things.

Generating Ideas for Magazine Articles (Part 1)

18 Jan

(The following information–and future posts I will be publishing in the next couple of days–come from work I am currently doing on my newest book on feature writing. I hope that it helps as you start developing ideas for stories you want to have published in the new year.)

The first thing to realize in searching for publishable ideas is that all effective magazine articles fill some perceived reader need. A feature writer’s goal is to come up with ideas that will in some way help, entertain, inspire, or otherwise reach into the reader’s life and needs. When you fill a reader’s need, you are in turn filling an editor’s need since an editor’s main concern is the reader.

In thinking about readers of magazines, consider the following needs that the professional writer consciously or unconsciously plays to.

1. Readers want to be entertained, and reading is one of the ways they have fun. Their sources of entertainment can range over everything from traveling, to cooking, to sports, to hobbies, to pop culture.

2. Readers strive for emotional and physical health. They want to know how to make all aspects of their lives better.

3. Readers sometimes have problems with human relationships. Most problems relate to raising a happy family and maintaining nurturing relationships. Few things are higher on the list of worries, for most people, than family and love.

4. Readers need help with their daily work. They want to do their work more quickly, easily, and productively.

5. Readers want to be well compensated for their work and be financially secure.

6. Readers want to be inspired by something bigger than themselves. They want to read stories of hope and courage. Such stories nourish their spirit.

In other words, readers want to be happy, healthy, loved, financially secure, and spiritually challenged. Editors are eager to get ideas that address any of these issues in a unique way.

Because of readers’ needs, most magazines therefore emphasize how-to stories:

(1) how to do something or

(2) how to be something.

Other types of articles that fill such readers’ needs include everything from personal experience pieces, travel articles, informational stories, and short pieces. As long as a reader’s need is being met, then the possibilities for article types, topics, and ideas are truly endless.

As you consider your plans for writing in this new year, consider the types of magazines you want to write for and then think about their readers.

What specific needs do those readers have?

What types of articles can help fulfill those needs

and..finally…

What specific articles could YOU write?