It’s clockwork-level predictable: I say I’m a writer, and the first question I get back is, “Ooh, so you write novels?”
And while I’m definitely not knocking you fiction folks, I straight up can’t do it. Every time I try, I just end up with thinly-veiled autobiography.
Luckily for me — and other writers like me — the personal essay is a thing. In fact, it’s even a thing you can get paid for.
But it’s definitely a competitive market out there. If you want your work to stand out from the crowd, or just find its way to the right editor in the first place, it helps to learn from a writer who has done this successfully.
We get it: Heading off to an MFA program for a degree in creative nonfiction isn’t in the cards for everybody. But what if you could have an affordable, professional personal essay workshop delivered directly to your email inbox?
That’s exactly what Paturel offers with her online personal essay writing course: Essay Writing: How to Find the Story in You — and Sell It. Bonus points for being able to complete the entire thing in the comfort of your pajamas. (Well, mostly. There is one prompt that involves hitting a bookstore…but who hasn’t visited a Barnes and Noble in sweatpants?)
Writing and revision prompts are just one part of this six-week course, which offers brilliant craft advice as well as granular details, like how to find the contacts you need to get your personal essay published.
And Amy Paturel is the perfect person to guide you through the process. A journalist who writes widely in the health and nutrition spaces, she’s had her own essays featured in outlets like The New York Times and Parents.
Not only is she an accomplished writer in her own right, but she’s also an accomplished instructor: she’s done seminar-style sessions in person and also offers one-on-one online coaching, and she’s been teaching a version of this very essay course for about a decade.
Can you actually sell personal essays?
Right from the get-go, Paturel keeps it 100: she doesn’t waste time compounding your pipedreams or setting you up for disappointment.
“You should know going into this class that unless you’re David Sedaris, Lena Dunham or Joan Didion, you’re not going to become rich on essays alone,” she says in the first lesson.
But that doesn’t mean essay-writing isn’t worthwhile. As she goes on to explain, it’s some of the most rewarding work a writer can do — and yes, it can also be saleable.
Although markets are limited and competition is high, Paturel’s guidance stacks the odds in your favor…especially since she includes a killer essay market database complete with specific editor contact information for 130+ publications.
Even if you don’t end up selling the pieces you workshop over the six-week course, you’ll definitely walk away a stronger writer: one unafraid to “put your whole self into it—your biggest hopes, greatest fears and deepest regrets.”
After all, most of us didn’t start writing in the first place because we were promised a hefty payday. (If anything, we may have thought we were resigning ourselves to a lifetime of working as a barista.)
What we like about Paturel’s personal essay writing course
After checking out the course for ourselves, we can honestly say there’s a whole lot to like about it.
Paturel includes real-life examples of hard-hitting essays published in outlets like Newsweek and The Boston Globe — by both herself and other writers.
The course is comprehensive: Paturel covers the important components of a well-written piece, like vulnerability, personality and honesty, and more technical craftwork like word count, sensory details and dialogue. But she also goes beyond the drafting stage, offering ideas for how to deal with constructive criticism, rewriting for a specific outlet, and figuring out where and how to pitch or “query,” all with professional expertise and an injection of humor.
Paturel’s course offers specificity, including real-world examples of query letters and insider tips on how to do the investigative footwork to find editor contact information. (This is often the hardest part, in my opinion, or at least the most thankless. You’ve already put so much work into writing the dang thing…now you’ve got to become a private eye just to figure out who to sell it to?)
The course includes tons of actionable exercises that are easy to follow along and incorporate into your wider writing life. For example, Paturel dives deeply into the importance of journaling and teaches you how to hone your existing journaling practice to nurture budding essay ideas. She also offers weekly writing and revision assignments that are accessible but constructive — and fun. By the end of the course, you’ll have at least one polished, revised essay draft ready to submit!
The course is accessible — dripped out in digestible, weekly emails over a six-week period, it keeps you actively writing without leaving you feeling overwhelmed. And as mentioned above, it’s way more affordable than grad school…and you won’t have to attend even one stuffy faculty party.
The one drawback we see: unlike a traditional workshop (or even some webinars), Paturel’s course doesn’t offer student interaction or instructor feedback. She does offer one-on-one coaching and one-off critiques, but if that’s something you’re interested in, you’ll need to purchase it separately.
You could also enlist the help of an accountability partner or your local writers group for feedback — and either way, you’ll get out of it what you put into it.
But wait…Here’s the most valuable part
Last but certainly not least, Paturel’s course includes access to her personal essay market database. We mentioned this above, but it’s worth diving deeper because this is truly an invaluable tool that will save you tons of time and even more headaches.
While the course arms you with what you need to conduct a thorough masthead investigation, this document takes out all the footwork for 130+ publications, including direct points of contact, notes on what kind of content they publish, and even pay rate information in some cases. And they’re definitely outlets you want to be published in: LA Times, Lenny Letter, Buzzfeed, etc.
It’s not a stretch to say that the database itself is worth the cost of the course, which is $225.
Cha-Ching! You just got your first paid freelance writing assignment. Edits go smoothly, the publication date is set, and there’s just one last thing to do.
“Shoot me over an invoice and I’ll submit it to accounting,” your editor says.
That’s when the frantic Googling commences. Because you’ve never created an invoice before. And you’re not sure where to start.
I’ve been exactly in this position. So I checked the first invoicing tool my freelancer friends recommended. Freshbooks made it so easy for me to create my first invoice that I was instantly sold. It’s now my go-to invoicing tool — and it helps me with other business tasks, too.
Here’s everything you need to know to open a free Freshbook account, create your first invoice and get paid.
1. Create your Freshbooks account
Good news: Since you’re new to invoicing and Freshbooks, you need not pay for anything (yet). Freshbooks offers an honest-to-goodness truly free 30-day trial. You don’t even need to put in your credit card.
What happens when your free trial ends? You have to choose one of their paid plans. The most affordable Freshbooks plan is called Lite, which gives you a maximum of five clients at $15 per month.
2. Add your first client
Adding your first client is the next step. The only required information is the name of the company you’re invoicing and an email address. Your editor might want to receive the invoice, or they may want you to send it straight to their invoicing department instead. So check to make sure you’re dropping in the right email address here.
You can add other information in this step such as the company’s mailing address. But if you don’t have this info and your client doesn’t require it, then don’t worry. Hit save, and you’re ready for the next step.
3. Create your invoice
Once you hit save, you’ll have a few options. Some of these may come in handy later, but for now click the arrow next to the “Create New” button and select “Invoice.”
You’ll see that your invoice number and date of issue are pre-filled. You can change these if you like, or just leave them as-is.
Then you’ll need to enter a few details:
Item: Add a new line and write the item or service you are billing for. The item name cannot be more than 50 characters long. Then add a description just below the item name with detail about the work you’re invoicing for. For example, it could be a blog post, online article or editing services. If you create more invoices down the line, you can reuse these items or create new ones.
Rate and hours: If you’re paid hourly, enter your rate and hours in these two columns. If you’ve agreed to a flat fee per project — for example $75 for one blog post — then enter your project total in rate and bill for one hour. If you’re billing for multiple assignments (go you!) then add a line and repeat the above steps.
Logo: If you have a business logo, insert the file directly into the invoice by dragging and dropping or uploading from your computer. This creates a more polished-looking invoice when the client receives it.
Time tracking: You can also generate an invoice directly from your billable hours that you have tracked under the “Time Tracking” section. Simply click “Generate Invoice” and select the appropriate hours listed for that client.
4. Add terms and notes
You aren’t required to add anything to these terms and notes boxes. But should you? It’s always a good idea to agree on terms with a client beforehand, so this is a great place to add a reminder. You can use the notes box to send along a friendly note to your client to let them know you enjoyed working together and look forward to your next assignment.
According to Freshbooks, you’ll get paid five percent faster if you add a dash of politeness to your invoice. A simple “Please pay your invoice within 30 days” in your terms and “Thank you for your business!” in the notes can go a long way.
5. Hit send
Once you’ve double checked the details, you’re ready to send! When you click send by email, you’ll receive a pop-up to review the email subject and body your client will see. You can edit both of these to further personalize your invoice.
If your client doesn’t use email, there is also the option to copy a shareable link for the invoice. This gives you and your client a little flexibility.
6. Get paid
Now all you have to do is wait to get paid! There are a few things you can do ensure payment and remind clients in case they forget to pay.
Be sure to set payment terms, and include those at the bottom of your invoice; for example, a 15 percent late fee after 30 days. While editing an invoice, you can set up an automatic late fee of either a percentage or a flat rate if the client does not pay on time.
Log into Freshbooks at anytime to see if the client has viewed your invoice. If they haven’t, you can easily resend it.
Automatically send late payment reminders. Go to edit invoice > send reminders > automatically send payment reminders. You can set up to three reminders that auto-send if your client doesn’t pay within a certain time frame.
Ready to create your first invoice? Try a trial run first by sending an invoice to yourself. Make a new client (yourself) and follow the above steps. Then you can review your invoice, see what it looks like from the client’s perspective and make sure you’ve got the process down.
Do you write novels for kids and teenagers? If so, are your novels middle grade (MG) or young adult (YA)?
I write YA novels myself, and I often hear writers say that they don’t know which category their own novel falls into.
This is an important distinction to make. Literary agents are sticklers for making sure stories are classified correctly, and you can’t sell your book if you’re marketing it as something it’s not.
Here are four key aspects to look at that can help you determine whether a story — either yours or somebody else’s — is more accurately classified as young adult or middle grade.
1. Check the word count
How long should your story be? Word count is important when it comes to figuring out what type of book you’re writing.
Most middle-grade books run between 30,000 and 50,000 words since they’re geared for kids on a lower reading level (normally eight- to 12-year-olds). Young adult books are generally 50,000 to 75,000 words and meant for 13- to 18-year-olds (although both MG and YA books can be longer if they’re fantasy).
However, as Writer’s Digest points out, these aren’t hard-and-fast rules. Think about the Harry Potter books, for example, which are technically middle grade: the first book in the series was 77,000 words, while Deathly Hallows got all the way up to 200,000.
That’s why you can’t use word count alone to determine who a book is geared for. Let’s look at other factors you should consider, too.
2. Check the prose level
A 10-year-old is on a different reading level than a 17-year-old, so the prose needs to be adjusted accordingly.
Middle-grade books are written in simple, clear language; however, they can’t sound dumbed-down, which is why the middle-grade voice is so hard to nail.
Here’s an example of a passage from Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry:
“The Phantom pricked her ears. She whirled around and almost collided with Watch Eyes in her haste to find the band. She wanted the Pied Piper for protection. Behind her trotted the foal, all shining and clean with its newness.”
Middle grade books are made up of simple sentences that are easy to read. In YA, the prose is more emotional; sentences run on, winding their way across the page, showing emotion — or they stop. Abruptly.
It’s all about creating an experience for the reader and authentically showing the character’s voice.
Take this example from Divergent by Veronica Roth:
“He leans his face close to mine and wraps his fingers around my chin. His hand smells like metal. When was the last time he held a gun, or a knife? My skin tingles at the point of contact, like he’s transmitting electricity through his skin.
‘My first instinct is to push you until you break, just to see how hard I have to press,’ he says, his fingers squeezing at the word break. My body tenses at the edge in his voice, so I am coiled as tight as a spring, and I forget to breathe.”
See how this writing style is different? The sentences are longer, dragging on to create a sense of tension, sounding more lyrical rather than cut-and-dry.
Here’s one more tip about prose and voice: Keep in mind that middle-grade books are very often written in third-person, while the trend for YA is first-person.
3. Check the character
In YA, the protagonist typically leaves home while in MG they’re connected to home.
To put this another way, in a middle grade book the protagonist will discover who they are in relation to home. The plot is very centered around the main character’s family and hometown.
By YA, however, the protagonist is ready to strike out on their own — to go somewhere new and discover who they are in relation to the world.
The age of the protagonist plays a part, too, since the main character’s age typically matches the age of the readers.
Generally, a middle grade book has a main character that’s 9-12 years old, while in YA the protagonist can be anywhere from 14-18. (Claire Legrand, who writes both MG and YA books, recommends avoiding writing a 13-year-old main character as publishers aren’t sure what to do with that.) If the main character is in college, the book would most likely be considered new adult instead of young adult.
4. Check the content
Violence, language and sex — how much of these components does your manuscript have?
Let’s look at these one-by-one and figure out where the line is drawn.
When it comes to violence, less is more for middle grade. When MG books do have violence, it tends to be of a magical nature, such as the fantastical monsters who play a part in the popular Percy Jackson book series. This type of violence feels more distant than violence that happens in the real world.
YA books are more open to violence and gore; in Six of Crows, for instance, Leigh Bardugo’s character Kaz Brekker calmly plucks out a prisoner’s eye and tosses it overboard into the ocean. Real-world violence such as abuse and other traumatic experiences is also much more common in YA (example: A List of Cages by Robin Roe).
Language in middle-grade books doesn’t go far beyond “damn,” whereas young adult books play a little looser with four-letter words. And many MG and YA books alike use a made-up system of swearing if they’re set in a different world; James Dashner’s Maze Runner series has its own terms, such as “klunk” for “crap” and “slinthead” as a derogatory term.
Words like this can serve a twofold purpose — to help the fantasy or dystopian world feel more real, and to water down a story for younger readers.
Finally, as far as romance, middle-grade books are very chaste; characters might hold hands or even kiss. Young adult books, however, push this further — think of Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, where the scenes between Clary and Jace get downright steamy.
In a nutshell, middle grade books are generally PG, while young adult books can be rated PG-13.
With these tools in hand, you can self-evaluate your manuscript and determine whether it’s middle grade or young adult — and then you can feel confident in your decision as you send it off to publishers.
It’s time to find the perfect gift for the writer in your life…but the only idea you can come up with is a pretty notebook.
As writers who have spent our whole lives getting notebooks under the tree, we’re here to tell you: you can do better!
The gift ideas for writers below range from the ridiculously silly (“Poe-pourri”, anyone?) to the wonderfully useful (fingerless writing gloves). Use one of these clever gifts to make your favorite writer laugh, or simply to show you understand just how much writing means to them.
We created this gift guide with holidays, birthdays and anniversaries in mind. Choose one of the thoughtful gifts below, and that special writer will know just how much you care.
1. Fingerless writing gloves
Photo credit: Storiarts
Know a writer who’s always cold in their home office?
Fingerless gloves could help them stay warm, while still allowing them to keep typing away.
Even better, we found pairs that are covered in text from classic novels. Storiarts fingerless gloves come in lots of colors and themes, including Les Miserables, Hamlet, Pride and Prejudice, and the Declaration of Independence.
Fashionable and practical, this is one of the best gifts for writers out there.
2. Adult coloring book for writers
Yup, adult coloring is totally a trend.
Studies have shown that coloring reduces anxiety, creates focus and helps people become more mindful. No wonder there’s an adult coloring book specifically for writers!
The Coloring Book for Writers: An Inspirational Brainstorming Tool includes simple and complex coloring pages, along with writing prompts and quotes. And it only costs about $9.
3. Domain name
Does your writer have their own website? If not, they probably have it on their list to create one this year.
Gift your writer with their very own domain name, giving them the boost they need to make their writing public or start blogging.
Bluehost makes it easy to grab the domain name of your choice, and most domains cost around $12/year. If you’re not sure which domain to buy, your writer’s first and last name is a good bet, like this: SusanSmith.com. If that’s not available, try SusanSmithWrites.com.
You can test out a few domain names here to see what’s available:
4. Books about writing
You can never go wrong with giving a writer a book, especially when the book is about writing. After all, most of us are self-proclaimed bookworms, and we’re eager to improve our craft.
Here are four books every writer should read more than once:
Know how you often get your best ideas in the shower?
Aqua Notes helps you capture them. This waterproof notepad, which mounts to the shower wall, allows you to document the greatest of ideas and grocery lists…or leave notes for whoever showers after you.
Photo credit: Amazon
6. Literary socks
Gone are the days when socks were a lame gift your ancient aunt gave you.
You could easily fill a whole dresser with the cool socks available these days. The writer in your life is sure to like:
Novel Teas could be the perfect present, one they can enjoy while working on their novel or freelance project.
Each bag comes with 25 individually wrapped tea bags containing English breakfast tea and a quote about books from a variety of authors.
12. Literary perfumes
Inspire your writer with the scent of the masters who have gone before. Immortal Perfumes’ Dead Writers Perfume uses scents like black tea, clove and tobacco to evoke memories of first editions in old libraries.
One fun example is Pemberly: A Jane Austen Inspired Perfume. It features hyacinth, honeysuckle and peony — all flowers found in the garden of Chatsworth House, the estate believed to have inspired Austen’s Pemberly.
13. Literary tattoos (temporary)
Photo credit: Litographs
If you want to give your writer something that lasts a little longer than a spritz of perfume — but not so long that it becomes a permanent life decision — shop from Litographs’ Literary Tattoo Collection.
These temporary tattoos include famous literary quotes such as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “So we beat on, boats against the current” and Oscar Wilde’s “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
14. T-shirt that features your (entire) favorite book
From a distance, designs on Litographs t-shirts represent a theme, character or setting from popular classics such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Great Gatsby and Little Women. But if you look closely, you’ll see the designs on each Litograph product are created from teeny tiny words — every word in the novel the design represents, in fact. Each T-shirt contains roughly 40,000 words!
15. Desk lamp that doubles as an organizer
Photo credit: Amazon
The Write Life contributor Nicole Dieker called the Equip Your Space CFL Functional Tablet Organizer Desk Lamp “the best thing I bought for my office this year.”
It’s a low-cost, colorful lamp that includes outlets (two-prong and USB) so you can charge two devices simultaneously. It also has cubbyholes to store headphones, paperclips or anything else you want to keep organized.
16. Literary action figures
These action figures are a good reminder that writers are superheros, too.
Your writer could use these to add some personality to their home office or stage an elaborate battle when they should be revising.
Accoutrements has a line offering Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde and Edgar Allan Poe.
It’s way cooler than Post-It notes and packs a nice dose of nostalgia.
19. Writing-themed cookbooks
A good book can suck you into its world, inspiring you to see, hear, feel and taste the things it describes.
Help your writer enjoy the “taste” bit with cookbooks inspired by literary classics. Options range from the A Feast of Ice & Fire (Game of Thrones) to Dinner with Mr. Darcy (Pride & Prejudice) to The Little House Cookbook (Little House on the Prairie).
20. Kindle Unlimited subscription
With Kindle Unlimited, your favorite reader can access over a million books, plus thousands of audiobooks, for a flat monthly fee.
If your writer already has a Kindle, this could be a good option!
21. Comfy pajamas
Every writer has days where showering and changing into “real” clothes takes a backseat to getting that draft finished. (For some of us, that’s most days.)
Why not give them a set of comfy pajamas that explains why they’re greeting the UPS driver disheveled at 3 in the afternoon? CafePress has lots of fun options.
22. Personalized embosser
Create custom stationery, give your party invitations an official flourish or ensure those who borrow your books remember to give them back.
A customized embosser allows you to stamp a raised seal with your name, address and more.
23. Edgar Allen Poe air freshener
Freshen up your car with some “Poe-pourri.” This Edgar Allen Poe air freshener is perfect for a self-proclaimed literary nerd.
Plus, according to reviews, it smells pretty good.
24. After-work glassware
Photo credit: Amazon
Write drunk, edit sober? Er…something like that.
This literary-themed shot glass set features the likes of Dorothy Parker, Oscar Wilde, and more.
25. A Starbucks gift card
When you want to support a writer but you’re not sure what to get them, a gift card to a coffee shop is a safe bet.
You can’t go wrong with credit to their favorite locally-owned cafe or a nationally-available shop like Starbucks.
26. Warm slippers
There’s nothing better than being comfy and cozy when you’re writing.
Slippers are also a great form of self-care, and definitely less costly than a spa treatment.
Photo credit: Amazon
27. Amazon gift card
Not sure about splurging on a Kindle? Don’t know which books your writer has read already?
Give yourself a break — and make your writer happy at the same time — by giving them a gift-wrapped Amazon Gift Card. This one even says, “Happy reading” so they’ll know it’s for books.
28. A subscription to try different literary journals
Journal of the Month sends different print literary journals to subscribers on a regular basis. It’s an ideal gift for new writers eager to learn about the small magazine scene, emerging writers seeking a home for their writing, or experienced writers in need of fresh inspiration.
The price varies depending on how frequently your writer receives journals, and if they already subscribe to some, you can opt out of those.
29. A poster for keeping track of books they’ve read
Perfect for the voracious reader, the 100 Books Scratch-Off Poster lets your writer track progress as they read a variety of books ranging from classics to contemporary hits.
This is a fun challenge, a cool piece of art to hang in at home, and a #humblebrag, all in one.
They’ll keep your writer from making embarrassing grammar mistakes before submitting to magazines or literary agents, at a fraction of the price of a real-person editor.
31. Writing-themed coasters
We love coasters as gifts because they’re both creative and practical.
Photo credit: Cheltenham Road on Amazon
Add some sparkle to your writer’s desk or living room, while giving them a place to put their coffee or tea mug (or tumbler of whiskey) with any of these cool coaster sets:
Typewriter coaster set
Jane Austen books coaster set
Library card coaster set
Pun book coaster set
32. Office supply storage
Help them keep their pens, Post-Its, and other supplies in order with a fun storage solution like this library book desk organizer or this Hemingway typewriter pencil cup.
Photo credit: Amazon
33. A love book
If you love a writer, tell them how much you care in a language that will make them fall head over heels: a personalized Love Book. You can customize everything from the cover to the number of pages and choose from a wide selection of illustrations and text to make a book that’s unique to your love story.
The Write Life contributor Kelly Gurnett got one of these as a gift from her husband for their anniversary, and she wrote, “It was the best gift I think he’s ever given me.” Talk about a personal touch!
Sometimes you’ve gotta judge a book by its cover. Postcards from Penguin: One Hundred Book Covers in One Box pays tribute to the iconic Penguin paperback book covers and packs 100 of them into one (easy-to-wrap) box.
This gift also pays tribute to your recipient. Hopefully, they’ll be inspired to write 100 notes to loved ones or 100 very, very short stories.
Writers tend to be word nerds who enjoy word games. But Scrabble feels…boring. So how about Bananagrams?
Bananagrams is an anagram game similar to Scrabble, but requires no pens, notepads or playing board. This makes it extremely easy to transport and play on-the-go.
Players race against each other to build a crossword grid off each others’ words. Perfect for a writer who loves a little competition!
Image credit: Amazon
37. Reading is Sexy swag
For a great stocking stuffer that will make your writer smile, grab a Reading is Sexy bottle opener, mug,..
Editor’s note: Want to learn more about writing headlines that help you land writing jobs? Carol Tice, the author of this post is offering a free webinar this Thursday, July 18 at 2 p.m. ET called “What’s Wrong With Your Headline?”
In the free training, you’ll learn the top 12 headline problems (and how to prevent them), the number one way to know what style of headline to use for different assignments and how much to share in your headline to get readers interested. Click here to register for the webinar. Can’t make it live? No worries! Register now and you’ll get an email with a link to the replay.
Are you sending off query letters to magazine or blog editors, but never hearing a peep back?
It’s a common problem. Often, the problem has to do with your headline.
And, if you’re sending pitches that don’t mention a proposed headline, this might be your first problem — editors tend to skim through queries, looking for the headline. If they see none, they might assume your idea hasn’t quite gelled yet, and move on.
Now that you know you need to include a headline in your pitch, how can you make it one your editor will love?
I’ve pitched both popular blogs and national magazines with success, and run a guest-post program for my own blog, so I’ve been on both sides of the fence here. Over the years, I’ve learned there are some basic things to do to build a fascinating headline that gets you hired.
What are they? Here are five simple steps to make your headline irresistible to editors.
1. Bring the style
Your starting point for creating a great headline is always to study the headline style of your target publication. Study, study, study.
How long are their headlines? Are they businesslike, snide, sassy or hip?
Skim until you have a sense of their headline conventions and tone. Then, emulate their style in your headline.
Research is key because headline conventions vary a lot. With blog post headlines, you’re usually looking for a snappy, 8-10 word headline. For instance, here’s one I did for my Forbes blog that ended up pulling huge traffic:
“Meet the 8 Hottest Publicly Traded Marijuana Companies”
By contrast, magazine article headline style can be a very short headline, followed by what editors call a ‘dek,’ a longer line that fleshes out the idea. For instance, here’s the headline of a piece for Delta Airlines’ in-flight magazine, Delta Sky:
“The Do’s and Don’ts of Franchising: What potential franchisees need to consider about timing, industry choice, finances and more before they decide to take the plunge”
Know and use the style of your target publication, and your editor will be able to envision your article appearing in their pages.
That’s the first step to getting a ‘yes.’
2. Include keywords
You might think search engine optimization (SEO) would only matter for online blogs and publications — but you’d be wrong. Increasingly, print magazines are also posting their content online.
That means they care about using phrases their audience might search for the topics they cover. They’re looking to have each headline help them attract more readers.
When I wrote pieces for Forbes magazine that they also posted online, my editor had me write a different headline for the online version — one with better keywords. If you know your magazine swings both ways, suggesting two headline styles can be a pro move.
There are plenty of free keyword search tools online – AnswerthePublic and Neil Patel’s UberSuggest are two popular ones I like. Pick your favorite tool, think like a reader and take a stab at using relevant keywords.
3. Hook ‘em
If you want your headline to really get your editor excited, it’ll need to have a news hook.
What’s a news hook? It’s something new that makes your idea need to be published now. It signals you have fresh information that we haven’t already seen 100 times online.
The news hook gets your editor thinking, “This must run in the next issue!” instead of “Well, maybe this could work sometime.”
To interest an editor, you’ve got to move beyond generic headlines like: “5 Reasons Eating Vegan Will Improve Your Health.” We’ve read that story already. A lot.
Find a fresh spin. Is there a new study about vegans’ health? A new celebrity going vegan? Gotta give that editor a new angle on this popular topic.
A news hook might be one new fact that’s emerged in an ongoing story — the coroner’s report was released, or a new candidate has entered the race. It could be an anniversary of a major event. A year (or a decade) after the big earthquake, fire or flood. As I write this, there are lots of “Amazon turns 25” stories, for instance.
Getting a news hook into your headline is an easy way to get your editor excited.
4. Narrow the focus
Another quick way to show you ‘get’ the publication is to narrow your topic by weaving the audience into the headline.
So it’s not “5 Reasons Eating Vegan Will Improve Your Health”, but “3 New Studies on Vegan Diets That Parents Need to See.”
Now, we’ve zeroed in on who this publication’s readers are. Showing that in your headline lets the editor know you really get their audience — and makes them more likely to assign you a story.
5. Be fresh
The final step in creating a headline that gets editors interested is to get creative, especially if you want to cover a popular topic. What can you add that makes the headline fascinating to readers? How can you signal, right in the headline, that you have information not found elsewhere?
For instance, after Fiverr bought rival freelance intermediary platform ClearVoice, there were loads of stories about it. I wanted to cover it on my own blog, but how to be different? The answer was to interview their CEO.
Then, I built a headline that spotlighted my unique coverage of this business news:
“Fiverr Buys ClearVoice: Their CEO on the Future of Online Writing”
Conducting interviews for your article is something magazine editors will expect – so start thinking about sources. Practice with a friend, if you have interview jitters!
Writing great headlines takes practice. Allow time to experiment with your headline and perfect it, and it’ll pay off with more assignments.
This post contains affiliate links. That means if you purchase through our links, you’re supporting The Write Life — and we thank you for that!
“Oooh, you’re a writer? So have you written a book yet?”
This question features right up there with “Where do you see yourself in five years?” and “Where should we go for dinner tonight?” on the list of questions I really, really don’t want to answer.
And as a full-time freelance writer, it’s one I get a lot.
But fairly recently — that is, as of this past February — I’ve been able to honestly answer it with, “No, not yet. But I’m in the process.”
How to get started on your book idea
Although I’ve been putting words into sentences for as long as I’ve known how to form them, part of me honestly thought I’d never be able to write a book. (And, full disclosure, I still haven’t published one.)
But I do have a complete first draft of a manuscript: more than 36,000 words worth of work I feel pretty darn confident about.
I’ve always watched super-prolific authors who crank out volume after volume in total awe, wondering where they got their superhuman powers. I didn’t know how on earth to even start one book, let alone produce dozens.
And given that publication is still on the distant horizon — if it even happens at all — I’m certainly no expert on getting your book inside a cover. But if you are, like I was just months ago, sitting on an idea that you obliquely refer to as “a longer thing” and can’t seem to get moving on, I can shed a teeny tiny ray of light.
Here are the keys I found that made it possible to finally get started on my book.
1. Yes, you need an outline
Depending on the kind of writer you are, your reaction to this piece of advice might be, “Uh, doy,” or, “Ugh, no, you can’t make me.” I am very outline-resistant and fall firmly into the latter camp, but I must also tell you: creating an outline was the missing link that made it possible for me to finally start drafting this thing.
I’d had a lot of thoughts circulating around the book — lines and scenes that would occur to me that I knew were relevant, but wasn’t quite ready to flesh out yet. I started by just adding them all into one Google doc, which eventually grew massive…so one day, I took the time to sit down and move those dissonant chunks into something like an order.
Slowly, an outline emerged: I could begin to see sub-groups forming which eventually became the skeleton of a chapter structure. Once I had that, the narrative arc and purpose of my book as a whole began to shine more clearly. It also helped me create separate docs for each chapter to serve as slightly-more-organized repositories as those one-off lines or scenes came to me over time.
In short, even if you’re not the type to tackle a writing project with a tidy outline right from the start, it’s still possible to cobble one together — and doing so will give you a framework that feels a lot less overwhelming than one giant document. I know for a fact I wouldn’t have been able to come as far as I have in my draft without my outline, so if you haven’t yet, I highly recommend making one.
2. And yes, you need to make time for it
Okay, this post is starting to look more like a list of how I’ve historically failed as a writer.
But I have to admit it: I’m definitely not one of those idyllic get up and write for three hours every morning before I even have breakfast people. Honestly, I prefer to go to the gym before I do anything else; turning my brain off and sweating for an hour or two tends to quash my anxiety and amplify my creativity.
But I’m also a full-time freelance writer (hi, I took a break from my book to write this post) and have to expend some of that creative energy on work stuff. And that means if I want to consistently make progress on the book, I have to, well, book it — which means trading the crosswords I usually do over my pre-gym morning coffee for opening a chapter and staring at it until a few hundred words come out.
I won’t pretend I’m awesome at doing this every single day. But I will say that on the days I make an effort, I usually get at least a little bit of progress in return. Maybe each and every day is too much for you, and maybe you do need to take a break from thinking about it every once in a while. But if you want to write a book, you have to make time to sit down and actually write it at some point.
3. Pick an audience of one
It’s important to think about your audience while you’re writing. But it’s a balancing act, too. If you’re so concerned with what-ifs and trying to pen something “publishable,” you could wind up paralyzed, watching that blinking cursor in abject horror.
Figuring out how to mold my narrative into something — shudder — saleable left me in a state of perpetual writer’s block for years. So this time, I did something different: I decided I was writing the book for my mother. So long as I finish it and she reads it before she dies, I will have succeeded. This tactic is way more motivating than any pre-publication book deal or advance could ever be.
As in all things writing advice, your mileage with these tips may vary. You have to figure out the process that works for you. Maybe you *do* show up to every project with a picture-perfect outline and spend blissful mornings tap-tap-tapping away before you’ve even had your coffee. If so, congratulations; the rest of us will be over here trying not to hate you.
But if you’ve got something inside you that you know the world needs, don’t let these everyday obstacles keep you from producing it. Find a way to let the words out. You deserve it — and so do we.
It’s an unfortunate reality of this job: No matter how long you do it or how much you learn, everything you write has room for tweaking to get a little closer to elusive perfection.
You could go cross-eyed re-reading a piece before submitting it. Eventually most of us get used to biting the bullet and sending something that’s — ugh — good enough.
In search of a way to submit articles and manuscripts with a little more confidence than that, I enlisted a virtual writing coach.
ProWritingAid is a web editor and plugin for Google Docs, MS Word and other writing tools (excluding Mac’s Pages) that will help you spot errors in grammar, spelling, style and word choice in your writing. They let me try out the tool for The Write Life.
You can think of it like a preliminary writing coach or editor. The tool won’t replace a human editor (I can’t not say that, as an editor myself…), but it can help you polish your writing and strengthen your writing habits.
ProWritingAid will analyze your document and point out grammar and spelling errors — but it goes way beyond that. It’ll also root out passive verbs, lengthy sentences, hidden verbs, unnecessary adverbs, repeated words and phrases and more common enemies of clear, concise writing.
Founder Chris Banks originally created ProWritingAid to help his own writing after making the transition from financial analyst to fiction writer. He taught himself to code and wrote a simple program to identify common pitfalls new writers face.
You can sign up for free to use ProWritingAid’s web editor, which acts like a word processer in your browser.
For full integration with your preferred writing tool, including Docs, Word and even Scrivener; and to eliminate word-count limits, buy a Premium subscription. The annual rate goes down the longer you plan to use it:
One year: $60
Two years: $90
Three years: $120
Once you’re in, you can work in your own word processer, or upload or copy and paste your document into the ProWritingAid web editor. It’ll read your writing and use color-coded underlining to call out suggestions.
Here’s how that looks on one of my recent posts for The Write Life:
Hover over a phrase to see the suggestion. For example, for my passive phrase above, “writing can be edited,” ProWritingAid suggested I rewrite to use an active verb, such as “We can edit writing.”
It also catches potential filler or hedging words, including “totally” and “actually” in my selection above.
You’ll probably get some suggestions you don’t want to follow or that don’t fit the style of the publication you’re writing for, so read them carefully before clicking to accept suggested changes. You can choose to disable a “rule” if you don’t want to see that kind of suggestion — for example, I disabled suggestions to rewrite split infinitives, because I’m a rebel like that.
You can also pull up a summary that takes a higher level view of your writing. This includes a ton of information about your writing, from word count to reading level to variety of sentence length.
Pay attention to this report to learn about — and improve — your writing habits. My reports consistently show I’m a little generous with adjectives…like “consistently” earlier in this sentence. I’ll need to work on that if I want to write something to Stephen King–esque standards.
Who is ProWritingAid for?
We all have access to grammar and spelling checkers for free with word processers. And our writing will often go through an editor before publication. So why should you pay for editing software?
ProWritingAid is best for cleaning up a draft before sending it to the next step. Instead of trusting your aunt or a generous friend to read your writing and tell you “it’s fine,” use this tool to give it an x-ray look and spot clunky wording before an editor does.
Freelance writers: Tighten your copy before submitting articles (editors will love you!).
Students: Get a virtual second eye on your papers before turning them in.
ESL writers: Use the tool to improve diction and discover filler words and awkward wording.
New editors: Use it to train your eye to hone writing.
If you regularly work with an editor, for example, as a staff writer in a newsroom or other organization, the tool probably isn’t worth your money. It’ll largely do the job your editor is already being paid to do.
Things you should know
The free version of ProWritingAid is nice if you just want to check out an occasional bit of your writing.
If you want to use it regularly, though, I recommend getting the Premium version so you can use the tool with your existing word processer. ProWritingAid’s web editor doesn’t offer the kind of tracking changes or collaboration you’ll get with Google Docs or MS Word. Without the integration, you’ll probably duplicate work.
Also note, you need to connect to the internet for the tool to work, so you can’t do any checks while you’re offline. Kind of a bummer if you like those undisturbed writing hours on a flight or in your own Walden Pond. You might have to leave revisions until you return to civilization.
Bottom line: ProWritingAid can’t replace a human editor’s touch, but it’s a perfect tool for polishing your writing while you self edit. It’s a simple and affordable way to uncover your writing habits and ensure you make the best possible impression on every editor or agent when you’re ready to submit your work.
Editor’s note: We review ebooks, courses and tools for writers, so you can make good decisions about how to invest in your writing career. As you know, The Write Life only promotes people and products we can stand behind 100%.
That’s why we’re excited to partner with ProWritingAid. If you’re looking for an editing tool, we highly recommend giving ProWritingAid a try. As an added bonus,ProWritingAid is offering The Write Life community a 25% discount on the ProWritingAid Premium tool.
This post contains affiliate links. That means if you purchase through our links, you’re supporting The Write Life — and we thank you for that!
This particular job posting asked for a standard cover letter and writing sample. However, it also had a unique request: I needed to identify the grammatical error within the post.
I read the post through a few times and couldn’t easily identify the error. So, I did the logical thing: I copied the whole post, pasted it in an online editing tool (ProWritingAid, to be precise), and ran a report.
Bam. There was the mistake.
I popped it into my cover letter and got the job. Just like that, I was officially a freelance writer…with a real client!
If you want to be a freelance writer or editor, you need to be using an editing tool.
Stop resisting using an editing tool
I resisted using an editing tool for a long time.
For some reason, I thought that using an editing tool made me a less legitimate writer. If I wanted to call myself a writer, I needed to be able to catch grammatical errors or inconsistencies myself.
Still other writers I know resist editing tools because they worry that using technology will remove the style from their craft. They want their work to remain unique and worry that using technological suggestions will affect the personality in their work.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
All writers make errors and can benefit from an extra set of eyes. And editing tools don’t take the personality out of your work – they simply give you an informed set of options that you can engage with and decide if they fit your work.
Editing tools are the best way for freelance writers to improve their craft. Here are three reasons why.
1. An editing tool can help you produce work more efficiently
One of the best parts about working with editing tools is that they can help you produce higher quality work more efficiently.
For many writers (myself included), the writing is the fun part. Editing? Not so much.
But editing is a necessary part of every good writer’s process – even if you work with a fantastic human editor.
Editing tools are perfect for those first-round edits. A tool like ProWritingAid can help you catch missed commas, repeated words, spelling errors, and more — all with the touch of a button. By using an editing tool, I save myself hours of carefully reading my work to catch mistakes I missed. That means that my drafts are higher quality when I eventually submit them to my editing teams.
2. An editing tool can help you improve as a writer
Even the best writers can develop bad habits.
For instance, I get very fixated on specific words. I’ll use them over and over in my work. My latest phrase of choice is “simply put.” I can’t stop dropping it into the posts I write!
One of my favorite parts of using an editing tool is catching those mistakes. When I proofread on my own writing, I often don’t catch repeats or any of my other usual gaffes…because they sound right to me! My impartial editing tool is handy at highlighting those habits and helping me fix them.
Plus, getting reports about what I’m doing wrong helps me improve. I wouldn’t have even known I was overusing “simply put” if ProWritingAid hadn’t told me. Now, every time I type those words, an alarm bell sounds in my head and I stop to think about how I can write something fresh.
3. An editing tool can help you transition between different types of writing
As a freelance writer, you’ll likely find yourself transitioning between different niches and different types of writing. Sometimes, I work on grants and formal types of work. Other times, I’m writing blog posts. Occasionally, I even write content for children!
Editing tools can help you transition from one audience to another.
ProWritingAid offers a readability report, which helps me adjust the difficulty of my language up or down depending on who I’m writing for. Similarly, I can change up my writing style, so that the reports compare my work to other pieces in my niche. These reports help me understand my writing and recalibrate as I shift from assignment to assignment.
You can’t afford to not use an editing tool
Once I started working with an editing tool, my freelance writing career took off.
Now, I’m able to quickly and easily write strong content – and more of it. Working with an editing tool allows me to catch silly mistakes and make changes that improve the substance of my work. Rather than letting my weaknesses distract from my writing, I’m able to overcome them.
Better still, I’m learning, and becoming a better writer, every day.
Editor’s note: We review ebooks, courses and tools for writers, so you can make good decisions about how to invest in your writing career. As you know, The Write Life only promotes people and products we can stand behind 100%.
That’s why we’re excited to partner with Carol Tice, award-winning freelance writer and the founder of the Freelance Writers Den. The Den is only open for a limited time! If the membership program is a good fit for you, join by Tuesday, June 25, 2019.
I’ll be honest: a huge part of the reason I became a writer was to avoid networking.
I’m an introvert and also one of those kids who, when tasked with group projects, made everyone else in the group give me their stuff so I could do it all myself. “Teamwork” and “collaboration” don’t have prominent places in my vocabulary.
But as I quickly learned (and as you know if you’ve spent more than two seconds trying to freelance), this is not a business where you can go it alone. Finding a writing community, or at least some reliable industry resources you can turn to, is a critical step to creating the kind of freelance career you’re dreaming of. And fortunately, there’s an option that doesn’t require leaving the house — or even putting on pants.
What is the Freelance Writers Den?
Taking place entirely online, the Freelance Writers Den is the perfect place to find a resource-packed writing community, especially for socio-phobes like me.
But since its 1,100+ members come from all over the world, it’s also helpful for bona fide extroverts, even if they do already have access to a real-life writing circle. Even the richest local writing community can’t compete with global!
The Den was founded in 2011 by Carol Tice, the “Den Mother” and mind behind the Make a Living Writing blog. She’s been a successful freelancer for more than 15 years and today earns six figures doing it. She wanted to help other freelancers find real financial success as efficiently as possible — and also to stop the influx of one-off how on earth do I do this? emails she had in her inbox.
Membership to the Freelance Writers Den comes with a host of useful tools, content, and learning opportunities, which we’ll dive into below. It costs $25 per month with no obligation — which isn’t crazy expensive, but isn’t nothing, either.
So what do you get for your price of entry?
What features do you get as a Writers Den member?
For most of us, freelancing isn’t exactly a get-rich-quick scheme — so when we pony up for a writing resource, we want to know we’re getting our money’s worth.
Here’s what the $25-per-month Freelance Writers Den Membership gets you.
Online community forums
Ever sit down to write a story (or pen a pitch, or start a blog, or — you get it) and wish you had a friendly fellow freelancer whose shoulder you could tap to ask for advice, or even just commiserate?
The Freelance Writers Den forums are the next-best thing: an active, affable group of writers convening to swap tips, ask and answer questions, and share both challenges and success stories.
Unlike even the most active real-life writers’ group, the Den’s forums are open for your musings 24/7, and they’re organized into helpful and relevant categories. Maybe you’re looking to amp up your marketing skills or ask a specific writing question — or maybe you’re just looking to meet more writers in your position. Either way, there’s a board for it, and a writer (or ten) on the other end waiting to connect.
Live and recorded resources
The Freelance Writers Den is first and foremost a community, and the ability to connect with other freelancers working to meet their goals is invaluable on a fundamental level.
But there’s also a whole lot of expertise to be mind from that community, and it’s available in the form of more than 300 hours of evergreen resources — as well as an actively-updated calendar of live events.
Bootcamps are essentially four-week-long ecourses, and your Writers Den membership gives you instant access to almost two dozen of them. They’re designed to help you get to the next step in your writing career no matter where you are on your journey, from finding your first-ever paid gig to breaking into business writing or building a better writer website. Each bootcamp comes complete with videos and engaging homework assignments, and the ones offered live on a monthly basis feature real-time Q-and-A calls to help you make the most of the effort you’re putting into the course. They’re also augmented by discussions in the forums so you can connect with other writers diving into the same topics, and get feedback from the experts dishing the details. (In other words, it’s nothing like being yelled at by a Drill Instructor.)
Webinars and Podcasts are also offered by industry influencers on a regular basis, including a helpful “Ask the Editor” series which gives you an insider view of what, exactly, editors are looking for. You’ll also learn to overcome fear, increase productivity, and figure out the business end… not to mention, of course, honing the craft itself.
The Resource Library is where all this content lives once their livestream has passed, and it’s packed with over 300 hours of content. So even if you can’t make the scheduled events, you’ve still got plenty of helpful goodies to wade through.
Non-crappy job board
Finding gigs is one of the hardest parts of freelancing, hands down. Finding good gigs is even harder.
That fact is why I really appreciate the Den’s built-in job board, which is heavily moderated. You won’t find anything that pays less than $50 per post.
New listings are added twice weekly, on Mondays and Thursdays, so you’re not inundated — but there’s also no shortage of opportunities to scope out. You’ll find both remote and on-site listings for copywriters, editors, content marketers and more, and along with regular old freelance gigs, there are also part-time, contract, and retainer positions. The nature of the gig is made clear before you even click on the listing. Pretty darn cool.
That’s really just the start of what’s available; as the helpful Orientation Guide puts it, the Den has “a lot of nooks and crannies.” Fortunately, you can easily keep tabs of it all with once-weekly newsletters that come out every Monday, getting you ready to tackle your week with strength and success.
What do I like about the Freelance Writers Den?
I’ve been making a living as a freelancer for a while now, and only just learned about this resource. Which parts made me say, “Man, I wish I’d known about this earlier?”
Well, I’ll admit it: I’m not really the ecourse type. I’m midway through my third full year of freelancing, and I’ve yet to find one I’m willing to drop money on. (Of course, I was lucky enough to learn a lot of my freelancing skills through friendships with other writers, giving me a jump-start that not everyone gets. There’s that networking thing again!)
But I know plenty of writers adore ecourses — and I have to say, a Den membership seems like a great way to access them. It offers both an active, rotating calendar of live events as well as scores of pre-recorded bootcamps, podcasts, and webinars, and you get into all of it for just $25 per month. That’s way less than the fees I usually see advertised on private ecourses.
What I do love about the Freelance Writers Den: the job board and the forums.
The gigs posted on the job board are authentic, high-quality, and easy to filter, and I saw a few that hadn’t already crossed my radar via the grapevine or my newsletters. It’s nice to know they’ve been pre-screened for non-crappiness, so I don’t have to be quite as critical as I usually am while I’m clicking through. No freelancer has time to work for peanuts, and we have even less time to scrounge around on the internet trying to figure out where the well-paid jobs are. So for me, the Den’s job board is easily worth the price of entry all on its own.
The forums are an amazing way for a work-from-home writer to interface with other real, live people — who actually understand the unique challenges we face as freelancers and can help us find the resources, opportunities, and advice we need. I especially love the board dedicated to feedback and critiques, which allows you to get some gentle constructive criticism from other writers before you ship off your piece to an editor or potential client. Hey, better to hear it from a peer than a paying customer — or to have it derail your pitch!
What do I not-so-like about the Freelance Writers Den?
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to love about this community. The recorded content could keep you busy for months, and with a vibrant group of writers ready to chat in real time, you’ve got other minds to bounce those new tips and tricks off of.
But no platform is perfect — and if I had to pick a part of the Writers Den that could use improvement, I’d say the user interface could be a little bit more intuitive. Those “nooks and crannies” Tice mentions are well-described; it’s easy to get lost back here! And while the main parts of the site are helpfully listed as links in the site header, I constantly feel like I might be missing something as I click around.
Ready to sign up for the Freelance Writers Den?
So what’s the catch? Well, the Freelance Writers Den only opens its digital doors to the public twice a year… but the good news is, the window’s open right now!
So if you’re interested in joining a worldwide community of freelancers and hustlers just like you, jump on in. As we mentioned above, it’s only $25 per month and you have no contract to sign or obligation.
In fact, if you decide it’s not right for you within seven days, you’ll get your money back. So if worst comes to worst, you spend a week networking with other cool writers who might even become long-term contacts.
When it comes to freelancing, few decisions are this easy.
If you learned anything about writing in high school or college beyond grammar, you likely learned how to write a five-paragraph essay — the bane of my existence as an editor in digital media.
Tired English educators so strongly imprint this structure on a student’s brain as the One and Only Correct Way to Write, it’s all I can do in my role to peel it off and start fresh to help a writer create something appropriate for an online audience.
The format consists of these familiar parts (trigger warning for all of your late nights finishing that paper due for a 9 a.m. class.) outlined by the Guide to Grammar & Writing:
An intro paragraph, including a hook and a thesis statement.
Three body paragraphs, detailing one argument each.
A conclusion that mirrors your introduction, including a restatement of the thesis.
The endurance of this format, writes Steven Lynn in his textbook Rhetoric and Composition, “certainly owes something to its reassuring simplicity: ‘Just follow this neat blueprint; just get some materials and put them in place.’”
That’s fine for the classroom. But educators need to do a way better job of teaching students that’s the only place this format belongs.
Because they don’t, many new writers fall back on this juggernaut when they start writing for publication. Bad news from an editor: It makes you look like an amateur, or worse, a bad writer.
A blog post is not a 5-paragraph essay
The intro-body-conclusion format, according to Lynn, dates to the early days of rhetoric — we’re talking Ancient Greece — and applies originally to speech writing. Centuries later, Dale Carnegie made the guidance famous with his oft-quoted, “Tell the audience what you’re going to say, say it; then tell them what you’ve said.”
The age-old advice is important for a speech, because the audience doesn’t have your words in front of them. In writing, we call it redundant (or, we should).
It means repetition is a waste of space and unnecessarily taxing to the digital reader.
What you didn’t learn about writing for digital media
In a blog post or article published online, you don’t have to “tell the audience what you’re going to say” or “tell them what you’ve said.”
Just “say it.”
Give your readers the information they’re looking for — that you promised in the headline — in a format that helps them quickly digest and evaluate it.
Here are a few basic ways to break up with the five-paragraph essay and write for a digital audience:
Format for scanners
Blog readers came to your site for an answer to a specific question. To serve that reader, organize your writing so it quickly lets them know you have that answer.
The medium affords you the formatting to do that. A strong headline, clear sub-heads, bolded text, plenty of bullet points, tables and other visual cues let your reader scan the piece before reading it in full and learn exactly “what you’re going to say.”
Use these cues to engage the reader, earn their trust and encourage them to stick around and enjoy the full piece.
Write an inverted pyramid
Because digital readers drop off throughout your piece, journalism’s “inverted pyramid” format fits blog posts well. It starts with the most important information and gradually whittles a story down to its most granular and least important details to ensure readers get the gist of a story even if they leave before finishing.
But the format is kind of a bust for your most engaged readers. If a piece gets boring as they make their way down the page, what incentive do they have to keep reading?
To keep readers engaged, place what Roy Peter Clark, a Poynter Institute senior scholar, describes in his book “Writing Tools” as “gold coins” throughout your story.
“Reward the reader with high points, especially in the middle,” Clark writes.
This lets you open with vital information, but also pique a reader’s interest throughout the piece to push them through to the end.
Include a strong nut graf
The “nut graf,” which, Chip Scanlan explains for Poynter, “delivers a promise of the story’s content and message,” plays a similar role to an essay’s thesis statement. It tells the reader your point.
Unlike a thesis, however, the nut graf doesn’t summarize what you’re about to say. Instead, it tells the reader what’s in it for them. While the rest of your piece will share the what, who, when, where and how, the nut graf shares why they should care.
“College [writing] taught me how to turn a one-sentence idea and inflate it into a one-page idea — which I had to quickly unlearn in the professional sphere,” communications consultant Tamara Murray told me in a tweet.
In professional writing, your readers don’t have minimum word-count requirements, and they don’t reward verbosity. Don’t waste their time with repetition or wordy sentences.
Do your best instead to turn one-page ideas into one-sentence ideas — and watch how strong your writing becomes.
Skip the conclusion
Warning: You might have to contend with your editor on this one. Opinions vary. Mine is that conclusions are hard to write and not worth the effort.
The Nielsen Norman Group data says less than 5% of readers will ever get to the bottom of your article. Why tear your hair out finding a creative way to “tell them what you’ve said”?
If you follow my preceding advice, your intro and nut graf have given them the gist, and your formatting clearly outlines and summarizes the content. Let your reader move on.
When you’re done sharing information, just stop writing.