By Alex J Coyne
Tired of the “1,000 words for $5” markets? Break out of them and into writing features. Editors pay good money for excellent writing. All it takes is solid ideas and unique angles.
FEATURES AND WHERE TO FIND THEM
Hard news is a magnifying glass, and features are an aerial view (i.e. CAR ACCIDENT CLAIMS 5 vs. CAR ACCIDENT VICTIMS SPEAK OUT). They present a different look at a topic with a unique spin. Word count varies, from 500 to 5,000 words, and there are many types. Interview pieces, profiles, how-to pieces and testimonials are all features.
Your main market will be magazines (print and online), so your first step is research. As a practice exercise, pick out a feature piece and familiarize yourself with the topic, the content, the general style of the author and publication, the side-bars as well as the ads on the page accompanying it.
Deconstructing another piece is a great way to learn to find out what makes a feature tick, or doesn’t.
Pick up a magazine and leaf through it, go online, or go here for a list of Pulitzer-winning features: (http://www.pulitzer.org/bycat/Feature-Writing)
Have a look at the Writers Market guide to find out who takes features. http://www.amazon.com/Writers-Market-2016-Trusted-Published/dp/1599639378
As feature writers, you are essentially selling ideas.
When pitching, keep it to the point. Pitches should run no more than 250-700 words. An editor wants to know what you want to cover, how you want to cover it (including the facts and numbers!) and why you should be the writer to do it.
Spell-check before hitting send (nothing worse than ending with “kind retards”), and learn the editor’s name and general style of the publication before you pitch. The writer’s guidelines, which are usually on the publication’s website or can be requested from the editor, should tell you everything you need to know.
Don’t overdo it, and avoid trying to be “fancy”. Samples and ideas should speak for you.
If you impress the editor, you’ll receive a brief, including your word count, rate (usually per word, and always better than a “content mill”), topic and deadline. Make sure that you and the editor are on the same page. Get everything in writing before you start. If you aren’t sure, ask!
My first feature was for the Afrikaans women’s magazine Vrouekeur (on endometriosis, an important topic for readers), and it was the first time I paid the rent with my writing. I pitched everywhere until I got it right, and when I did, writing was finally worth something. No more content mills! I went on to write many more features – including for Moneyweb, The Investor, People Magazine SA and Writers Write.
The writing process differs, but here’s what works for me:
Do your research first. Who can you interview, quote and source? Make sure your sources are reliable; cross-reference facts. Double-checking now is always better than an apology later.
Tell the editor more about you and your idea. Include examples, research and consider the famed“Five W’s (and one H).
• Putting it together
Start off with an introduction that grabs the reader, then lead into the body. Stick to the word count; make sure it flows.
• To the editor
Send it to the editor who believed in it. Your article could be rejected, sent back for changes or accepted. Once your article gets accepted for publication, you can send your invoice. Congrats!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alex J Coyne is a South African freelance journalist, author, translator and language practitioner. He is available for hire through his blog. http://alexcoyneofficial.wordpress.com