Why do some people make it as writers while others find themselves consigned to obscurity? One of the easiest ways to achieve “expert status" is to appear in print - but first you must follow the five golden rules that guarantee to showcase you as a professional.
The first golden rule is to understand that your story must be newsworthy and not merely a “puff piece". Copy that simply tries to promote an individual or organisation seldom makes it further than the dreaded journalist's spike! What constitutes a story? Anything that is unusual, noteworthy or simply interesting from a “human interest" perspective.
While it's likely that your headline won't actually make it into print (sub-editors need to be seen to do something to earn a crust) do bear in mind that it must grab the News Desk's attention and should preferably give an enticing indication of what the story is about. - The same also applies to your opening paragraph. For example, “Local Reiki practitioner Jane Smith made 20 pensioners jump for joy at the first of three special back pain clinics she ran last week. . . " packs much more of a punch than “Jane Smith, who is a Reiki practitioner, spoke to pensioners last week at a talk she gave on back pain. "
The second golden rule is to use a picture to tell the story, wherever possible. In the example above, 20 pensioners all leaping off the ground while waving their arms in the air would have made a great picture for a local newspaper (remember that for the local media, “faces sell papers") whereas as a boring photograph of people listening to a speaker would probably have been relegated to the bin (unless you're a celebrity).
The third golden rule when writing for the media is to ensure that you answer the key questions of “who, why, what, when, where and how". Your story will always feel more professional if you stick to the facts and leave out the “purple prose". Sprinkling your copy with lots of flowery adjectives guarantees you'll be recognised as an amateur.
The fourth golden rule is - unless you're writing a commissioned feature - is to make the story to the point, punchy and fairly short - say 350 to 500 words. Say what you've got to say and leave it at that. You can get away with doing some articles - but not all - as “tips lists".
The fifth golden rule is to write specifically for your audience. Press stories require that copy is written in the “third person", whereas material written for the web should be friendlier and feel more conversational. For the media, you'd say: “Local acupuncturists are this week lobbying their local MP. . . " but for the web, you'd write: “As an acupuncturist who works locally, you're invited to make your views known to our local MP".
1 Make sure you have a real story and not just a piece of self-promotion.
2 Wherever possible, provide a picture which sums up the essence of your story.
3 Answer the “who, why, what, when, where and how" questions in your copy.
4 Make the story short (350 - 500 words), punchy and to point, avoiding the use of flowery language.
5 Write in the right tone for your audience - in the “third person" for the media and more conversationally for the web.
Olivia Stefanino is a leadership consultant, speaker and author of the internationally acclaimed management book, “Be Your Own Guru". Interviewed on more than 25 radio stations and featured in “The Guardian", “Natural Health" & “Red", Olivia is a guest columnist for a number of national and international publications. Download your fr*ee e-booklet, “128 ways to harness your personal power!" by visiting http://www.beyourownguru.com