By Anthony Sills
Are you a freelance writer looking to overcome your writing fears and grow your income?
Learning how to develop story ideas and write effective queries can help you earn more from writing. If you take the time to learn these skills, it can boost your self confidence, and your earnings.
How do I know?
A few months ago, I took Carol Tice and Linda Formichelli’s 4-Week Journalism School class, and it really helped me go from idea to article.
In fact, I landed 5 paid blogging gigs with one query letter at $100 a post!
I was feeling stuck
Why did I sign up for J-School? I was doing OK as a freelancer, but I wanted to earn more.
At the time, I only wrote when ‘inspiration’ struck me.
When I had questions, I wasted enormous amounts of time looking for the answer.
I was feeling ‘stuck’ and unsure of how to advance my writing career. I knew enough to know I needed to know more.
Why most freelance writers fail
Recently I read somewhere that most people don’t have any problem coming up with ideas. The problem comes when it’s time to determine if it’s a good idea.
If you wait until you think you have the perfect idea, you won’t develop the habit of constantly coming up with ideas and developing them.
As Carol and Linda say:
“In freelance journalism, story ideas are the coin of the realm. The more story ideas you can come up with, the better your odds are of getting assignments.”
The J-School session on story ideas helped me to develop a list of focused topics. If you want to get better results from your freelance career and make more money, developing the habit of writing ideas down in one of the best steps you can take.
While I was completing the homework exercises for the class, I became aware that a company that does marketing for small businesses had started a new blog aimed at providing useful, actionable small-business advice — and was looking for content.
I knew exactly what this particular market was looking for, and coincidentally I had a list of five story ideas I’d developed in the class. So I decided to contact the editor of the blog with my ideas.
At this point, my story ideas were not much more than a headline and a one-paragraph description of the article.
I pitched all five story ideas in a single email, hoping the editor would like at least one of them.
To my surprise, all five were approved and the editor assigned me all five blog posts!
How I Developed My Story Ideas
I used the techniques in the J-School training to flesh out my ideas, research the stories, and write my first drafts. Here’s how I came up with my story ideas:
- I’d recently read that 40 percent-50 percent of inbound sales leads are never pursued effectively, so I decided to write a blog post helping small businesses capitalize on more opportunities by developing a follow-up system.
- It happened to be ‘Mob Week’ on the cable channel AMC and I had watched all of the Godfather movies. This led to my idea to take a light-hearted look at what small business owners can learn from the Godfather Trilogy.
- Another story idea also came from my reading. A study found that “46 percent of U.S. consumers have cancelled plans to spend with a small business after discovering a poor quality website.” This led to a post on common mistakes business owners make with their websites and how to avoid them.
- The other story ideas started with (what I thought was) a good headline. I came up with the headline first, then worked to make my story very specific and come up with a good lede (that’s journo-speak for the first sentence). Then I did some research to come up with the quotes and statistics that would make the target audience want to read the stories.
The email that got me 5 assignments
I have omitted some identifying details, but this is essentially what I sent the editor:
Dear [editor's name]:
I’m putting together a few blog posts related to small business I think your readers would be interested in. I’ve included the pitches below.
The Fortune is in the Follow-Up
Do you have a plan for following up with leads and prospects? This 450 – 600 word post will discuss CRM and other strategies for keeping up with leads and prospects.
Do You Make These Mistakes With Your Website?
This 450-600 word post will discuss the top (# TBD) mistakes small business owners make with their websites and how to correct them. Data will be based on interviews, research, and a recent study that discovered “58 percent of consumers have decided to avoid a company in the future as a result of finding a faulty website. Some 68 percent of US users are more critical towards website errors today than they were five years ago.”
The Secret of Multichannel Marketing
This 450 – 600 word post will cover using direct mail, voice broadcasts, video marketing, text messages, etc. to reach customers at multiple touch points. Basically, this will introduce small businesses to the opportunities available using more than one channel to promote their business.
#(TBD) Hot Ecommerce Trends to Watch
Here are # (TBD) trends that are affecting eCommerce merchants and how you can take advantage of them.
(Here I listed five issues.)
See How Easily You Can Change Your Online Reputation
Doing business online can subject your business to the whims of the Internet. An ecommerce merchant with an angry customer can quickly find themselves battling a negative online reputation. What can you do? How can you combat it? This 250-500 word blog post will discuss ways small businesses and entrepreneurs can go about the business of managing online reputation.
I’m sure my pitch wasn’t the greatest one this editor ever received, but I found out later that I’d sent my story ideas right before the blog editors had a meeting to discuss what posts they’d be publishing soon.
Now, I’m constantly on the lookout for ideas I can develop and markets to pitch.
Anthony Sills is a freelance copywriter/blogger in New Jersey. He writes about business and marketing. Learn more at his website, Professional Pen.