If It Bleeds, It Leads…
*** If It Bleeds, It Leads: How to Submit Cover Stories and Break into Large Newspapers
*** A Resource for Women Only: WomenCorp.org
*** Practical Writing Prompt of the Week: Martha Stewart on Wii
*** Reader Feedback: I’ve Found a New Passion
“When an article/photo package arrives from a freelancer, I’ll often look at the photos first. If there’s a photo enticing enough to run above the fold with enough secondary photos to sustain a jump [to the rest of the article later in the paper] and perhaps a sidebar or two, as well as any ‘to go’ or detail information, I’ll read the story. Occasionally, truly stunning photographs will carry a mediocre story, but rarely is the reverse true. A great read is usually not enough to hold up terrible photography.”
That’s what Kyle Wagner, Travel Editor at the Denver Post, told me this week when I asked her for tips on breaking into large newspapers.
“Above the fold” is an expression in the newspaper world that refers to the location of a story or a photograph on the upper half of the front page of a newspaper. Since most papers are delivered and displayed to customers folded in half with only the top half of the front page showing, editors want a hot topic or an enticing photograph “above the fold” so that customers will be enticed to buy the paper.
The same holds true for each section — the travel editor, for instance, will choose something particularly enticing (often a great photo) for “above the fold,” in the travel section, to grab readers’ attention.
Kyle admits that she rarely takes stories from freelancers these days. Most come without photos and it’s too time-consuming to go online and look for them, she explained. It’s easier to pick stories up from a wire service.
The best way to break in, she says, is with “themed issue stories or photographs.” That is, stories that support certain themes the newspaper runs for their biggest advertisers. Themed issues might focus on a specific destination, like Mexico or Hawaii. Or they might hone in on a certain type of travel, like cruises or family-friendly vacations.
If you have a really good story that you think would fit a paper’s “themed issue,” send it along with a short email that uses a simple, substantive subject line like: Freelance piece/photos on Mazatlan for your consideration.
“You have about three seconds to convey the most crucial initial information in the email subject line or on the front of the envelope before the travel editor decides whether to open it and investigate further or send out the standard format rejection letter,” says Kyle. “Brevity is key.”
Now, if your story doesn’t fit a paper’s upcoming themed issues and/or it doesn’t contain photographs, your best bet is to pitch it elsewhere.
To be honest, you’ll likely have more luck with smaller papers anyway. Editors at big papers, like Kyle at the Denver Post, get 50-100 article submissions A WEEK! That’s a lot of competition. Instead, target three to four smaller publications in your area and start there.
DON’T waste an editor’s time sending in a diary account of your last trip if you don’t see similar type articles in their back issues.
DON’T send your article off by email if the Writer’s Guidelines state that the editors prefer to be queried first.
DON’T send original copies of your photographs (you’re not likely to get them back).
And DON’T attach any more than two photographs to your submission without prior consent from the editor.
DO put 8-12 photographs up on your website and give the editor the link in your cover letter. (Note: This is a much better approach than sending photos as an emailed attachment. If you don’t yet have a website to display your photographs, consider joining the ITWPA where you’ll get a free website builder and can be up and running with a new site that will profile your photos the very same day you sign on.
DO find out about themed issues by checking the publication’s website and/or calling the paper and asking for the travel section’s editorial calendar.
DO keep your correspondence short and to the point.
DO include people in your photographs.
“At least some of your pictures must contain people,” Kyle advises. “Nearly all newspapers insist upon people in some of the photos; readers tend not to respond to naked landscapes, bare beaches and empty restaurants.”
DO include a stamped and addressed return envelope if you want the editor to send your stuff back (although try not to want it back).
“A self-addressed, stamped postcard with check-mark options such as ‘I cannot use this at this time’ or ‘Yes, I am interested and will contact you’ is the editor’s dream,” says Kyle.
Tomorrow I’ll send you an article from freelance travel writer Steenie Harvey on what to do if you follow all these tips and still get a rejection slip.
And don’t forget to scroll down to today’s writing prompt and find out what Martha Stewart is up to.
Director, Great Escape Publishing
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]
PRACTICAL WRITING PROMPT OF THE WEEK:
Martha Stewart is on the cover of this month’s Wired Magazine. Wired is a publication for computer programmers, engineers, and “techi” people. They run articles about new video games, the latest high-tech gadgets, computer systems, eco-friendly cars, etc.
So you might reasonably ask, “What the heck is Martha Stewart doing on the cover?” I’ll tell you in a moment. But first, I want to say: Travel writers like you can learn a thing or two from her being there.
Martha Stewart is on the cover of Wired because she baked a Wii cake. (Wii is the new video game system by Nintendo.) Martha’s cake is a white square with blue and silver knobs and a remote control that really does look identical to a Wii console.
Martha crossed niches. Her story is in a magazine that wouldn’t normally run a cooking piece — because she found a way to make it relevant to Wired readers.
You can follow her lead.
**1) Think this week about a special hobby or niche you’re interested in.
**2) Think about how you could combine that niche with a travel angle — or with another angle altogether.
Here’s what I mean:
Love scrapbooking? There are the obvious article angles — like how to scrapbook your favorite vacation photographs (for a travel magazine) or how to scrapbook summer photos or school-year memories with kids (for a parenting magazine).
But here’s one a little more interesting: How about combining scrapbooking and a military niche? You could do an article on how to create for soldiers a set of cards they could then send back home to celebrate things like family birthdays, Christmas, Mother’s Day, and so on.
Soldiers can write letters (and sometimes emails) home. But they can’t easily buy greeting cards. You could talk about how to create the kinds of cards soldiers want, where to find the paper, and finally how to ship them overseas. (This could work for a scrapbooking publication or maybe for a military publication like Military Money, whose 250,000 readers are mostly spouses of enlisted service members — typically 18-to-35-year-old females.)
Here’s another example: Do you love yard-sale and thrift-store shopping? How about an article for music lovers on collecting old records or buying instruments at auctions. (You could sell this to music publications as well as to magazines and websites devoted to collecting things.)
READER FEEDBACK: The most important outcome of my writing adventure has been developing a new passion…
“I have become a published freelance writer. The articles I have published are not exactly travel articles. They are what you would call historical travel articles: about Rhododendrons (published by The St. Louis Post Dispatch and inspired by my travels in England), histories of several Missouri state parks (published by Rural Missouri, our local magazine), and also several personal essays (published by The Kansas City Star, The Christian Science Monitor, and our local newspaper.) Overall, I have made some money, and yes, I have had some of my expenses deducted from my taxes. However, the most important outcome of my writing adventure has been developing a new passion, which has been fueling my life for the last three years. For that, I am very grateful.” — Svetlana Grobman