Some Basic Writers' Tips

    Last week I had the opportunity to be a panelist at two very different events. One was the Fair Media Council Connection Day on Long Island and the other was the Women in Communications Annual Student Career Conference in New York City. At the first, my panel critiqued story pitches from public relations people and other representatives of companies and organizations. At the second, I was one of four journalists who talked with journalism students about our career paths. While the audiences were different, in both cases some very fundamental questions were asked and situations were raised that I commented about. So I wanted to share them with you, because no matter what writing path we choose, there are some basic rules that apply to book, magazine or newspaper writing. So here's what I had to say that is solid advice for all of us to follow.
    1. When pitching (querying) to an editor, present only one idea. Frontloading your pitch only makes both ideas get lost.
    2. Don't try to trick the editor into liking your idea. A catchy headline or phrase is great, but not if it ultimately turns out to be different than your actual story idea. It works for the National Enquirer, but not most publications and book publishers.  
    3. Have a clear and brief statement that outlines your story. If you have to preface your idea with an explanation, you've lost your chance at selling it.
    4. Go for the human interest angle. In other words, what would make an editor take your idea now? Is there an upcoming event to promote? Someone who has overcome a problem that illustrates what you want covered?
    5. This is particularly important for those who don't yet have clips: Do not mistake a published blog entry as a writing sample. Unless it was an assignment from an editor, it doesn't count as a writing sample. But if you are going to use blogs as your opportunity to practice being published, make sure the writing is dynamite. Once it's on the Web, it can't be retracted. Oh, and as I told the students, employers do check Facebook and My Space pages to see what kind of person you really are. Make sure you represent yourself well.
    There's much more to say on all of these topics, but I have a magazine deadline to meet. So stay tuned.