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I read with interest a guest post on No Sleep ‘Till Brookland’s Blog earlier this week, which told a fellow PR Juliet Shaw’s experience of selling her story with a national paper.
For those of you who have ever been bored enough to click on the ‘about me’ section of this blog, you’ll know that I previously worked as a real life features writer at a news agency. A brief stint where I discovered I was actually pretty good at it – but also that I hated having to exploit people and tell the odd ‘white lie’.
Whatever your reason or motive, selling your story – be it as a case study such as Juliet, or your personal story (HAVE YOU BEEN THE VICTIM OF A CRIME? HAD A LOVE RAT HUSBAND? GOT A DISGUSTING DISEASE?!) – can be a rewarding experience, especially when you (eventually) get the cheque at the end.
But you have to think seriously about whether it’s worth it. There is no excuse for a story turning up which bears no resemblance to what you’ve said, but there is always the chance that things will get embellished, and that an ‘angle’ will be chosen that you’re not comfortable with.
With that in mind here are my top three things to remember if you’re thinking of gracing the pages of a magazine or newspaper anytime soon.
1). Most newspapers don’t do read backs
If you sell direct to a newspaper the likelyhood is that they won’t do a readback (read the copy over the phone to you to make sure that you’ll be happy). However, if you go through an agency many will. It’s one of the good things about going through a features agency. It’s worth remembering though that they will never send you the copy via email. Or at least that’s what I was taught!
2). You will be named and pictured
It’s very rare that newspapers and magazines will publish anonymous stories (unless incredibly juicy and contentious). They want real people, real places, real faces. If you’re not prepared to have your name, location and picture splashed across the nationals then it’s probably not for you. It’s also worth remembering that although ‘yesterday’s news is tomorrows chip paper’ it’s not the case with the internet. Not so much for women’s mags (unless the story gets picked up elsewhere) but if you do a story for a national paper be prepared for it to keep popping up every time someone Googles your name.
3). There will always be an angle.
Although the journalist may be being sympathetic to you and your cause (there is always a cause – it’s how they’ll persuade you to sell your story in the first place), ultimately their job is to keep their editor and the reader happy. That means delivering a juicy story by finding an angle and exploiting it – often at your expense. Husband died of a heart attack on Christmas day? Not enough. Headline reads ‘Husband died while glazing the gammon’. Gave up your big house and moved to Africa to help orphans? Headline reads ‘Gave it all up for sex in a mud hut’. (And yes, these are stories I actually had the pleasure of working on). Look at the publication that you’re being asked to appear in. If they’ve made other stories sensationalist then the likelihood they will yours too.
Have you ever sold a story or been a case study? What were your experiences?