One of the worst things about the Internet: it is WAY too easy to research and write articles using hashed-and-rehashed secondary sources. Avoid the temptation!
If you’re going to write nonfiction (or fiction, for that matter), then you’ll want to do it right – and, if you want your writing to stand out, get original source material through interviewing subject matter experts and other intriguing people. By doing so, you’ll discover cutting-edge information, collect pithy quotes and otherwise significantly raise the quality of your writing.
Catch 22 – and a way out!
When I suggest this strategy to aspiring or under-published nonfiction writers, here’s the response that I typically get: “I can’t convince an expert to be interviewed for an article until I have a contract from an editor – and I can’t get a contract from an editor without promising experts.”
And, do you know what? That’s a fair point. Fortunately, there’s also a simple solution. Although getting a big name expert is great, that often isn’t necessary unless you’re querying top-dog national magazines – and, if so, my advice is to delay trying to be published in magazines that you see at the grocery store until you’ve got a solid publishing resume. Instead, go after respectable regional and/or mid-tier publications – and, early on, use experts that are a whole lot closer to home.
The reality is that you’re probably surrounded by experts but, because they’re people that you know well or otherwise see regularly, you don’t consider them to be experts. I’m talking about your family members, friends, coworkers, neighbors and so forth. Surely some of them are experts – in something! So, to build your nonfiction resume and reputation, take stock of people that you know and their areas of expertise – and then brainstorm article topics that could use their particular brand of knowledge.
Then, when you contact an editor with an article idea, you’ve already got experts to mention in your query letter (more about queries in later posts) – which means that a laser-targeted query letter has a much better chance of success, and you can quit stressing out about trying to interview strangers.
Ready to spread your wings?
If you’re ready to reach out to experts beyond your personal acquaintances or friends of friends and are already able to secure editor’s go-aheads, here are two useful free services:
HARO (Help a Reporter Out): If you already have a contract, you can request experts through this site. You need to include the place where your article will be published, along a short description of what you need and your deadline. HARO then sends out your request in one of their 15 weekly email digests (three per day, Monday through Friday). The experts then contact you in a way that you specify. HARO does reject some queries if the publication is obscure.
ProfNet (now part of PR Newswire): ProfNet sends queries out to 14,000+ public relations professionals throughout the day and they also offer a ProfNet Connect service, where you can search a free database of nearly 50,000 experts. Plus, you can sign up to receive alerts where available experts are featured.
I look forward to bringing you nonfiction news that will help you with your own writing. Feel free to ask me whatever questions you have, either in the comments of the blog post itself or by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find out more about my writing, editing and teaching experience at LinkedIn. If you want to connect, use the email@example.com address and reference this blog.