Make Your Feature Articles Stand Out

Monday, June 12, 2017

I’m lucky that one of my regular writing clients is a local monthly lifestyle magazine. Over the past nine years (is that right?!) I’ve had the opportunity to work on so many different stories and meet a number of interesting residents and business owners. While some assignments go smoothly, others do not.

Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years to make your freelance assignments stand out and make you irresistible to assignment editors.

Contact your sources well before your deadline. This seems like a no-brainer, but all too often my e-mail inbox gets inundated before I make a note of my article deadline. It’s important to read the article assignment thoroughly when you first receive it and make a note of suggested sources, when the assignment is due, and if you have any questions for your editor. People go out of town, or have their contact information changed, so contacting sources early can help you avoid stress later down the road.

Use your judgment when it comes to interviewing sources. Some freelance articles I write are 250-word pieces about a new local business or product and others are 600+ human interest stories. I usually can conduct interviews by phone for the smaller articles and try my best to set up in-person interviews for the longer pieces. I also try to send a few interview questions to my sources ahead of time so they will have time to formulate responses or get an idea of the article topic before we speak. These small details make for a more polished piece and show a level of professionalism, in my opinion.

If you are in a bind, don’t be afraid to ask for an article extension, especially if you have a good relationship with your editor. I know this may go against your beliefs as a writer, but there are times when it is necessary, especially if not doing so results in turning in shoddy work. I can recall one time when I should have asked for a deadline extension and did not. I had the flu, and interviewed a local gardener about her backyard patio oasis by phone while I was obviously feverish. I dashed off the piece quickly because I was on deadline, and a few days later she asked to look over some of her quotes. Imagine my surprise when she pointed out I had several facts and key points in the 250-word piece completely wrong, and I had to explain that I had been ill when I wrote the article (which was embarrassing, to say the least). Luckily, I had time to resubmit the article with corrections to my editor, who was very understanding. I’ve since learned from that mistake and don’t rush jobs, and I especially don’t turn in things that I’ve worked on with a raging fever!

What do you think makes a writer irresistible to editors? Have you made any freelance writing mistakes you can share with us so I don’t feel alone? I’d also love to hear about tried and true practices when working on writing assignments.

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who made a lot of mistakes when she first started writing professionally. 


Amber Polo said...

Thanks so much for these reminders. There are too few posts that help magazine writers.

Angela Mackintosh said...

Great tips, Renee! I've done the same thing with an interview, and I didn't even have a fever to blame. I'd interviewed a business owner at a restaurant for lunch, recorded it, and hired a transcriptionist. Well, the transcriptionist got some major information wrong and when I sent it to the business owner, she was pissed. I ended up smoothing things over and correcting everything before it published, so it worked out okay, but it was embarrassing. So I guess my lessons learned were: don't interview someone at a busy restaurant and record it, and if you're hiring a transcriptionist or other service provider, make sure they are good! Vet their work.

Margo Dill said...

I've always heard that it is better to ask for a deadline extension (as you mention here) than to turn something in late and just hope they don't notice. (same goes for most things--bill payment, showing up late to work, etc)

I used to interview people all the time for my newspaper job and I learned that each editor has their own dos and don'ts too. You are writing for a publication yes, but you are also writing for an editor. So I learned what each editor liked at the paper and kept notes on that too.

Renee Roberson said...

Amber--thank you. I always worry that writers aren't looking for that much magazine-writing advice any more, but I think these tips could also apply to writing for the web!

Angela--That's too funny. I have also heard some stories about transcription service snafus which is probably why I was always hesitant to use one. I had to transcribe an interview today and it was painful--especially the part where I had to listen to myself talk. Hate that!

Margo--Yes, that is true! It is a great idea to keep notes on preferences of editors. Some want X number of sources at all times, some ask for source information so they can fact check, some want queries a certain number of months in advance, etc.

Mary Horner said...

Great reminder, Renee, that editors and writers are human and sometimes things go wrong and sometimes they go right but knowing how to work with editors is crucial to a successful writing career.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Angela--I swear I've left two comments. Is Blogger conspiring against me?

How do you do it? How do you look serious/professional and still look cute? ;)

I can't contribute anything because I'm not a true freelancer. However, I enjoyed your "raging fever" story.

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