Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
The Writing Life
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by Susan Sundwall
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Trends come and go with the speed of light, and you really can't be all over the map when it comes to writing about them. You have to select an area of interest, employ laser-like focus, and stick with it until it's a fait accompli. If you're thinking about all things green as related to global warming, for instance, make it your passion to find out everything you can about how and why "going green" is so in vogue. For example, develop an eye for picking out the word "green" in all the publications you see in the magazine rack while you're piling your groceries on the check out counter. Note the kinds of "green" that are being written about. Now, what hasn't been written about? That's where you come in.
When friends, family or co-workers talk about going green, ask them what that means to them. Maybe it's a plan to buy a hybrid car the next time around or organizing a neighborhood clean-up-the-roads project. Write to those interests and concerns. If you can talk to a real fanatic, so much the better; he or she may have access to an expert who will give you an interview.
Search online for green technologies, green yard care, green education, etc. Pick a topic that's of particular interest to you and run with it. Look at current advertising for automobiles, paper products, children's toys and the like. Note words and phrases that are being used in an attempt to appeal to the environmentalist in all of us. Use variations on those themes in your own work.
I'm using the green example because as I write this article it's a trendy thing to be and do. But the same guidelines can be applied to any subject. As soon as you have enough information about your chosen trend, don't dither. Get your notes in order and do a first draft. Make a target market list. If you need to query an editor, do it. If not, work on your draft until it's ready to go, and send it off.
Time is of the essence when it comes to following and writing about trends. A self-imposed sense of urgency will go a long way in making you successful here. Being ahead of the curve is tricky, but once you sharpen your skills the opportunities are limitless.
Trends and Their Relatives
You've probably heard the term "evergreen" when it comes to writing. An "evergreen" piece is any article an editor may like enough to hold for a future issue because the subject has eternal appeal. It may see the light of day in six months or a year, so you probably don't want to write too many of those. Trends, on the other hand, exist under a wide umbrella of what we might consider "evergreen" categories but with an inherent sense of being in the moment. Here are three subject areas that aren't going away any time soon.
Fashion -- Are you a fashion maven? Can you spot a coming fashion trend a mile away? Get out your notepad and find out where it's coming from, who's wearing it and where the average Jill can buy it. Maybe the whole palette of lipstick and eye shadow is trending to mauve next spring. Find out. If you can snag a few photos or a word or two from a celebrity or popular makeup stylist -- go for it. It all helps to sell the piece. Fashion is here to stay, so why not be on the cutting edge of reporting what's in.
Energy -- Gotta have it. And there will be more going on in the energy and alternative energy fields for at least the next ten years than you can imagine. Science and technology magazines need good articles that will keep their readers enlightened, informed and current. Many of these publications offer free subscriptions to business owners who are also potential customers. I know a man who is a high-level manager in the field of wind energy. He keeps me informed on all things wind and the future promise of this industry. He's helped me with several articles. Perhaps you have a friend or acquaintance who'll lend you a copy or two of the publications monitoring your area of interest. Or go online and request a sample copy. Study the tone, layout and subject matter and get that first draft going.
Food -- Don't care about fashion or energy? Then how about the latest trend in cocktails? Or vegetables? Think about the last time you saw a celebrity expound on the virtues of the acai berry or pomegranate juice. Trends are set quickly with celebrity endorsements, so keep tabs on them. Everybody eats and there are myriad opportunities for writers to get out there and report to the world about foods on the edge. Let your food snoop take the reins, scoping out things like the end caps in the aisle of your favorite supermarket or gourmet shop. That's where new products often appear first. Talk to the store manager to see which items are catching on with the public. Watch television food programs or infomercials that tout new ways to prepare avocado, sandwiches, pasta, you name it.
Other subject areas include politics (there's always an election somewhere), parenting, spirituality, home decor and pets, to name just a few!
Your Own Take
You're not going to be alone when it comes to writing to trends. There's a ton of competition out there, so you'll need a unique slant. Go back to the grocery store for a minute. Ask a cashier or some shoppers about the "green bags" used for carry-home. They could be interested in knowing what the bags are made of, how long they last, how many variations there are and the weight they can handle. Follow it up some demographics on what populations are using them and add a trick or two on how to remember to bring them to the store on shopping day. Write your article using short blocks of information and add a picture or two of the various kinds of bags. You'll have a killer article that any number of magazines will be interested in.
Now think about the energy category or fashion or food. Apply the same thinking. Do wind turbines still kill birds? Will the next American Idol winner be sporting pink sneakers with purple shoelaces; will tofu put your local cattle rancher out of business soon? Eager readers want to know. Your slant is your sale.
Editors love phrases like "new study shows," "learn the secret," "how to boost" and words like "surprise" and "amaze." Use them whenever you can to show that the article you're selling is current, interesting and well researched. Do your homework -- burn the midnight oil if you have to -- and be ahead of other contenders in winning a spot in those choice and lucrative publications you've dreamed of conquering.
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.
Susan Sundwall freelances from her home in upstate New York. She's written about trends in money management and green technologies. She's working on her second novel, a cozy mystery.