How to Evaluate Story Ideas in Journalism

By Kristy Horine

I sat at the back table of the women’s ministry organizational meeting. The Christian in me focused on loving my sisters. The writer in me did a constant sweep for story.

And there it was, at the very end of the meeting. A prayer request for a young woman named Morgan who was going on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. She had worked so hard to raise funds. Had even learned how to sew to do it.

My story radar pinged and pinged hard.

After the meeting, I approached Morgan and gathered a little more information. “Would you mind if I pitched the idea of writing an article about your mission trip to the local paper?”

After she assented, I made notes of all her contact information, promised to pitch it to the local editor in the morning, and made sure I could schedule a future interview to get more in-depth information if the editor accepted the pitch.

The next morning, I shot off an email in which I pitched a human interest story, with pictures, in 800 words or less. Within two hours I had a reply: Yes.

How did this work so easily? Because the story was appealing and fit in with the local paper’s flavor and audience.

But how do you make this work in your own writing life?

Pay attention.

  1. Pay attention to your local newspaper. Read the headlines. Look at the photos.

There are typically two kinds of newspapers left in the world: the large syndicated rags, and the small, hometown papers. I’ll be really honest here, larger papers are not so inclined to take freelance writers, and they tend to hoard the good stories for their regular reporters. Most other stories they typically pull ‘off the wire’ in a news service that they pay for. That being said, there is no harm in asking. If you don’t ask, you won’t know, so pitch that story!

For smaller papers, if you don’t subscribe, then subscribe. Walk in to the office and let them see your face. Meet one of the editors or the publisher and ask if they are interested in articles from freelance writers. Again, no harm done in asking. Then, read the paper. All of the paper. Read the articles, the opinion pieces, the obituaries, the homemakers having a good time, the local churches having fish fry dinners, the advertisements, the sports stories even if your favorite sport is reading, and the classifieds. Know what they publish, and think about the audience who is reading what they publish.

  1. Pay attention to the story itself. Evaluate each story on the following attributes: Newsworthiness, Prominence, Timeliness, Proximity, Method, and Human Interest.

A Nose for News in Action

Let’s evaluate the above story about Morgan in terms of what newspapers generally look for in publishable articles.

Newsworthiness

To determine Newsworthiness, ask yourself a few questions: Does this matter? Will it inform how people make decisions?

The answers are yes, and yes. It matters to Morgan. It matters on an international scale. Morgan is a difference maker. That’s important. People make decisions about where and how they will spend their money and their time every single day. If no one knows about Morgan’s fund raising sewing endeavors, they might make an alternate decision about their money. In addition, people like to pray for other people. Give them something worthy to pray about.

Prominence

To determine Prominence, ask yourself a few questions: Who is this article about? Who will be impacted by reading this article?

Morgan is not a community celebrity like a politician might be, but her name and her family members are well known and well loved. That makes a difference. When thinking in terms of impact, the story itself is just inspiring, right? It can impact anyone who is within hearing/reading range of the story.

Timeliness

To determine Timeliness, ask yourself a few questions: Is this something that happened yesterday? Is it happening today? Will it happen tomorrow?

In Morgan’s case, I determined to pitch the idea, write the story and have it published well before her mission trip so that people who read her story would have time to decide if they wanted to help her by ordering a hand-sewn item. I could have waited until after her trip and included pictures of the trip itself. However, by publishing pre-event, this enabled the community to be more actively involved. Since news travels fast and dies fairly young, offering a fresh, timely piece is wise.

Proximity

To determine Proximity, ask yourself a few questions: Is this a local event/person/place? If this is foreign, is there a local connection?

Morgan lives in my home town. She just completed her freshman year at college in the next county over. Her mother is a school teacher at one of the local middle schools. Her grandmother lives here. Her sister lives here. Even though the mission trip was outside the US borders, the local connection is strong and interesting.

Method

To determine Method, ask yourself a few questions: Is this article about the same old same old? Is there a new flavor/spin/approach in this story?

When most people fund raise, they think bake sale, car wash, GoFundMe. It takes more time and gumption to learn a new skill that adds value to people’s lives, like sewing. That’s what worked with Morgan’s story. In addition to interviewing Morgan, I also interviewed her sewing mentor, Sue Ellen. Sue Ellen also works at the local middle school. By adding a broader sweep to the story, I increase the Proximity, the Prominence and the Newsworthiness. Bam! We have a Titus 2 operation going here. (Hmmm … sounds like an article I could pitch in a local Women’s Missionary Union magazine or website. Double duty for paying attention here.)

Human Interest

To determine Human Interest, ask yourself a few questions: Does this help me connect/reconnect with people? Will it help my readers stop and remember that people are more important than things?

In Morgan’s story, again the answer is yes to both questions. It is a touching story that can encourage and inspire.

And one more thing –

The local newspaper is a secular paper. Yes, the owners call themselves Christians, but a secular newspaper is a secular newspaper is a secular newspaper. As a journalist, no matter the print outlet, I must maintain unbiased journalistic integrity in my writing. I do not interject opinion. I do not use gushing adjectives. But what I can do is sincerely and honestly quote subjects who speak freely about Jesus, which both Morgan and Sue Ellen did.

Before I go into any story – whether it is a story I have found and am pitching, or if it is a story that the newspaper or magazine has assigned to me – I know my boundaries.

I determined long ago:

  • that I would tell the truth,
  • that I would not write a story celebrating sin,
  • that I would not put myself in a situation where I am alone with a male,
  • that I would not change a direct quote unless I had a paper trail of permissions,
  • that I would be teachable in terms of writing and editing, and
  • that I would obey God before ANY publisher or editor, no matter how much they offered to pay me.

The world needs journalists who understand there are things we just don’t compromise. That’s the best evaluation after all.

A week after Morgan’s story ran in the local newspaper, I received an email from the newspaper asking me to call a woman at a phone number. I called. She was from a different church close to our area. She wanted to have Morgan come and speak to her women’s group about the mission trip. Through the article, God opened a door for a kind and generous young woman to tell more of her story.

Click-to-Tweet: Pay attention. Evaluate. Pitch. See what God can do with the words He has created for you to use.

Writing Prompt: Your small town is holding a craft fair next summer. Several area crafters have gained national attention with their art. Brainstorm a human-interest story idea for the local newspaper.

Who You Gonna Call? Ghostwriter!

By Kristy Horine

The Great American Novel. It’s the dream of many a writer, but it’s not the only way to break into publication. During the month of July, the Inspired Prompt Team will bring you other publication options to explore. It is our prayer that you are drawn to just the right one at just the right time! Thanks for reading and write on.

Me? A ghostwriter?

I was nearing the end of a writers conference and I still couldn’t figure out why I was there. After all, I was a journalist, sitting with a bunch of fiction writers.

As I stood at the fringes of the group, a man I hadn’t seen before came up and asked, “So, what do you write?”

I took a deep breath and pushed out air and words, “I’m a freelance journalist.”

He paused. He stared. Then, he smiled.

“Cool,” he said. “I know someone who is interested in telling her story, but she doesn’t really write. Ever thought about ghostwriting?”

Since that providential meeting, I’ve learned much about ghostwriting, about me, and about the way God moves to equip and encourage His writers to work with excellence.

If you are considering ghostwriting, here are some aspects you need to think on:

Prayer

Ghostwriting is an intense endeavor. Cover every aspect in prayer. Pray not only for your writing abilities, but for your client’s storytelling abilities. Pray every day, for every step.

Compatibility

symbiosisIn science, a symbiotic relationship is one where two organisms live really close to one another, sometimes one within the other, in a way that could be beneficial to one or both of the parties involved. This is ghostwriting.

As a ghostwriter, you must be inside your client’s story, mind, and voice. You must be compatible enough – especially in your differences – so you can get the job done. How do you know if you are compatible? Compare your values and your missions. If those two things align, you’re probably going to be okay.

The Story

Ghostwriters can be contracted to work on many different types of writing:

  • Business Writing (web copy, newsletters, press releases, policy & procedures manuals)
  • Full-length non-fiction or fiction
  • Memoirs

No matter what type of writing you will produce, you must decide if you are willing and able to live with the moral, ethical, social, and cultural impact that the writing might have.

For example, if you are a vegetarian, you are probably not going to write for a meat packing plant. If you are a devout Christ-follower, you are likely not going to write the memoirs of a person entrenched in witchcraft. These are hyperbolic examples, but they do make good points. Can you live with the entire story that may or may not have your name attached to it?

Anonymity

“Am I willing to spend hours/days/weeks/months on a project that might not ever mention my name?” If the answer to this question is no, you might want to run now. If the answer is yes, then continue reading. Find out what your client has in mind in terms of attribution. Some clients don’t mind sharing the author spotlight and will include the ghostwriter’s name on the cover. Some clients will mention a ghostwriter in the acknowledgements page. Some clients want the world to think they alone are the brilliant writers. Most ghostwriters give up bylines in what is called a nondisclosure agreement.

Understanding where you are in terms of anonymity is very important.

  • If your name is on this story, is it a story you want to be associated with in ten years?
  • If the client doesn’t want anyone to know they hired a ghostwriter, what are the terms of your silence?
  • Will the client be willing to be a reference and acknowledge your work to a future client?

Decide what you are willing to live with and put it in writing.

Method

This is basically how the project will move from your client’s mind, through you, to the page.

  • Will your client hand you a box of papers and say, here are my notes, go at it?
  • Will your client write the bones and you fill in the blanks?
  • Will you transcribe recordings and write from them?

In addition to how you will gather the facts of the story in the first place, you also need to know what your client expects in terms of editing, marketing, revision, and so forth. Writing is a process that involves so much more than scratching words on a paper. Ghostwriting is no different in that respect. Make sure you talk about how your client expects you to gather information, write, and revise.

Fees

This is the hard part, right? Deciding how much your work and time are worth is tricky. To know the best fee scale for your business, and your life, you need to find out what your rhythms are, how good you are at record keeping, and the parameters of each job.

Consider:

  • Will you apply a per word, per hour, or per project fee?
  • Is there travel involved?
  • Will you be required to purchase extra supplies for the project?
  • Will you need to pay an attorney for contract fees?
  • Will you be responsible for marketing? For editing and revising?

Consider, also, that little issue of anonymity. Now, if you are like most people who are writing a book, you want to make sure that you receive every penny people are willing to pay for your work, not just now but in the future. Will you receive royalties? Will you give up royalties? If you ghostwrite a memoir that becomes a smash best seller for six months straight, that’s a lot of royalties to give up. How will you feel about that? What does your contract say about that?

contract

And speaking of contracts, make sure your ghostwriting contract addresses all of these questions according to each project. If you are writing web copy, you won’t mention royalties. But if you are writing a non-fiction book a publisher asks to be re-written or edited in any way, make sure your initial contract makes room for these contingencies.

One day after the writers conference where I first felt the tug of ghostwriting, I received a phone call. The potential client was a very high profile personality. She and I went back and forth. She interviewed several ghostwriters. I did a lot of research and offered a bid, or a proposal, on the project. Yes, she would include my name on the front cover. No, there would be no royalties. Yes, she was willing to pay a tidy sum for my ghostwriting fee. Yes, the book idea had already been accepted by a publisher, with a promise of more books to come.

After a few more weeks of negotiations, I had to write a hard email. I turned the project down, even though it would have meant more than a year’s worth of freelance income for me and my family.

Why?

Because even though the client initially said she wanted to glorify God and lead others to Christ, she didn’t want the names of God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit in the book at all. She wanted to use curse words in the narrative, and she didn’t mind being explicit in glorifying worldly passions and pursuits because she wanted to “be real.”

At the end of my days, I will stand before the Lord. I will make an account for my actions, my inaction, and every single word, even those I write that belong to someone else. When I stand, will the ghosts come back to haunt me?


Click-to-Tweet: No matter what type of writing you will produce, you must decide if you are willing and able to live with the moral, ethical, social, and cultural impact that the writing might have. Who You Gonna Call? Ghostwriter! via @InspiredPrompt

WRITING PROMPT: You are a ghostwriter. Your client is the only granddaughter of an heiress in your small Arkansas town. Before she can receive her inheritance, the granddaughter must find someone who can take an attic full of notes and transform them into a memoir to top all memoirs. You accept the project, are firing on all cylinders, until you find the box that will change the entire town forever. What does the box contain? 

Every Five Days: A Poetic Journey to Bread

By Kristy Horine

Sourdough. 

It’s been the bread of choice in my family for three generations. From Papaw, to Momma, to me. My “Secret Life” as a bread maker has waxed and waned over the years. I’ve received jars of starter, killed jars of starter, and baked hundreds of loaves of bread. Most bread I gave away. Sourdough to neighbors. Sourdough to strangers. Sourdough to bake sales for various ministries. Sourdough as communion bread. 

Over time, I’ve learned the process — feeding, waiting, kneading, waiting, baking, eating and waiting some more — is blessed with measures of faith, hope and love. The three that remain.  To honor the Lord who gave us His own body as bread, a poem:

Every fifth morning, I pull the pickle jar from the fridge.
(It used to live with Cathy Thompson,
The jar did.
She filled it with things that bubbled and soured.
Then, she gave it to me.)
I put the pickle jar on the counter.

Every fifth morning, into my two-cup glass measureFood for starters

I add:
One cup of perfect-warm water,
three, one-fourth cups sugar,
Three tablespoons potato flakes.
(The flakes look like snow.)
I stir and waterfall the warm, sweet, snow into the pickle jar.

Then,
I wait.

Every fifth night, I fetch my mixing bowl
From under the counter.
(Momma gave me a set of three at Christmas-time
One year)
I add:A measure of flour

One fourth cup sugar,
One half cup oil,
One tablespoon salt,
One cup swirled-up starter,
One and a half cups perfect-warm water
Six cups bread flour.
I stir. Turn out. Knead.

Then,
I wait.

Every sixth morning, I grease and flour my pans.
Punch down dough, turn out onto flour-dusted counter,
Twist in two places to make lumps of three.
I press and spread and roll the dough
With my fingers, floured white.
Dough pressed flat

I tuck the dough into pans, pull waxed paper covers up to their chins.

Then, I wait.

Every sixth evening, I turn the knob to start the
WHOOSH!
Of gas in my oven.
Thirty minutes in, a glance for golden brown, a thump on
Top for doneness.Sliced bread
I eat the heels
(straight away)
for they are my favorite parts:
Slathered with sweet cream salted butter,
Only half allowed to melt,
For the waiting has seemed so long.

WRITING PROMPT: You are a master baker, paid to produce the most exquisite morsels ever to be eaten. You have received an order for two plain loaves of bread to be delivered to a remote hillside. The client is willing to pay seventeen times what the bread is worth, as long as you deliver it in person at exactly three o’clock. Write about the conversation you have with the client upon delivery.


Click to Tweet: Every Five Days: A Poetic Journey to Bread via @inspiredprompt and @kristyhorine – sometimes the waiting seems long but the end product slathered with butter, totally worth it.

Audiobooks: Do You Hear What I Hear?

By Kristy Horine

Multi-published Kentucky author, Hallee Bridgeman, looked at audio books for several years before she seriously pursued them. Her first audiobook was published in early 2018, after she had 19 books already in print. Hallee agreed to answer a few questions about her audiobook process.

Q:  How did you know where to begin with audiobooks?

A: I researched through different author social media groups, asked questions, and read articles.

Q:  How did you find your voice artist?

A: I have a unique situation in that my voice artist is a good friend. He has been a voice artist for years, owns a radio station, and was looking at getting into audiobook production about the same time I was looking into getting my books done. I was intentionally seeking out a male artist, so he was my first choice.

Q: Did you have to do all the editing and production yourself or does another company handle that?

A: The voice artist is in charge of all editing and production. I listen to the first draft of recordings while reading along. As I encounter things read wrong, inflections wrong, voices wrong, I provide a detailed list per chapter. The fixing of problems is called “pickups” – when the artist implements all of the pickups, I listen to it all again and make sure the changes were correct.

Q: How much creative input did you have in the process?

A: It’s my book. The artist should want to record it in a way that I envision it in my mind. If he cannot then he isn’t the right voice for me.

Q: Were there any surprises along the way? (Positive or negative)

A: I was surprised at how much my writing has improved after listening to the way the audiobook sounds. I’m way more conscious of overused words and dialogue tags, etc.

Q: If you could do it all over again, would you and why?

A: I definitely would – and I would do it sooner. Right now, it takes hours and hours to produce one book. He is keeping up with my current production, but there are several books written before that he hasn’t had a chance to get to record yet.

Thank you, Hallee, for sharing your wisdom and experience with us! 

In addition to this interview with Hallee, there are multiple resources on audiobooks available to writers. As stewards of the words God has given us, it is wise to find out more about this growing field.

According to author and speaker, Amy Collins, almost 28 percent of the budgets in the top libraries across the US is dedicated to audiobooks. In this video,  Amy takes the time to speak with Richard Rieman, award-winning narrator and director of Audiobook Revolution.

Richard outlines the audiobook process that picks up after the manuscript is complete. This includes:

  • Recording (self-narrated by author or narrated by a professional)
  • Editing (making changes to inflection, pronunciation, etc)
  • Mastering (putting all the cleaned up audio files together into one cohesive form)
  • Uploading files to an audiobook platform.

Richard advises that authors understand the audiobook process takes time. The average narration rate, he says, is 9,300 words per hour. This means that a 90,000 word book can take upwards of ten hours just to record. The entire process could take ninety days or more.

But Hallee and Richard would probably both agree that audiobooks are the wave of the future. It’s a sentiment that podcaster and author, Thomas Umstattd, Jr, repeats in this audiopost  from the Christian Publishing Show. Thomas takes listeners on a history of the oral tradition, the popularity and forecast for both podcasts and audiobooks, and encourages writers to begin the audio process now.

As a writer, are you are headed in the traditional direction of publishing, going indie with self-publishing, or braving the auditory waters of audiobook publishing? If so, we at Inspired Prompt invite you to look back over May’s posts. Visit as often as you’d like, or need. We pray your stay has been an inspiring one.

Click to Tweet: Multi-published Kentucky author, Hallee Bridgeman, looked at audio books for several years before she seriously pursued them. Find out what Hallee and others have learned about #audiobooks: Do You Hear What I Hear via @InspiredPrompt

No More Apples

My heart dropped and I bit my lip to keep from crying. On the page, in black and white, was all the evidence I needed. Never mind what positive and encouraging things folks had said in the past. Never mind that scripture assures me I was wonderfully and beautifully made.

That one negative comment blazed across my vision in a big red X. Who said that?

Oh, she did.

Her post garnered more likes than my post.

Her picture was perfect.

Her wit sharper.

Her humor funnier.

Her advice bolder, holier, and wiser.

Her story had a better plot, cooler characters, stronger verbs, and a more satisfying ending; and, it was just a tale of her niece’s recital. I don’t even have a niece. How am I supposed to compete against that?

I heard that oh-so-familiar voice slither into my ear … Who do you think you are?

As I cowered at the keyboard, another voice – steady and strong and sure – said, “Kristy, you are my redeemed, my inheritance.”

That’s the voice I leaned into, buried my head in His chest, took a few ragged breaths, scooped faith and perfect love and grace into every available pocket, and then turned back to face the screen before me.

For a brief span of time, I had been pinned down in the battlefield of comparison. Poison darts of self-defeat, an advancing army of past failures, the rocket-bright glare of a thousand blank pages I could never hope to fill on my own, and then the near-fatal wound from Miss Perfect. I faltered when I lost my line of sight on His plan and His purpose for my writing, and my life.

The distraction of comparison is a very similar tactic to the one Satan used in the garden, isn’t it? The slithery voice asks, “Is what God gave you really enough?”

I had a choice on that battlefield: walk away in defeat or, pick up my focus, dust it off, and keep on marching. The march, however, involves risk.

If we, as Christian writers, are to heed the call to write AND to complete the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), we must risk vulnerability on many different fronts: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc.; both on our personal pages, and on our author sites. Rest assured, we will receive responses from ‘out there’ (others) and ‘in here’ (our own heads).

Take comfort, dear writers, for here are some practical steps to safeguard our tender innards against a wound on the Comparison Battlefield.

  • Pray – Pray for protection. Take up the shield of faith (Ephesians 6:16) so that you may believe that He who began a good work in you will also bring that work to completion (Philippians 1:6) Pray to do nothing but that good work (Ephesians 4:29) so that no matter what social media channel you are on, you will be found to walk worthy of His calling (Ephesians 4:1).
  • Decide your intention before you even open an app. Do you intend to encourage others? Do you intend to make an announcement/post? Do you intend to pick a fight, rumble out your rant, and sound off about the latest social stumble? Don’t make God sorry He gave you this word gift. Read Genesis 6:5-8 and determine to find favor in God’s eyes.
  • Set a timer for each social media channel. Then, obey the clanging alarm when your time is up.
  • Report to your Commanding Officer after every tour. Confess your faults, your fears, and your faith. Give praise where praise is due. Seek direction for your next assignment, or simply get some R&R. A weary soldier is as bad as a foe.
  • Find a comrade in arms. The NLT gives us a great picture of how and why to incorporate this principle from Ecclesiastes 4:12: “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”

Click to Tweet: If we, as Christian writers, are to heed the call to write AND to complete the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), we must risk vulnerability on many different fronts…