Let’s Get Technical

By Carlton Hughes

If I asked, “What is one thing you have written that would surprise others?” I would get numerous answers. What’s my answer?

I have two: standardized test questions and an instructor’s manual for a textbook.

Sounds thrilling, I know. Here’s the deal: they remain the highest-paying freelance jobs I have ever completed, by far.

First, how did I get into writing standardized test questions (and who would want to write those?). A friend’s mother knew a guy at a well-known company that needed writers. I submitted samples, and bam! I became that guy.

My job was to research any topic I wanted, provide some facts, and then write a summary in three different skill levels as a rubric. So I got paid to write on a scale from excellent to POOR about pot-bellied pigs, Babe Didrickson, and the history of radio. Good work if you can get it.

The textbook job was a bit more complicated. I’m a teacher by trade, and we get emails all the time from publishing companies. To be brutally honest, I usually ignore them, but one subject line caught my eye: “Take survey, get money!”

This company wanted feedback on the Interpersonal Communication textbook I have used for years. The survey required me to share my opinions in different areas. I provided highly detailed answers, probably longer than they wanted, but I like big sentences, I cannot lie. I hit “submit,” and, a few weeks later, I was twenty bucks richer.

A month later I was at a WRITERS CONFERENCE taking a continuing class on FREELANCING. Warning: irony ahead!

One morning I checked my email before class, and I had a message from this same company, offering me a contract to write the instructor’s manual for the new edition of the communication text. The money offered was ridiculously good, so I jumped at the chance. The work wasn’t exactly easy, but I did get to use knowledge I already had.

Here’s what I learned from my technical writing experiences:

  1. Write what you know. Most of us don’t sit around writing creative stuff all day (If you do, great!). You might work a public job or have hobbies or skills that could translate to the technical market.
  2. When opportunities come, take them. I took that seemingly innocent survey that led me to my biggest writing job ever; I heard a guy was looking for a question-writer and went for it.
  3. Don’t be a writing snob. Sure, I would love to write award-winning literary works that appear on bestseller lists. But I’m not going to dismiss other opportunities that will sharpen my skills (and pay really well).

So, if Johnny takes the train 200 miles south and then switches trains and goes 80 miles east, what topping will he choose for his pizza for supper?

I’ll wait for your answer . . .

 

Click-To-Tweet: #HowTo break into technical writing! Let’s Get Technical with @carltonwhughes via @InspiredPrompt #freelancewriter


Carlton Hughes wears many hats. By day, he’s a professor of communication at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College. On Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings, he does object lessons and songs with motions as Children’s Pastor of Lynch Church of God. In his “spare time,” he is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in numerous publications, including Chicken Soup for the Soul and several devotional books from Worthy Publishing—The Wonders of Nature, Let the Earth Rejoice, Just Breathe, So God Made a Dog, and Everyday Grace for Men. His book Adventures in Fatherhood, a 60-day devotional co-authored with Holland Webb, will release in Spring 2020. Carlton and his wife Kathy have two sons, Noah and Ethan, and a daughter-in-law, Kersyn. He is on the planning committee for Kentucky Christian Writers Conference and is a year-round volunteer for Operation Christmas child. Carlton is represented by Cyle Young of Hartline Literary Agency.

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.

Freelance Writing: Find Your Strength and Focus

This month’s topic is Freelance Writing. It’s a great way to break into the world of publishing and make a little extra money to boot. Here’s a great thought by my friend, Kathy Cheek. Also check out the information about her new devotional release, First Breath of Morning, at the end of the post…

By Kathy Cheek

As I navigated my freelance writing journey I developed a practice that helped me make decisions and move forward in my goals. Today I will share that with you.

Find Your Strength and Focus, then do the thing you are good at with excellence.

The objective I applied in this practice was to look for areas of God’s blessing. What was I doing that I could see He was actively blessing? Where was He opening doors of opportunity? Where was He closing doors?

This will help examine where you should place your focus and will help you recognize your strengths and keep you from spreading yourself too thinly.

You don’t need to keep doing everything you started out doing. As you move forward after a time of trial and error—trying to see what works and what doesn’t, what you like and don’t like, you will most likely discover what is more beneficial to your goals.

Setting Goals for 2017 by Karen Jurgens

Yes, at first you should try everything and then with experience find the areas which you can narrow and focus.

In my experience it was realizing my strength would be devotional writing since I like to be able to pack a powerful message in few words, similar to a poet or songwriter. But there isn’t a market for poetry and I am not a songwriter.

I had tried feature writing, Bible study pieces, lifestyle blog posts, and inspirational pieces, but kept coming back to the devotional writing with my own style and flare. Then I targeted the devotional market and built a reputation and resume as a devotional writer in print and online.  I worked toward the goal of a devotional book, and my first book, First Breath of Morning, has been published and was just made available this week!  (See Below)

I was much happier and more satisfied when I found my strength and could focus my efforts on a writing style that worked well for me. If that changes, I will change my focus. I think it is also important to be open to our dreams changing and shifting over time. Which brings me to my last two thoughts: Be attentive and follow God’s lead. Be ready for Him to open brand new doors.

Kathy’s book, First Breath of Morning – Where God Waits For You Every Day – A 90 Day Devotional is newly released, click on title for ordering info.

Click to tweet: Want to become a freelance writer? Kathy Cheek says, “Find Your Strength and Focus, then do the thing you are good at with excellence.” #WritingAdvice #amwriting


First Breath of Morning – Where God Waits For You Every Day

First Breath of Morning is multi-themed with 90 devotions in six chapters that portray a beautiful picture of our walk with God through drawing near, growing our relationship, leaning into His love, strengthening our faith, trusting Him through every circumstance, and exalting Him in worship. The messages in First Breath of Morning will refresh your faith and renew your trust in God. First Breath of Morning is an Invitation to the relationship God wants to have with us every day and it starts in the first breath of each new morning where He is already waiting for you.

You can find out more about her book at this link on her Devotions from the Heart website: First Breath of Morning Book Info Page.

First Breath of Morning: Click Here To Purchase Paperback  
Click Here to Purchase eBook.


Kathy Cheek writes faith-filled devotions and is published in LifeWay’s Journey magazine and Mature Living, and also contributes to several devotional sites, including Thoughts About God, Christian Devotions, and CBN.com.

Her favorite subject to write about is the rich relationship God desires to have with us and the deep trust it takes to live it out. She and her husband of 33 years live in the suburbs of Dallas, Texas and they have two daughters and one son-in-law who also reside in the Dallas area. You can read more of her devotions at www.kathycheek.com.

Kathy is thrilled to announce her book First Breath of Morning – A 90 Day Devotional was contracted to be published and is now available ! You will find info and a description of the book on her Book News page at Devotions from the Heart.

Let the Truth Flow

Research: Current Events
by Kristy Horine

“I can’t believe you gave an interview without asking permission,” she said. “I thought you were more professional than that.”

The call completely took me off guard. An editor who had trusted me for two years with at least one full-length feature article in every single edition was on the phone speaking words that just didn’t make sense.

“I don’t give interviews. I do interviews,” I said. “There must be some mistake.”

It took three phone calls and an hour’s worth of research to discover the heart of the mistake.

One of the magazines I wrote for published my article on a small hospital that offered specialized care for patients with a specific , yet common condition. No one else within several hundred miles offered this care.

I did my due diligence as a freelance journalist. I researched the history of the place, gathered amazing, heart-wrenching stories from patients and their families, secured all the proper releases, shot photos, spoke with administrators and public relations officials. I even ate at a diner near the hospital so I could gather the impact of the facility on the townsfolk. This hospital worked miracles. It deserved the best I could give.

But here, a few weeks after my story went public, I learned that a student journalist from a major university had used word-for-word information from my article that she submitted as her own work for university publication.  The student never spoke with me, she never mentioned the original article, and she got some very important facts very wrong.

In this rapid-fire, often-questionable, 24-hour news streaming culture, proper research on current events can be the difference between earning the respect of your editors and your next paycheck, or simply adding your byline to a growing list of news trolls.

This experience made me think: What if I had been the sloppy journalist? What damage could I do to my sources, or to a worthy story that deserves to be heard?

There are hundreds of articles released every day that are well-researched, well-written articles. There are thousands of articles released every day that are not. With the deluge of information from around the world, how do writers know that the information they are including in their articles is trustworthy?

Here are a few tips:

  1. Only use direct quotes from primary sources with whom you have direct contact. Using another writer’s quotes as if you had done the work to capture them is lazy, breeds mistrust, and the sources can never be verified.
  2. If you reference information like poll data, dates of space shuttle launches, the wingspan of an Andean condor, or the number of seeds a sugar beet farmer in the Dakotas plants per year, make sure that you give a trusted reference for your information. There is no shame in consulting an expert. Use phrases like “According to …”, or “In a May 2017 Gallup Poll …”, or “The Cincinnati Zoo, which has partnered with the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ Andean Condor Species Survival Plan …”
  3. ALWAYS gather research information from a reputable source. Wikipedia, tabloid webzines, and most blogs do not promise accuracy. If you use online information from a company’s website, make a quick phone call to verify the present-day accuracy of the information. In this digital age, using hard bound books or printed professional journals might seem archaic, but it is often a great source for specific, proven information.
  4. Make a personal editorial decision before you crack your first book, read your first article, or contact your first source, to be completely honest no matter what you find – or don’t find – in your research. Good research often leads to better interview questions and broadens the writer’s perspective on a topic.
  5. Most of all, have fun with research. You never know what next story you might find there.

Click to tweet: Research. There are hundreds of articles released every day that are well-researched, well-written articles. There are thousands of articles released every day that are not. #research #amwriting

Writing Prompt: Consider the importance of truth. Where might the absence of truth lead a society? Pretend you are the last writer on earth and write a scene of building trust with folks who have never known the truth.

 

Do you Know your Rights?

Google search

I am an author, but I’m also a multi-published freelance writer. In fact, I got my start in writing by freelancing small pieces such as articles, devotions, stories for anthologies, etc. I have been freelancing successfully since 2010 and now have somewhere around 200 published pieces in numerous publications. I also teach workshops on freelancing at writers’ conferences. When I do, I always start with a brief lesson on writer’s rights. Understanding the different types of rights is so important!

These rights are true regardless of whether you are negotiating a contract for a small piece or a larger work. It’s always good to know what your contract says; what rights you are selling the publication / publisher and what rights you are keeping.

Types of rights:

First Rights also called First American Serial Rights (FASR): If you sell a publication First Rights, it means you are selling them the right to be first to publish the piece. (In other words, you are telling them that it has not been published before, and you will not allow it to be published until after whatever time stipulated in the contract. Contracts differ on this—many say one year after the date it appears in their publication, others say six months, and a few say it can be published again immediately after the date it first appears in their publication.)

When you sell first rights, after the time stipulated in the contract, the rights revert to you as the author and you can use it any way you like (you can post it in a compilation of your own, or sell a reprint to it.)

First rights can only be sold once—the first time it is published.

Reprint Rights sometimes called Second American Serial Rights: If you sell a piece that has already been published, you are selling the new publication reprint rights, i. e. the right to publish a reprint of your work. Not all magazines will purchase reprints and those that do often pay less. Not always though; my highest paying article the first time for .25 a word (it was a 1500 word article so that came to $380), the second time as a reprint for another $375 to a magazine that paid just as much for reprints as it did for 1st rights, and has sold two more reprints since then (for $75 & $240) and I’ll sell it again if the opportunity presents itself.

You can sell reprint rights as many times as you can find someone to purchase them. You own the rights to the piece.

One-time Rights are a little tricky. They work more like reprint rights in that the writer owns the rights to his or her piece and can sell them as often as possible. Some well-established writers sell these because there is a demand for that writer’s work. Most publications do not buy these, though. Most stipulate in the writers’ guidelines what kind of rights they are willing to buy, and it is usually first rights, reprint rights, or all rights.

All rights or Exclusive Rights: I generally caution against selling all rights or exclusive rights to a piece. If a magazine buys all rights that means they will own the piece if the writer is willing to sell it. Personally, I do not ever sell all rights to my work. It feels to me like I am selling my babies. They are mine, created from my head and though I am happy for someone to publish it, I do not want that entity to then own it. I want to own my own work! All rights you sell only once, because then it is no longer yours to sell. Selling all rights do, however, tend to pay more and some writers are happy to sell them.

Work for Hire is a term that also refers to the kind of rights a writer will have to a piece. It means the publication has hired you to write for them. Therefore, that publication owns whatever you write. Many journalism jobs are work for hire—where the writer writes for that newspaper, or magazine and as such, writes whatever that magazine wants them to write, and the magazine then owns the content.

I do take some work for hire jobs. I have taken and will continue to take assignments from a couple different devotional magazines. These assignments are considered work for hire, so I do not own the devotions I have written for them. The two I write for are Open Windows (Lifeway) and Reflections (Smyth & Helwys) These are the only instances where I give up ownership of anything I write.

That’s it in a nutshell. Usually you find the rights a magazine wishes to buy in their writers’ guidelines.

Click to Tweet: From @harrietemichael Do You Know Your Rights? What you need to know about writers’ rights. @InspiredPrompt #devotional #writer


Writing Prompt: Write why you would or would not be willing to write on assignment where the publication keeps the rights to your work.