By Carol Tice
One of the comments I get a lot from writers who started at content sites is that they can’t imagine how they could write fully reported stories and still earn well. They take so much time! Finding sources, setting up interview times, talking to live humans. How can it possibly pencil out?
Well, I’m here to testify that when done right, reported articles are a far more lucrative way to write. Here are some tips on how professional writers earn well writing reported stories.
1. Keep your interviews short. Unless you’re doing a 3,000-word profile of somebody or something similar, I try not to spend more than 15-20 minutes talking to any particular source. This not only keeps your hourly rate for the story up, but keeps the source from entertaining delusions that they will be the whole article. Respect sources’ time and yours, have your questions ready ahead of time, and keep it brief.
2. Think before you drive. Before you get in the car, adding hours to your reporting time, ask yourself whether this needs to be an in-person interview, or if it would do just as well as a phoner. Many roundup stories don’t need in-person work. If you do need to travel for a story because you really need to see things and people to write it properly, take a single day and line up all the interviews the story needs, so you go straight from one to another. That’s my M.O. with stories that need field work.
3. Double-down on your sources. While you’re talking to sources, think about other stories you’re writing for other outlets, and whether you could use them for those pieces, too. Also pick their brains for additional stories you could pitch elsewhere. Recycling your experts really saves time, and it’s legit as long as it’s different topics for different markets.
Example: Recently, I interviewed the head of a niche recruiting company for a career story on a major jobs portal. I learned her company had gotten certified as a Beneficial or “B” Corp, which I thought was interesting so I sold that idea to a corporate business-information Web site. She was a woman business owner, so I also got her into a story for the online site of a national magazine about women who owned her business type. Total pay: more than $1,400. Not bad for a half-hour of interview time with her, plus a few other short interviews thrown into the roundups.
4. Find sources fast. Learn how to use HARO, Profnet and other source-finding tools. Find expert authors fast on Amazon books. Become a Google pro. Tweet or tell your LinkedIn crowd about your sourcing needs. You have to find exactly who you need, pronto. If you have to interview three people to find one good expert, you can’t make this pay.
5. Resell, resell, resell. Once you’ve done a topic, think about noncompeting markets you could rewrite it for with a slightly different angle and reuse your experts. A classic one: once you’ve learned about a business, ask your source where they went to college, and sell a profile about them to their college alumni magazine. If it’s a daily paper piece, see if it could be resold to dailies in other markets. Crack that Writer’s Market and find more places that could use your idea.
6. Build relationships. Don’t be a news zombie, sucking the information out of a source’s head and leaving them a dry husk by the roadside. If you think a source is articulate and knowledgeable in their field, make friends! Often, if you’re friendly, respectful and don’t waste sources’ time, you can come back to the same sources over and over for various stories — sometimes even for the same outlet. Just ask your publication if it’s OK if you use someone you’ve cited for them previously.
You don’t want to overuse this — keep finding new sources, too. But when you get stories with rush deadlines, it’s great to have built a rolodex of sources you know will return your calls.
If you need tips on how to be a crack interviewer, there’s more here on that topic.
This post originally appeared on the WM Freelance Writer’s Connection.
Photo via Flickr user Piratenpartei Deutschland