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Monday, March 25, 2013

The Sell-Your-First-Article Series, Steps 7 and 8

Welcome back to the Sell-your-First-Article series. (You'll find step 1steps 2 through 5, and step 6 here.  Today we'll talk about what is often the hardest part of freelancing--the actual writing. Which brings us to step 7: 
Step 7: Write the piece.
To write the piece, I considered the following two questions:

1. What made the study interesting or surprising?
2. What “take-away” message was there for Fitness readers?

Obviously this was a short article, so I didn’t have a lot of space. This story was relatively easy to write, both because it was short, and because the subject matter was fairly simple. The challenge was “writing tight,” or keeping my story succinct while adequately covering the topic. I kept my lead short, described the research, and included a quote from Dr. Jensen. It took me several drafts to get my original version, which was more than 250 words, cut to within word count. It had been assigned at 150 words and I wrote a 163-word piece. My rule of thumb is to get as close to word count as you can, but stay within 10 percent of assigned word count no matter what.
The finished piece I turned in is below, with my comments in brackets. Note that my name, address and contact information are in the upper left-hand corner. The word count and rights being sold are included in the upper right-hand corner. Then the title of the piece and the byline are centered below that, before the story starts. You should single-space this information and double-space the piece itself.

Kelly James-Enger                                                   163 words 
[street address]                                                       Rights per written contract
[city, state, zip]

Fidgeting Fat Away?

Kelly James-Enger

Maybe those enviably skinny people who can eat anything without gaining weight simply can’t sit still. [Very short lead—this is a very short piece, remember?]
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic’s Endocrine Research Unit fed sixteen volunteers 1,000 extra calories a day for eight weeks while strictly monitoring their activities. While all participants gained weight, on average they burned off about half of those extra calories through increased non-exercise activity thermogenesis (“NEAT”), which includes fidgeting, maintaining posture, shifting position, and other spontaneous physical activities. The range varied significantly—participants whose NEAT kicked into high gear expended more calories and gained less weight while others—with smaller NEAT increases—expended fewer calories, putting on more weight.  [Here’s the heart of the piece—explaining what the study revealed.]
“It looks like NEAT can be dramatically and rapidly induced in some people by eating too much,” says researcher Michael Jensen, Ph.D. We’re not recommending fidgeting as a weight-loss technique, but the study suggests that even minor physical activities—like stretching when you’re watching TV or crossing and uncrossing your legs during a marathon meeting—can add up. [Live quote from one of the researchers, and a short closing statement.]
[The number 30, or ###, indicates the end of the piece.]

Step 8: Turn the story in.
                I turned in the story along with Dr. Jensen’s contact information and a copy of the study itself. This is called “backup,” or “fact-checking” material. Some publications don’t require backup, but I suggest you always have it on hand just in case. That will include the names and contact information of anyone you interview; copies of journal articles; websites that you pulled information from (e.g., a page from the Centers for Disease Control that you cite in the article.) For longer stories that include more than one source, you typically turn in an additional, annotated copy of the story that indicates which sources provided the information in the story. 
               What comes next? Biting my nails and waiting to hear from my editor. Stay tuned for the remaining steps in the process. And don't forget about my free teleseminar with Rochelle Melander on Wednesday! 
                **In the next post, we'll talk about how to start researching this short piece. In the meantime, Dollars and Deadlines: Make Money Writing Articles for Print and Online Markets, from which this post is drawn, in now in print. (Prefer the Kindle edition?) 
               If you're interested in writing articles, be sure to sign up for the Write Now! Mastermind class on Wednesday, March 27, at noon central time. Rochelle Melander will be interviewing me for How To Pitch And Sell Articles To A Variety Of Freelance Markets. The call is free, but you need to sign up at I hope to "see" you on the call!