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Sunday, May 29, 2011

5 Tips for Writing about Home and Garden

Homes--in particular, selling them and buying them--have been on my mind of late. After cleaning, decluttering, painting, updating, and staging our little house to perfection, we managed to sell it in just seven days. Then we spent the next five weeks searching for our new home.

We looked at at least twenty houses, and I was amazed by some of what we saw--dirty rooms, cluttered closets, and over-decorated, over-priced monstrosities. We finally found one that will work for us, and in the meantime, I've got a host of story ideas for future articles--and will no doubt have more when we actually move next month.

Whether your home is a showplace or you're simply the king of DIY (do-it-yourself), an interest in d├ęcor, gardening, or home repair can net you assignments from the lucrative "shelter" market. In addition to magazines dedicated to the home and garden niche, most general interest publications cover these topics to some degree as well. Articles may explain how to landscape your backyard, remodel a bathroom, or maximize your storage space.

Thanks to the practical appeal and increasing interest in home improvement and maintenance (even as house values continue to drop), these topics are a lucrative area to specialize in, particularly for writers who have experience with decorating, home renovation, or gardening. Use these tips to break into this lucrative area:

• Start with what you know. If you don't have shelter-related clips, begin with subjects you already have hands-on experience with. If you recently remodeled your bathroom, started a container herb garden, or refinanced your condo, look for markets that would be a good match for those ideas--and play them up in your ISG. If you're new to covering shelter-related subjects, start with a relatively simple topic that you have personal experience with. For example, I sold a story on buying your first home to Bridal Guide early in my career; while I didn’t know much about mortgages, I interviewed an experienced Realtor and mortgage broker, and they gave me plenty of information for the story. I also wrote about combining two tastes into one home for Bride's. In both cases, I highlighted my recent experiences of moving in together and buying my first home with my new husband in my query letters.

• Use your background. Consider your work experience as well—if you've sold real estate or are an interior designer, you bring a different perspective to the home topics you'll pitch. Make sure your query includes your relevant qualifications, again in your ISG.

Stay up on trends. Real estate and home design is a constantly changing field. Pay attention to trends--on the local, regional, and national levels. Is there an increased interest in water gardens? Are more people adding on to their homes rather than moving? Have upscale condominiums become increasingly popular? Look for evidence of trends on a local level; this can provide you with story ideas as well as possible anecdotes and sources for the articles themselves.

• Think visuals. Whether you’re writing a piece about interior design or how to prepare your backyard garden for winter, photos, illustrations, and other art may be an integral part of the story. You may use photos to help sell the story idea, and then sell the photos themselves as well. Because of this, it’s worth it to invest in a good-quality digital camera and take a photography class to learn the basics. And, make sure that if you are selling photos, you retain rights to them so that you resell them in the future.

• Go one step at a time. For a how-to piece, which is essentially a service article, break down the story into simple, understandable steps—and describe them so that someone else can follow your instructions. Make sure to point out any safety precautions—such as telling readers to wear goggles while using a soldering iron. If you're not sure whether you've missed something, ask a friend who has no experience in the subject to read the piece and tell you whether it's clear.

Remember, your life is often the richest source of story ideas. Thinking about the challenges you've had with your own home--whether you rent or own--may turn into saleable story ideas.


  1. Kelly, what great ideas. My first sale to a national publication was how I built a hearth for our woodstove on a very strict budget, out of recycled materials. While working on it, I took photos of each step with an article in mind, and then worked it over and over to make sure I had not left out any details. But I think what sold the idea to the editor was that I sent a photo with the query...unorthodox I know...but it got a response within hours. I have a sign on my office wall, "What did I do today? Write it!"

  2. Thanks for your comment, Carol! Sounds like great minds think alike...and I think you're right. Your photo probably made the sale! Nice work.