Blogs by Micki Peluso
HOW TO BECOME A MILD-MANNERED REPORTER
10/31/2008 7:43:38 PM
This is a blog on my introduction to the writing world some twenty years ago.
HOW TO BECOME A "MILD-MANNERED REPORTER"
A recessive, masochistic gene reared its ugly cell a few years ago and compelled me to become a writer. No one in my family considered writing a true vocation; most of my relatives looked upon it as an activity slightly above topless dancing.
Nevertheless, writing became something I had to do. I wrote poems,(badly) humor, romance, drama and horror, trying to develop a style uniquely my own. Actually, most of my humor, romance and drama was horror. I tried first person, third person, and past and present tense, and eventually learned not to use them all in the same story. The time arrived, according to my small number of fans, most of whom were just past puberty and related to me, to attempt to publish my work. That was when I learned the true meaning of rejection. A lover can reject you and your heart breaks; a publisher rejects you and rips away a piece of your soul.
The worst part is that, aside from relatives, you have only the opinion of friends to substantiate your writing expertise, and what friend, who hopes to remain one, will tell you to your face that your story or article should be kept in the bathroom on a roller? While good and even great writing skills can be mastered with perseverance and practice, selling manuscripts for money or honorariums can be a lesson in futility. It's a "Catch 22" situation. Most editors want writers that have been published; you can't get published without previous publications.
Since most rejection slips are standard slips of paper that claim "Sorry, not for us," in one collection of words or another, I often sent stories to smaller publications, hoping for that treasured personal reply. One such reply came back from my local newspaper and launched me into 25 publications, 18 of which were in that newspaper; all within one year.
The short story I sent the editor was rejected, but he took the time to write me an encouraging letter, and invited me to write feature articles for his newspaper. Somebody liked my writing! Like a small child patted on the head for good behavior, I threw myself into writing furiously for that newspaper. Whatever the editor requested, I attempted, although I had no journalistic skills, except for what I gleaned from watching re-runs of the original "Superman" series.
Local newspaper editors seem to be more human than the faceless editors that reject or accept your articles throughout the country; and they tend to favor local writers. My editor patiently worked with me and instilled a self-confidence in my writing that I will never lose. Well, maybe never.
Almost every city and town has a small newspaper, usually a weekly or monthly edition, along with a larger daily edition. The smaller papers are often short on reporters and can't cover the many activities happening in the community. The writing format for newspapers is varied and consists of news items, features, analysis, commentary, and in some instances, short stories.
The first step in writing a news item is query to the editor with a suggestion for an article, or a request for an assignment. It can be as simple as sitting in on a town meeting, taking notes on what transpires, and composing it into a news item. But it must be accurate, factual and as brief as possible; "the facts...just the facts." Many of the less important news items are bumped for no other reason than lack of space.
Feature articles consist of about 1000 words,(less is better) and can be written on any subject such as holidays, health, food, gardening, or historical moments, just to list a few. The feature, like the news item, is written objectively, but creativity is satisfied by using description and eloquence to evoke emotion. One of my features made a reader, who was a friend of a friend, cry over my article. As every writer knows, touching another human being through your writing, either by laughter or tears, is a near God-like experience. Writing for local newspapers allows personal contact with the people who read your copy.
Analysis is more challenging to write, because it not only requires documentation and research, but also the ability to let both sides of your argument speak for themselves, without interjecting opinion into the piece. The word "analysis" sounds intellectual and difficult, but it can be done well with a little practice and effort. I've only published one and it took three weeks of hot fudge sundaes and Late Night with David Letterman to recuperate.
Commentary, my particular favorite, is written in strict essay form, with a thesis, support and conclusion. Topics can cover any theme from politics, environmental and social issues, to humor and sports. A local slant is always welcomed and sometimes demanded. The best part about writing commentary is that you get to voice your opinion. And you can expect feedback from your readers, which, while not always complimentary, proves that you are being read. However, research and anecdotes are necessary in order for the commentary to rise above the "letter to the editor" column.
Pay scales for most newspapers range from $1.00 to $1.25 per column inch, which averages around $30.00 or $40.00 for a typical article. Small newspapers don't always pay for commentary, but many national papers, such as the New York Times, pay $150.00 and up per commentary. Excellence is the criteria for the New York Times, but even they print unpublished or new writers if the material meets their standards.
One excellent reason to write for local or small newspapers is that you amass a lot of publications in a short time, unlike the months or even years wait with many magazines. This looks impressive on queries and bio's sent to other publications. Most writers hope for publication within their lifetime, and I, for one, am not getting any younger. When magazine editors see that you write regularly for a newspaper, they are more likely to consider your work. One magazine editor wrote back that he was "impressed with my credentials." How many times does a new writer read that on a rejection or acceptance slip?
Local newspapers are read by friends, neighbors and relatives, the same people you have to hunt down and threaten bodily to get them to read stories typed on plain white paper. This mentality suggests that if it's in the newspaper it must be good. Newspaper publication elicits respect from all the cynics who never believed you would make it as a writer, but conceded that writing was a harmless hobby that kept you off the streets.
You may find newspaper writing so stimulating that you opt to remain in that media and go on to syndication. The quickest way to syndication is regular publication in a local newspaper. At least 50% of the syndicates print manuscripts on a one time basis. On the other hand, publishing in local newspapers is just a step behind publication in daily or national newspapers. After free-lancing for the weekly paper,many of my articles were published in my daily paper.
Some newspapers publish short fiction. One of my short stories, a horror story about killer houseplants, was printed in a New Jersey woman's newspaper with a circulation of 65,000; a rather unlikely place for a horror story. Even with good marketing skills, you can never accurately evaluate the whims of any given editor.
Journalism demands a terse, clear style, which can only enhance your writing skills. As in the short story, you "get in, make your point, and get out". Reportorial writing does not allow for wordiness or waste.
So gather all your rejection slips, burn them in a bonfire in your back yard, and start getting published. Just stay away from my home town newspapers. I've got those covered.
More Blogs by Micki Peluso
The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell - Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Facing my Fear of Public Speaking - Sunday, February 21, 2010
Changing old thought patterns - Saturday, January 16, 2010
The Uneaten meal - Friday, September 11, 2009
I made a speech without picturing anyone nude!! - Saturday, April 04, 2009
A Quirky Meditation Garden - Friday, February 20, 2009
Psycho thriller not to be missed - Monday, February 09, 2009
Editor's review - Thursday, January 08, 2009
TV guest spots and root canal - Sunday, December 07, 2008
No More Roadside Shrines - Sunday, November 30, 2008
Book review from MADDvocate magazine - Thursday, November 27, 2008
Homless for the Holidays - Sunday, November 23, 2008
What's in a Name? - Saturday, November 01, 2008
What's in a Name? - Saturday, November 01, 2008
HOW TO BECOME A MILD-MANNERED REPORTER - Friday, October 31, 2008
Reflections on Motherhood - Sunday, October 19, 2008
Thoughts on writing - Friday, September 26, 2008
A Summer Day - Friday, September 26, 2008
Reflections on Life - Friday, September 26, 2008
THE NEW OLD AGE - Wednesday, September 10, 2008
A MOST UNUSUAL WEDDING - Tuesday, August 26, 2008
THE RETURN OF THE WHIPPOORWILL - Friday, March 21, 2008