When Your Experience Is Fresh
This weekend, I received my October issue of Ladies Home Journal. It was good to read the second part of a personal experience story from Lisa Collier Cool, one of my colleagues on the board of directors for the American Society of Journalists and Authors. If you don’t know Lisa, she’s a past ASJA president and a prolific writer for magazines. One of her books is How To Write Irresistible Query Letters (which is excellent).
Lisa’s article was a personal story called Rescuing Rosalie and begins, “We were overjoyed when we found our runaway 16–year-old after eight desperate days. Little did we realize that the tough part was just beginning.” Using the dates from 2005 as subheads, Lisa writes in first-person about this personal struggle. I found this article was a delicate balance between personal information and education for the reader. This well-written piece is loaded with takeaway value for any parent. Now if you don’t know, Ladies Home Journal has a circulation of over four million and compensates their writers well for such work. While I have no firsthand information about how Lisa wrote this story, I do know it isn’t easy to write these personal experiences and share them with the world. Lisa was writing dialogue and feelings. I would encourage you to find these two stories—one in the September issue and another in the October issue and study them. Many of these mainstream publications use first-person stories.
I’ve written a number of these types of articles. Unlike many writers, I’ll admit I don’t keep a journal. I’ve read where Mary Higgins Clark has kept journals since childhood and has all of this information (which no one other than her has ever read). A personal journal is a great place to capture the raw emotion, thoughts, dialogue and feelings of a personal crisis or situation. It doesn’t have to be a crisis. Whether you journal or not, make sure you take a minute to capture the raw emotion of the situation and get it down on paper. It is not what you send to the magazine, but it will give you a running start toward completion of a personal experience magazine article.
Many writers make the key mistake of believing they can take their personal experience story and weave it into a full-length book. To get a publisher interested in your book idea, you must have a high level of visibility in the marketplace (like Robin McGraw on the cover of Ladies Home Journal—which is an excerpt from her new book, Inside My Heart Choosing to Live With Passion and Purpose from Thomas Nelson). If you don’t have this level of visibility (and most of us do not), then you are spinning your wheels to try and publish a book. Instead, you need to be writing magazine articles because magazines use this type of material.
Why write these personal stories as magazine articles? First, because that’s where you have an opportunity. Many publications use these stories—but only if they are well-crafted with a solid point or takeaway for the reader. It’s a skill I encourage you to hone in the magazine world. Second, publishing in magazines builds credibility as a writer. You gain experience but you also gain credibility. I receive many manuscripts from people who have written a book yet never published. Your level of interest from the editor will dramatically increase if you have published in magazines. Why? Because the editor will know that you have worked at your craft and the validation of your craft shows with your ability to get into these magazines. You are building publishing credits and also valuable experience. Finally, never forget these magazines reach more people than the average book. The average book (not a bestseller) is fortunate to sell 5,000 copies. Magazines reach many more people with the message.