By Christina Katz
Maybe you like writing to persuade. I know I do, and I find myself coming back to the skill over and over and over again as a professional communicator.
What exactly does writing to persuade mean? Persuasion is simply a way of convincing someone else of your point of view. You can use persuasion to plead your case, sway others to your way of thinking, and as a way of leveraging your influence.
But maybe you think writing to persuade should be relegated to the ranks of cheesy sales people trying to shill their wares and hope you should never have to stoop so low. But my fellow writers, we all write to persuade now and again, whether we like it or not. Right?
A proposal, pitch and query are examples of types of persuasive writing that all writers must employ. There’s simply no way around selling yourself, unless you aspire to only be read after your death. A couple of great books that can help you out in this lifetime are: The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters by Wendy Burt-Thomas and The Renegade Writer’s Query Letters That Rock by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell.
Arguing skillfully is a potent tool and writers need to know how and when to use it. So the next time the only thing standing between you and persuading someone else is a blank page, here are some strategies:
Don’t rant. Raging on and on in an agitated fashion about your biases has never been a particularly effective call to action or an efficient way to change people’s minds. However, arguing the reverse argument with some passion might be an persuasive way to show just how absurd the opposing point of view is, which may illustrate the wisdom of your perspective.
Paint a picture of the positive benefits of your position. Or conversely, paint a picture of the negative impact of a differing point of view. Go with facts whenever possible rather than what might or could happen.
Explore a list of reasons as a strategy. Strive to build your argument from the ground up. Don’t start with the frosting on the cupcake if the eggs and oil are essential for the whole case to hold together. You can also describe the opposite position and then proceed to build a case for how flawed that way of thinking is point by detailed point.
Why not try cajoling instead of issuing orders? Be encouraging. Be inspiring. Create a call to action and invoke a sense of what things could be like if everyone would only adhere to your vision. Let your readers know that feeling good will be the result of their allegiance to your cause.
Just ask! In the end, people will often do what you suggest or even agree with you, not for any of the reasons above, but simply because you were persistent, invested, and a wee bit insistent. Sometimes people will let you persuade them just to get you to shush up.
When writing to persuade, use the tools at your disposal-whatever it takes. Then make your case, take a stand, build your argument, ask for assistance, and get the heck out of there before you make a nuisance of yourself.
is the author of Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Build an Author Platform and Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (both for Writer’s Digest Books). A platform development coach and consultant, she teaches writing career development, hosts the Northwest Author Series, and is the publisher of several e-zines including Writers on the Rise. Christina blogs at The Writer Mama Riffs and Get Known Before the Book Deal, and speaks at MFA programs, literary events, and conferences around the country.
Archive for March, 2009
Tags: writing to persuade
Tags: columnist or commentator
|By Laura Bridgwater
Being a columnist is a close cousin to being a commentator. While columns are measured in word count and commentary is measured in minutes and seconds, their character is similar. A commentary is tweaked to sound more conversational and a column is written more formally, but they are both in the same family.
Currently, I’m a columnist for a few publications and a radio commentator. Does that make me a commentist or a columnator? Probably not, but the advice for breaking into both jobs cross-pollinates even if the titles don’t. Here are some words of wisdom about being a columnist or commentator that I picked up from others who wear those hats, too.
The Sound of Applause
There’s nothing like an audience for immediate feedback. So with a nod to David Sedaris, I now read aloud my humorous pieces to my writing group or anyone else kind enough to listen. I note where they laugh and I mark where it’s awkward. It has helped me improve my timing for pieces I read on the air.
A Sounding Board
In my quest to also turn in clean copy, I turn to my Internet connections. I know I can email pieces to my writing group, my writing partner, a former editor I worked with, and writers I’ve met in writing classes. Writing is about communicating effectively, so getting feedback helps you to know if you have or have not successfully done that.
It’s informative to listen to others who are doing what you want to do, so check out your local venues for book signings and readings. You never know what tip you might pick up that will help you break in.
Laura Bridgwater is a freelance writer and radio commentator at KUNC. To listen to her commentary go to http://www.kunc.org and click on tapes and transcripts. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tags: profile query
|By Lori Russell
There is nothing better than sampling the sweetness of summer’s first strawberries at a farmer’s market. But with several stands selling their berries, how do I decide which one to buy from? Give me a grower who knows her stuff, who can give me the details about where and how that little bit of heaven is produced and maybe a recipe to showcase the bounty at its best, and I’m ready to plunk down the cash. If she really knows her stuff, I’ll probably even ask her to throw in an extra pint.
The one-page query letter is the free sample in the farmer’s market of profile writing. Do it well and you make the sale.
Before you put your sample out there, you need to know your customer (also known as the editor). Grab a copy of the publication you want to target along with its writers guidelines and editorial calendar and read them. The calendar will tell you how far ahead to pitch your profile and the guidelines will tell you what type of “produce” the publication is looking for. Check the magazine’s website, or look in the “contact us” section. No luck? Call and ask for a copy. Resources like Writers Market also list information for thousands of publications.
While a strawberry grower showcases the uniqueness of her operation and her berries, she does so within the expected form of the market-setting it out in a beautiful basket in her stall rather than lobbing her fruit at passers-by from the bed of her pickup. So too must the writer practice and perfect the “right” form of a query letter to entice an editor to bite-and then buy.
Right idea - The first paragraph of your query is a tasty sample of your subject known as the hook. Designed to catch your customer’s (editor’s) interest in your profile subject, it is similar, (and often the same) as the opening paragraph in your article.
Right style - The second paragraph tells the who, what, where, when, why and “who cares” of your idea. It is written in the style, tone, and voice of the customer’s publication.
Right publication, right time - Paragraph three shows your customer that you know what he likes. What section does the profile belong in? How long will it be? Why is this profile perfect for the magazine? Why now?
Right person - In paragraph four, explain why you are the best person to write this profile. Include relevant writing and personal experience. List websites or mention the clips you are including with the letter so the editor can read your work.
Right closing - Be sure to thank your potential customer for his time and consideration.
Write your query, let it ripen for a day, then reread it. Have a writer friend sample it. Consider how you can make your product even better. After washing your fruit carefully (check for grammatical errors and that the editor’s name is spelled correctly), send it out to be sampled.
Assignment: This month, learn everything you can about two potential customers. Obtain a copy of their magazines, writer’s guidelines and editorial calendar. Now pick one of your fruits (profile ideas) and write a letter to each of your customers.
Lori Russell has written profiles about people, their passions and their places for more than a decade. Her nonfiction articles have been published online and in magazines and newspapers around the country. She is a contributing editor for Columbia Gorge Magazine, a regular contributor to Ruralite magazine and has co-written the “In the Spotlight’ column for WOTR for the past two years. She is currently enjoying a writing residency teaching memoir writing to high school students through Columbia Gorge Arts in Education, an organization that brings professional writers and artists to the public schools.
Tags: point-of-view in poetry
By Sage Cohen
Point of view orchestrates the reader’s distance from (or proximity to) the speaker. When writing a poem, your first instinct may be to recount your own personal experiences using the first-person, singular point of view-the I. This is a fine approach that can serve a poem well. However, because this is often the most obvious and natural way to go, I recommend experimenting with other point-of-view options to get a feel for how they might benefit a poem.
When you replace I with you in a poem (known as second person), you invite the reader to participate in a new way. You can be read different ways; it can mean “one”-a general, universal point of view-or it can literally mean “you,” thus including the reader in the action of the poem. You can also be a direct address to someone specific: “You left me; how could you?” In this case, the reader may be positioned as an eavesdropper overhearing words directed at someone else-or they may find themselves standing in for that person.
What happens when a first-person experience is transferred to the third person (he/she)? The advantage of the third person is that it gives both the poet and the reader some personal space from the action of the poem. They observe rather than participate. This can create breathing room to write things you might not otherwise feel comfortable expressing.
For example, consider “He wanted to die,” versus “I want to die.” The first person feels immediate and urgent. The third person feels less immediate; we read it less personally.
Write a poem that speaks directly to someone important to you about an experience that you have shared. Imagine there is no reader beyond this person. Then rewrite the poem as if you are describing the same experience for a general audience. Notice which pronouns you choose, and why. How do they serve each version of the poem?
Next, revisit a poem or two that you have already written, considering whether they might have a greater impact by experimenting with a different point of view.
Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry, forthcoming from Writer’s Digest Books, and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. Her poetry and essays appear in journals and anthologies including Cup of Comfort for Writers, Oregon Literary Review, Greater Good and VoiceCatcher. Sage holds an MA in creative writing from New York University and teaches the email class Poetry for the People.
Tags: How to write a scene
By Kristin Bair O’Keeffe
What is a scene?
Pushed to put this seemingly abstract concept into words, scene can be hard to define. But, if we leave the written word for a moment and jump to the stage, the answer comes a little more easily.
So go ahead, leave the written word. Jump to the stage. And think again.
What is a scene? Ah, yes. A scene is a period of time during which characters are talking, something is happening, and both are unfolding in a place.
Take Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” for instance, when Romeo climbs up onto Juliet’s balcony and she professes great love for him, and the two of them coo at each other until they must part. Right there you’ve got a spectacular (and rather famous) scene: action, dialogue, and definitely a place.
You use the same three elements to create scenes in novels and short stories.
But why are scenes important? A numbers of reasons.
First, scenes give your readers something to see, and readers love to have something to see. (Think about how many times while reading certain passages in your favorite novel, you say, “Oh, I can just see it!”)
Second, scenes perform the all-important task of moving your story forward.
Third, scenes allow your readers to get to know your characters (and once your readers know your characters, they will keep on reading).
Fourth, without scenes, your story will be just plain B-O-R-I-N-G.
Consider Sherman Alexie’s poignant, hilarious, and spot-on novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Little, Brown and Company, 2007). In the third chapter entitled “Revenge Is My Middle Name,” the narrator (a Spokane Indian kid named Junior who lives on a reservation) goes to a powwow with his best friend Rowdy. Now Alexie could have described Rowdy’s angry, aggressive behaviors to readers in straight narrative, but instead he puts the two boys into a situation where they talk, go somewhere, and get involved with some seedy characters. We get it all: action, dialogue, and place, and by the end of the powwow scene, we GET Rowdy. We know his role in Junior’s life. We understand why Junior loves him so much. And we suspect that eventually, there may be a bit of friction in this friendship. Most importantly, we want to keep reading. (Let me point out that although this novel’s primary audience is young readers, this is some sophisticated scene construction. It’s worth reading for both story and writerly techniques.)
With all this churning about in your noggin, try your hand at a couple of scenes this month. Use characters from a piece you’ve been working on or create some new ones in a completely new setting.
In addition, reread one of your favorite stories. Pay close attention to the scenes in the story. Where does one scene begin and end? What does the scene accomplish? How does the scene move the story forward? The more aware you become of scene construction in what you read, the more easily and artfully you’ll use it in your own work.
Tags: the parenting category
By Abigail Green
If there’s any topic that lends itself particularly well to the personal essay, it’s parenting. Let’s face it: families are a gold mine of material. From pregnancy to child-rearing to caring for aging parents, the “parenting” category encompasses a wide range of issues.
Fittingly, there are numerous publications that print parenting essays — from the aptly titled Parents and Parenting magazines to the more cerebral Brain, Child to websites like Babble.com. You can also find these essays in markets not specifically geared towards parents, like the New York Times and AARP magazine.
Of course, it should come as no surprise that practically every freelance writer who’s a parent tries his or her hand at penning parenting essays. That means the competition’s stiff. Parenting’s “Mom’s Eye View” department, for instance, is a favorite of freelancers. But since the magazine publishes just 12 issues a year, that means that out of hundreds of essay submissions editors can only buy a dozen. I’ve been discouraged to get the response: “We like your piece, but unfortunately we have too much in inventory already.”
The good news about parenting essays is, you have plenty of options. You could:
Reslant your essay. Let’s say you wrote a personal essay about co-sleeping. You could easily get some quotes from doctors and other parents and turn your essay into a first-person reported piece. Similarly, you could rework a straightforward topic as a humorous essay.
Think outside the essay slot. Lots of magazines have one clearly labeled essay section. Some that I know of are titled “In Your Words”; “Self Expression”; and “My Turn.” However, outside that department the publication may run other first-person pieces, even if they’re not labeled as such. Put on your detective’s hat. Is there a travel or health essay masquerading as a regular article? A big clue is whether the writer uses “I” in the lead.
Broaden your definition of parenting. Along the lines of the previous tip, you may increase your odds of selling your parenting essays if you expand your thinking. Sure, parenting essays can be about choosing a name for your baby, potty training your toddler, and finding a babysitter, but they can also be about finding time for yourself after kids, your relationship with your spouse, and getting back in shape after baby.
Step off the beaten path. The trouble with many of the national parenting magazines is that everybody knows about them. Why not try to sell your essay to a regional parenting magazine? (Google the term and you’ll find dozens.) Or how about a bridal magazine for an essay on your daughter’s wedding? Or a travel magazine for an essay about your family reunion at Yellowstone? Newspapers, websites, and anthologies like the Chicken Soup and Cup of Comfort series are other markets that publish tons of personal essays on parenting topics.
Writing and selling parenting essays can be fun, challenging, satisfying, frustrating, easy, and time-consuming-just like raising kids!
Abigail Green is a freelance writer in Baltimore. Over the past 12 years, she has written for national, regional and online publications including AOL, Bride’s, Baltimore Magazine, Cooking Light and Health. She blogs about the lighter side of pregnancy, parenthood and potty training at Diary of a New Mom. She teaches Personal Essays that Get Published, a six-week e-mail class.
Tags: how to send a bio
By Wendy Burt-Thomas
Q: I just got an acceptance for an article that may turn into a regular column. The editor asked me to send a bio. What exactly should I send? A: Because your column isn’t confirmed yet, my guess is that the editor isn’t looking for something to add to the contributor’s page, but rather a bio to go at the end of your article. Look at a past issue to see the length of other writers’ bios. If you have something to sell or promote (ebook, book, newsletter, website or blog), do it here. (If you don’t have any of the above, read Christina’s new book, Get Known Before the Book Deal to see why you should.)
A simple, two-sentence bio might read:
“Wendy Burt-Thomas is a freelance writer in Colorado Springs. She welcomes your writing questions at http://askWendy.wordpress.com.”
When you’re confirmed as a columnist, your bio will likely be longer, perhaps more relevant to your experience writing that particular issue’s column, and likely accompanied by your photo and/or email. Check out the contributor’s page in Oprah’s O Magazine or Shape magazine to see a good example of this.