The Secrets Of Article Writing: Know Your Market, Know Yourself

Posted at 03:22am on 15th May 2009

Part 2 of 6 in a Series on Article Writing

I began this series of articles with one titled Ten Tips On Writing An Article and I'm going to unwrap each of these ten points in turn and look at them in detail. Some may require more than one post to develop the theme, so I hope you’ll stick with me and see it through to the end.

YOUR SPECIALIST KNOWLEDGE

The first tip on my list was know your market. And I realise, instantly, that I am hoist by my own petard, and should have begun with ‘know yourself’! Because until you determine what it is you feel led to write, you have no way of knowing the market for your work.

So let’s look, first, at what specialist knowledge you already possess to bring to your article writing:

  1. Personal Experience: The most obvious is your own life: the practical problems that you’ve resolved; the illnesses, disabilities, or adversities you’ve lived through, or continue to live with; the changes of direction you’ve made mentally, emotionally, or spiritually; the relationships you’ve encountered, and any pointers you have on personal growth you have instigated. You may, also, have a specialist or intimate knowledge of well-known people or events.
  2. Occupational or Professional Expertise: This would include your initial training; particular aspects of the job; problem solving stories; insider knowledge, perhaps as a whistle blower; career advancement etc.
  3. Hobbies and Leisure Activities: Your hobbies may be relatively esoteric and therefore of interest only to a few. Perhaps you’re an ace Bridge player; a golfer who has successfully lowered your handicap; a fly fisherman? Or maybe you prefer to spend your leisure time in a manner which has wider appeal: baking; gardening; keep-fit?

Let’s elaborate on these three points:

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

Practical Problems: The practical problems that you’ve resolved may be in respect of boat or house ownership. Take the latter; all of the following aspects would make an article in its own right: procuring a mortgage for buy to let; finding the ideal house; dealing with dry rot; planning permission; keeping the neighbours sweet . . . the list is endless. Or maybe you have specialist computer know-how; Twitter insider-knowledge; writing an article, like this one! Any one of these topics could become the basis of a number of articles.

Your Views On Personal Growth Through Adversity: If it’s illness you’ve overcome, this will be of immense interest to those going through a similar trauma in their own lives. Your experience may be able to allay their fears; your research into the best medical expertise on offer may reduce the stress of your readers having to do their own. Or if it’s disability you’re living with, perhaps you’ve come up with a truly simple way of undoing a bottle, or cleaning your teeth.

Celebrity Bestseller: People love to gossip! If you have insider knowledge of an author who’s produced a Bestseller, spill the beans! Or if you’ve unearthed evidence to suggest that your great uncle Marmaduke ran away with the President’s wife’s parlour maid, or uncovered a plot to assassinate the King of England, you’re onto a good thing. Similarly, if your cousin is in the process of crossing the Tundra, and you remember him as a shy little boy with no bottle, then you may well have a saleable article to write.

OCCUPATIONAL OR PROFESSIONAL EXPERTISE

Past & Current Jobs: Here, I need to take my own advice! My first job was as Personal Assistant to Paul Gallico, the author of Snow Goose, and the oft televised Poseidon Adventure. I have never written of that period, and it’s probably, now, too long ago to do so. But my current job (yes! I do have one, in addition to writing books, blogging and tweeting) is as copyright manager to a music publishing company - and no, although either would furnish me with plenty of material on writing an article, I’m not going to enlighten you on that either!

Insider Knowledge: The point is that your job may furnish you with untold insider knowledge which is appeals to your readers. However, in the interest of keeping your job, it may not be wise to dish the dirt on the managing director! Personally, I don't think it would be very kind, either! Paul Gallico’s life is in the public domain: he was a war correspondent; lived in the United States of America for much of his life; and was a prolific writer. So far so well-known.

Juicy Details: But as his PA, I know the gruelling hours of authorship. Following him around his mimosa-scented garden in the South West of England, I’d take dictation all day, then spend the evening typing up a draft on his huge Imperial typewriter. Later, before he settled in Antibes and when phlebitis affected him badly, I’d sit on a chair at the foot of his four-poster bed to take shorthand. I catalogued his library; took phone calls from the American film studios who were making a film of his book, Flowers For Mrs Harris, and entertained Ludmila, the little girl who inspired his book by the same name. Any of this might become an article under 1 or 2 above. But I have other knowledge about his private life which I choose not to divulge.

HOBBIES AND LEISURE ACTIVITIES

Club-based hobbies: If your hobbies are club-based – such as the golf and bridge mentioned above – then readers of articles pertaining to them are likely to be similarly affiliated. Don’t think, just because there are several hundred thousand golfers or bridge players worldwide that you have nothing to say of value. The practical problems that affect disabled people wishing to take up a hobby would make a fine article.

Novelty or Humour: Did you ever get a hole in one at Henry Cotton’s course at the Penina on the Algarve as I once did? (Sheer fluke; I was a golfer for only a few years before writing took over!) Or have you discovered a successor to Adler’s method of playing bridge? No? No matter. A simple travelogue of golf-clubs and bridge-clubs you’ve visited might become a series of articles with your by-line. Or perhaps a comedy feature, describing the aftermath of puts to *drive* you potty, bunkers that *sand* you bonkers, or grand slams and slammed hands.

Making Something Out Of The Ordinary: When it comes to leisure activities, your market broadens. Most of us have, at some time or other, had to produce a birthday cake, a fancy dress costume, or grow a pot plant – orchids for the last thirty-plus years, in my case.

If you can turn your baking experience into a specialism, as did the actress, Jane Asher, you’re onto a winner. Forget bouncy castles: Fairy Castle cakes are de rigeur as far as little girls are concerned. Turrets made of sponge mini-rolls, and moats of blue icing are all food for thought in article writing.

Anecdotal Material: And your article doesn’t simply have to convey technique. I recall a cottage birthday cake I made for my daughter. Chocolate flake thatch adorned the roof; green desiccated coconut the lawns, whilst windows, doors and paths were picked out with thin strips of liquorice. Trouble was it was too large to be accommodated in any of my cake tins! Trouble was my black lab had a sweet tooth! Trouble was she was devious with it! I didn’t discover the carefully licked lawns, wobbly windows and wolfed-down walls on the far side of the cake until an hour before the party began. I should, I suppose, have known by the sheepish look on her Labrador face. . .

Each of the themes above may be developed in different ways. As I’ve already implied, one article may become two, three, four or more. A series may be developed from one topic for the same publication. Or that one topic may be written with a different slant for various publications. Consider the following:

  • Factual: simply reporting an event as it happened;
  • Informative: conveying detail in an educational way;
  • How-to: giving tips or step by step instruction.
  • Humour: telling a tongue in cheek story; or a potential disaster like the dog and cake *tail* above.
  • Inspirational: doesn’t have to be spiritual, it may be the overcoming adversity story in 1 above.
  • Sensational: conveying information in an outrageous or shocking manner.
  • Opinion: how you feel about something – which may or may not be an attempt to persuade your reader to think differently.

ALL of these styles of writing may be applied to the same topic – more of that at a later date. Which style you choose will depend upon who your readers are. But for that, you’ll have to wait until Part 3 of the series.

NEXT TIME

Part 3 of 6: Know Your Market, Know Your Reader When Writing An Article

Previous articles in the series:
Although some of the articles on this website may be used freely where expressly stated, this one forms part of a series and may not be reproduced without written permission from the author.

Author of a number of books, one a No 4 Bestseller, Mel Menzies is also an experienced Speaker at live events, as well as on Radio and TV. Book her here for your event.

All proceeds from Mel’s latest novel, A Painful Post Mortem, are for charities benefiting children worldwide. Buy a copy here and help raise cash for children like Rachel, who, at 13 is mother to 6 kids orphaned by AIDS, or this project, drug-proofing teenagers in the UK

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