How to Develop Fresh Angles for Your Story
In this digital age of storytelling, writers have multiple vehicles in which to tell their story.
Whether you’re writing traditional articles, producing content for private clients, or simply marketing your own work, you need to stay on top of the various tools and platforms available to you.
At a recent American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) panel, four influential women in the publishing industry shared their insight: Sherry Beck Paprocki, ASJA vice president; Tanya Hall, CEO of Greenleaf Book Group; Lottie Joiner, senior editor of The Crisis magazine; and health writer Emily Paulsen.
Storytelling on Different Platforms
When Joiner, a criminal justice writer, was covering the anniversary of the Freddie Gray case, she took a single story and found three different ways of telling it: a live tweet from a panel discussion on police reform; a podcast featuring a community activist and a police officer; and a blog post.
Joiner was also able to take extra interviewing material and write up two separate stories, one for her quarterly publication The Crisis magazine, and one for National Journal’s Next America. The stories covered different aspects of gun control advocacy, an important subject she was able to cover in diverse ways.
When it comes to storytelling on different platforms, Joiner thinks that a “backgrounder” is a great place to begin. A backgrounder is a straight news story; it show readers the history of a place or a subject, and includes interviews and charts or statistics.
“It’s a great entryway to bigger stories,” Joiner said.
Joiner considers herself a “generalist in my specialty.” Being open to different assignments will help fresh writers gain more clients.
Owning Your Story
Paulsen, a health writer, said it’s all about the story — regardless of the format in which it’s told. She writes for health professionals, healthcare administrators and for patients.
“You have to choose your story and your format for the audiences that you’re working for,” she stressed.
One project Paulsen worked on was a patient-education toolkit, where she developed a patient information brochure and a “how to use the brochure” guide for clinicians.
Both were written very simply, even the clinician’s guide, so that it could be used to understand how to talk to patients in a more human and sensitive way, as opposed to doctor-speak.
Paulsen suggested being open to new formats and ideas from clients. Because of this, she was able to take on several projects, including developing a course on writing for impact, and writing a commencement speech.
“Whatever story you’re doing, in whatever format, you have to approach it with the same integrity and professionalism,” said Paulsen. This is what distinguishes professional writers from somebody just writing to sell something.
Paulsen also suggested “owning your own story.” She is always honest with who she is as a writer, including the fact that she does not have any medical education or letters after her name.
Her latest project approach is collaborating with writing partners. She and her 2+ partners are able to take up bigger projects that have more impact, including documentation for the new federal website for clinical trials (clinicaltrials.gov).
Multipurpose Book Content
Greenleaf’s Hall used her time to cover the book publishing landscape and how to set authors up for success.
“Launching a successful book comes down to the author’s hustle,” Hall said.
Greenleaf starts by looking at an author as a brand. There are about 2,000 books published a day, so it’s important to have a “differentiated message and a really strong hook.” This starts with the author and their story.
The next thing to know after pinning down a brand and expertise are the competitors — who you’ll be sharing a shelf with.
Audience comes next, and Hall suggested writers do market research on whom they’re writing for. A great way to do this is to start blogging, and to track what’s being shared, commented on, etc. Remember whom you’re writing for and develop personas for the audience.
Inventory and content is a key component to making the book writing process a little easier. Most writers only consider their articles and white papers as inventoried content, without considering presentations, webinars and other pieces of content they can transcribe or use to build up a manuscript.
Hall recommended developing a “content matrix” to identify what you already have. A content matrix is an “organizational spreadsheet that classifies my content by a few different factors that I sort by,” explained Hall.
Hall’s thought was about making content actionable so that the reader can use it. Publishers want to know how the reader is going to implement what’s being promised in the book. Provide exercises, discussion points, or resources in order to provide steps to implement what the book is trying to teach.
15 Ways to Tell a Story
Paprocki’s book, “50 Ways to Tell Your Story,” began as workshop for journalists deciphering what they’ve created to get paid for, and, as a group, they were able to come up with more than 50 things. This workshop session gave her content to write a bullet list for ASJA’s magazine that was developed into a magazine article and eventually a book.
Paprocki considers the book a manual for small-business clients, explaining how important it is to hire someone who has interviewing skills to tell their company’s story and help create their brand.
Paprocki shared 15 ways to tell a story. Of course, there are so many more, but this is a good start:
- Branding stories
- FAQ sheets
- Social media audits
- Strategic social media plans
- Social media analytics or Big Data
- Case studies
- Letters to the editor
- Op-ed columns
- Niche magazines
- Annual reports
- E-books and books
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Stephanie de Ruiter is a media analyst with PR Newswire striving to measure PR efforts by delivering comprehensive media reports and establishing strong relationships with clients.