Even though I received the following highly complimentary message several years ago, the content speaks to timeless and important traits that I believe merit your consideration. Specifically, the importance of understanding the intricacies of highly technical products (gleaned from years spent working in a variety of technical industries) without a steep learning curve, which helps facilitate the quick execution of a project–something that has become even more imperative with the passage of time.
“I want to thank you for a job well done, Marty, and compliment you on the capabilities I observed during the process of this initiative. Included prominently among these are:
"There was very little revision required for the case studies, something particularly impressive in light of the limited background material you were working with in many cases. Turning French faxes into compelling case histories goes well beyond translation, another skill that’s hard to find in technical writers.
“When you do exceptional work, you help us do exceptional work. The CD-ROM was released on schedule and very well received, and the case histories are being repackaged for a range of public relations purposes.
“In markets moving at Internet speed, the success of collateral and sales tool support often depends on the ability of a company’s vendors to provide service that allows the company to create and release those marketing elements in a timely manner. I know this is something you’re keenly aware of, because of the performance I’ve seen.
“Please know that we look forward to using your services again when the need arises, and that I would recommend you to any PR or marketing professional looking for high-quality and dependable writing resources.”
–Ellie Dimarucut, Collateral & Sales Tool Program Manager, FileNET Corporation
Recently, WritersMarket.com interviewed me for their site about my work as a freelance journalist. Here are the questions they asked and my responses:
1. What makes a great business feature article?
Outstanding, knowledgeable, and respected resources are the key to a great business feature. The difference between a serviceable business feature and a great business feature is determined during the research phase of the writing process. When you have excellent quotes and outstanding input, a great business feature will feel as though it is writing itself. If you’re not experiencing that feeling as you write the feature, you’re probably not writing a great article. Business features should be truly irresistible, not merely serviceable. Once you have the essential input from strong sources, it is easier to express your unique style and add some zing to the copy.
2. What makes a great technology feature article?
Real-world examples are the key to a great technology feature. Mark Twain put it best: “There’s nothing so annoying as a good example.” Often, when covering technology, the technology is new and untested. When you’re able to cite specific cases where the technology has been used, it helps the reader to understand how it could be applied to their situation. When it comes to a feature, the technical aspects of a particular technology are a lot less important than how the technology can benefit the reader. By illustrating how the technology can be applied in the real world, the article becomes a valuable tool for helping the reader improve their business processes, profitability, efficiency, etc.
3. How should freelancers pitch magazine editors to get assignments?
Would you rather sell a loaf of bread or a truckload of loaves? Instead of pitching one idea, pitch ten ideas at once. A summation of each idea will suffice—enough to give the editor some idea of your level of understanding and imagination. Plus, you’re doing a lot of the work for the editor, which many editors like a lot.
Another approach—instead of rushing in with article pitches—is to introduce your body of work to an editor and position yourself as a seasoned journalist in a particular field. The point of such an introduction is to plant the seed for an ongoing relationship. Of course, this approach only works if you truly are an industry veteran (e.g., you’ve written for two of the top three magazines in a niche and you’re approaching the third after years of working for the other two). I’ve used this approach with good success in industries in which I’ve written for more than a decade. I’ve also been able to expand into closely related industries using this strategy.
The pitch doesn’t end when the article is accepted or even when it is submitted. In today’s tough freelance marketplace, you need to become a value-added contributor. What's meant by value-added? Freelance trade press contributors have to understand and embrace social networking. Most established trade press veterans remain clueless about how to promote their work in the social medium of the Internet. I've made it my personal responsibility to promote new pieces whenever they appear on my publisher's sites. My publishers haven't asked me to do this task; however, I recognize that in this new environment, trade press stories can now be accessed by those outside the original low-circulation print editions. Through the magic of the Internet, they can now be viewed by the entirety of the Web audience. Soon, I believe, trade publishers will come to value this additional traffic as it expands their reach, drives traffic, and ultimately brings in increased ad revenues.
I want to be seen as a contributor that helps build traffic for my publishers' sites. By doing so, I will also be building my brand online. As my Facebook and LinkedIn network expands, my work, which once only received exposure to a small group of engineers or school administrators, for instance, can now be viewed by anyone interested in a more in-depth coverage of a given topic, albeit of a technical nature.
I've established my blog (http://martyweil.net) as means to send out that content. I have linked my Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn pages to receive a feed from this site, which often features links to works I've recently published.
One of the ways Dave Navarro recommends networking with A-list bloggers like himself is promoting other people's work. And that's exactly what I'm going to do by plugging Dave's excellent "how to" on networking with A-list bloggers, which he posted today on his Launch Coach blog. (I'm a long-time subscriber to his RSS feed.)
And I'm not mentioning this to get brownie points from Dave (a deadly sin that Dave points out in his post). I honestly felt his tutorial serves as the best advice I've read on networking with the cream of the Internet blogging crop. Dave even goes so far as to offer a free download workbook on the topic for those wanting worksheets and other goodies.
What I like most about Dave's post is he doesn't sugar coat the hard work involved in reaching A-listers. It's hard work, but, if you follow Dave's directions carefully, I believe it will pay huge dividends for your blog.
Of course, for many small companies, taking the time to follow Dave's long list of "to dos" would be too laborious a chore. So, of course, there are those, like myself, who work on behalf of companies to execute networking and social media outreach plans like the one Dave recommends. These actions, similar to the ones PR people have taken with journalists for more than a century, are not easy or cheap. However, if you're able to gain entry into the favor of an A-lister, you'll likely find yourself the recipient of a goldmine worth of traffic to you blog or Web site. For example, a blogger friend of mine with a very niche site has become a favorite of the folks at Boing Boing. Each time Boing Boing mentions one of his posts, his traffic goes from a few hundred visitors to tens of thousands overnight. His networking with the Boing Boingers has certainly paid off handsomely for him. I'm sure if you follow Dave's advice, you too may find tens of thousands of new visitors knocking at your blog or corporate Web site's front door.
I've been working with the publishers of Automation World, Summit Media, for several years on custom publications and special assignments. Recently, I've been given an opportunity to write two departments (Technologies and Automation Team) for Automation World magazine, which will appear in the November and December issues. If all goes well, I hope to continue writing these columns in 2010.
The November Technologies Department will feature an update on Six Sigma methodologies. November's Automation Team Department will be an explanation of OPC UA, a new generation of OPC.
I'd like to thank Gary Mintchell, the Editor-in Chief of Automation World, for providing me with this wonderful opportunity.