These tips for writing feature articles that sell are from one of my favorite writing books, The Portable Writer’s Conference: Your Guide to Getting Published. In it, there’s a great article by Donna Elizabeth Boetig – and she shares her secrets to great writing! 

Before the tips, here’s a writing quip:

“Fiction writing is lonely in a way most people misunderstand,” said David Foster Wallace. “It’s yourself you have to be estranged from, really, to work.”

And nonfiction or freelance writing is the opposite: you have to connect with sources, editors, and readers in order to write feature articles that sell. So, here we go with Boetig’s writing tips – and by the way, she wrote the excellent Feminine Wiles: Creative Techniques for Writing Women’s Feature Stories That Sell. I hesitated to read this book because of the “feminine wiles” part of the title (seemed too frilly) – but it’s an excellent writing book with tons of great information for freelancers. Click on the cover for more info, and read on for six tips for writing feature articles that sell…

6 Tips for Writing Feature Articles That Sell

1. Massage your article idea and pitch. My writing goals require that I create three new pitches (new article ideas) a week, and I tend to be too fast on the “send” button. That is, I craft my idea, include a couple of quickly-thought out ideas, and off it goes – and I can check off a writing goal and move on! But, according to Boetig, that’s not the way to write feature articles that sell. “A half-baked feature never quite lives up to the full-bodied work that slowly and thoughtfully matured,” she writes in The Portable Writer’s Conference. She recommends massaging ideas fully before pitching them to editors.

2. Determine your message. “You have to consider what’s in it for the reader, and determine what one message you want to convey,” she says. “By far this is the most crucial aspect of any feature article.” A news story revolves around facts; a feature article involves your perspective, experience, insight, and perceptions. Use your unique lens to determine your message and write a feature article that sells.

3. Learn how to write a nut graff. One of my Reader’s Digest editors taught me that a nut graff gives the reader the direction of the feature article, makes a sales pitch for reading it to the editors, and exposes the value of the story. Basically, the nut graff describes the article in a nutshell – and tells the reader why he or she needs to read the feature now. For some freelance writers, it’s the query letter.

4. Give a little of yourself. This tip for writing feature articles that sell is difficult for me – I’m more of a “just the facts, ma’am” kinda gal! But, Boetig writes, “The job of a feature writer is to create an experience for a reader, whether it’s the experience of how to wallpaper a room or a heart-stopping drama.” She says that it often just takes a sentence or two to make the experience happen for the reader.

5. Know when to stop researching. Boetig recommends researching until you hear the same things twice. She describes spending a week in the desert while writing one feature article (wow! I’ve never traveled to write yet), and gathering more info than you need – but knowing when to stop.

6. Use qualified experts. I need to remind myself of this tip for writing feature articles that sell, because I like many of the publicists and experts I work with…and feel compelled to include their info just because I like them! I haven’t actually done this yet, but I feel compelled to. Boetig says, “Quote experts with credentials your readers will respect.” My Reader’s Digest reminded me of this a couple weeks ago, when she emailed to ensure one of my sources was a licensed psychologist or therapist.

Are these tips for writing feature articles effective – and do you have anything to add? Share your thougths below!

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3 thoughts on “How to Write Feature Articles That Sell”

  1. Little excerpt from a fabulous interview over at Mike’s Writing Workshop:

    Mike: What does a person need to make it as a professional writer?

    Caruso: You have to have the desire and willpower and enthusiasm, as well as a strong stomach. It’s a tough business. Especially freelancing. If you don’t have the stomach to handle rejection and erratic pay and hustling around to sell stories, you probably should go into another profession. Being a freelance writer is an extremely tough way to make a living. You have to really want it. Better take a gut check before you embark on this life. You have a rough road ahead of you. You must have a burning passion for it or else it’ll never happen. Like being an actor again, you need to go to a 100 auditions hoping to land that one part—and expecting to be rejected by 99.

    Read the rest of the article here:

    It’s a fabulously informative interview with Michael Caruso, who served at various levels of editor-ship for magazines ranging from Men’s Journal to The Village Voice. A must-read for freelance writers!