I had the pleasure of attending the annual American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) conference held in New York over the weekend. The conference, for writers at every level of their career, featured more than 70 sessions covering a variety of topics, such as how to score a big book deal, how to break into women’s magazines, how to write white papers, and more. I was able to attend several of the sessions, and will recap them here over the next few days.
You don’t need an MBA to write about finance and business, but you do need the right approach. In this session, “Breaking in: Business & Finance Markets,” editors from three major financial news outlets shared insight into what they cover, what they’re looking for, and how to get – and keep – their attention.
Marcia Layton Turner, an accomplished freelance writer and best-selling author, moderated the panel, which featured:
- Ellen Cannon, editorial director of the financial services websites of QuinStreet, including MoneyRates.com, CardRatings.com, Insure.com and HSH.com.
- Laura Lorber, executive online editor of Entrepreneur.com.
- Brendan Sheehan, editorial director, National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD).
Following are highlights from the panelists:
Ellen Cannon, QuinStreet
QuinStreet, Inc., owns websites covering financial services, education, medical, home services, B2B and other topics, and is a publicity traded company (Nasdaq: QNST).
For 12 years, QuinStreet had primarily been keyword-driven, but has changed to reported articles to compete with top journalism providers on the Web, said Cannon. It has also partnered with top sites such as MSN.com and Huffington Post, offering even more opportunities for freelancers.
Cannon said her challenge has been to find journalists to write interesting, informative, entertaining stories. “It’s easy to write savings stories,” she said, “but we’re looking or much more actionable, nitty-gritty stories, so it’s really important to understand the topic.”
Cannon suggested some good places to learn about financial information, including the Reynolds Center for Business Journalism, which helps writers find personal finance angles in any beat, and Poynter Institute, which offers online courses, especially for multimedia journalism.
The latter is especially helpful to Cannon, who said she uses a lot of slideshows. “We’re always looking for stories like that,” she said.
Not all QuinStreet sites have managing editors, so writers can send pitches to her and she’ll find a place for it.
Laura Lorber, Entrepreneur.com
Entrepreneur readers consist of four primary groups:
- Small-business owners who have been in business for several years. These readers are seeking innovative strategies to grow their business but are also interested in new business ideas and opportunities, as well as current issues that affect their companies.
- People who are either dreaming of starting their own business or have a business that’s less than 2 years old. These individuals don’t necessarily have a lot of money, so they’re looking for shoestring startup ideas and low-cost ways to start and run their businesses. They need how-to advice, articles that keep them on top of business trends and motivational articles to get (and stay) psyched up.
- Home-based business owners. These readers need information unique to the home-based entrepreneur. Like the entrepreneurs described above, they’re seeking information that will help them run their businesses better.
- People interested in purchasing a franchise or business opportunity. They want accurate, reliable, unbiased information from a source they can trust. They want to learn what they need to know before plunking down any cash – as well as where to find the cash to plunk down.
Before pitching a story to Entrepreneur, be sure to read a variety of the articles on the site so you can tailor your pitches to meet content needs. Lorber said she rejects many of the queries she receives because the subject matter in no way matches what she’s looking for.
She added that Entrepreneur doesn’t typically write profiles of specific business owners unless their story warrants it, so there needs to be a compelling reason to write about an entrepreneur. For example, it can’t just be that he/she is achieving record-breaking sales. Readers want to know why they’re achieving record-breaking sales.
“Everything has to have a takeaway,” she added. “It has to be something [readers] can put to work immediately in their business.”
Hot topics of interest:
- Technology: how tech can help small-business owners/entrepreneurs run their business better.
- Franchising: “It’s a peculiar niche,” said Lorber, “but one we want to cover more.”
- Money: finding financing, cash flow, getting paid on time.
- Finding customers.
Lorber also detailed some of what she looks for in pitches:
- Does she know the writer? “It’s really important to me to know and trust the writer,” she said. “My advice: Do a lot of networking and try to get to know editors in person. And don’t be afraid to drop names of people who can vouch for you.”
- Have an online clip file. It can be on WordPress, Twitter. “It doesn’t have to be fancy,” said Lorber.
- Be to the point. “If you don’t get me in the pitch, the article won’t work for me,” she said.
All queries for online articles should be sent only via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. All magazine queries should be emailed to email@example.com. Allow a minimum of six weeks for a response; no phone calls.
Brendan Sheehan, NACD
NACD recently named Sheehan to the new role of editorial director. The former executive editor at Corporate Secretary magazine will oversee production and editorial content for NACD’s bimonthly magazine, NACD Directorship, and the NACD news website, Directorship.com.
Sheehan said the magazine’s audience consists of CEOs, corporate directors and chairmen, and covers what goes into running and overseeing a corporation. Because it’s such a specific niche, his biggest challenge is finding writers who really understand that audience.
Sheehan offered the following tips for pitching:
- Include why the story is important. “The ‘So what?’ factor is missing in so many pitches I get,” said Sheehan.
- Look at the website. “Don’t pitch what’s already on there,” he said. “Instead, give an alternate idea or slant on the topic.”
- Don’t be afraid of taking a risk and being a little “out there.” Example: With businesses becoming more global, how do they protect their CEOs when traveling abroad? “It doesn’t have to be a straight business story,” he added.
- Don’t send three-page pitch letters. He gets 25-30 pitch letters per week.
- Don’t write the story in your pitch; give him bullet points.
- Show him you’ve researched what you’re writing about.
- Don’t say you have great attention to detail and meet deadlines. “You shouldn’t be in this business if you don’t.”
Q: What kind of background do you want to see from freelancers when pitching?
Lorber: “Mine is very much a generalist publication, so it helps to know what you’re writing about. But you don’t necessarily need to have worked at Bloomberg to pitch me.”
Cannon: “Good writers, good reporters that are accurate, creative and can write stories in a way that will interest the audience. I judge it by the creativity of the writing and the accuracy. (We don’t have the staff to be meticulously fact-checking.) It helps to be creative with a topic we read about over and over.”
Sheehan: “It does help if you can say you’ve written for The Economist, but you can say you’ve written for Home and Garden. It shows me you can write, you can take editorial direction. Also, passion is important. Pitch to magazines you like to read, because that’s what you like reading.”
Q: What are your freelance rates?
Sheehan: “Rates vary from 85 cents to $1 a word, depending on the length of the article and other factors. Also, we’re moving to a model of per-story fee. I find per-word fee doesn’t really work for online.”
Cannon: “We range from 10 cents a word to 50 cents a word. I know those are low rates, but we can make up for it in volume.”
Lorber: “We pay on a per-story basis: $400 for articles of 600-700 words; $50-$200 for blog posts.”
Q: Does Directorship.com do tech stories?
Sheehan: “Technology is very important to our audience, especially from a risk management perspective -- how it impacts a company’s finances, whether the company can be sued, etc. We don’t do much on social media (no Twitter, etc.).”
Q: How do you feel about pitches with multiple ideas?
Lorber: “I generally prefer one idea per email, but it doesn’t bother me if I get more.”
Cannon: “Since I’m in the volume business, I’m interested in multiple pitches at the same time.”
Sheehan: “I prefer one, and I also like to have a time frame on how long it would take you [to get the article done] and who you would interview – not necessarily names, but types of people.”
Q: Are there any other resources you can recommend?
Cannon: “Besides the Reynolds Center and Poynter, I also recommend the Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW) courses.”
Lorber: “It’s really important to read the Wall Street Journal every day, and the front page and business section of the New York Times. Two other sites, especially for technology stories, are Mashable and TechCrunch, because they do cover articles about tech angles for small businesses. Also, use Twitter to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s going on online. We like our writers to socialize their stories, so if you’re not on Twitter, get on Twitter.”
Sheehan: “Go to the SEC website once a week. Search for Richard Ferlauto – he runs a division that relates directly to directors. Also, look into going to trade conferences – they usually let journalists go for free.”
Q: How do you feel about freelancers writing for competing websites?
Sheehan: “I don’t mind it, and don’t really have a choice, given how few writers know our market. But just let me know when you pitch.”
Cannon: “I don’t have a problem as long as they’re not pitching me the same stories.”
Lorber: “I don’t have a problem with it unless the writer is easily identifiable as writing for that site.”
Q: Is Entrepreneur.com open to column pitches?
Lorber: “Yes, we are. We’re always looking at our column roster. People come and go. Send a pitch fleshing out what it would be about, as well as an introductory column and 2-3 ideas for the column.”
Q: How would you like to be pitched?
All three panelists agreed they prefer email pitches: