Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tips for writing features #2*: Stick with good contacts

I'm working on a feature at the moment, and nothing is going right. The experts that I have called are not calling me back. The time frame that's been allocated is simply not enough. I'm fast running out of hours and options. But my many years in this game have given me one amazing asset for moments such as these: trusted contacts.

These are people I've interviewed many times over many years. A psychologist or two. Some financial advisors. Nutritionists, dietitians, parenting experts. Relationship gurus. Fashion experts, beauty experts, organising experts. I know that when I call them, they will give me exactly what I need. They know how my questions work, they know where to fill in the gaps. I know that when I call them, I do not need to explain myself, or my credentials. They know me. Well enough to say 'just put that into proper English for me, will you?' and trust that the quotes will be correct.

Every general features writer needs people like these. If you interview someone for a story and it goes particularly well, ask them one extra question: "Do you mind if I keep your details on file and call you again for future stories?" Chances are they'll say yes. Then you cross your fingers that they like that first story you did together so that the next time you call they're pleased to hear from you.

I keep up my end of the bargain. I don't call too often, I ensure they're credited as fully as I can, I am mindful of their time and keep my questions succinct. It's no coincidence, I'm sure, that my expert team are also people that I really like. They're people that I've connected with - a certain sense of humour, an ability to go off on tangents with aplomb. I've never met any of them face to face. Not one. But I'm sure they'd recognise my voice on the phone.

I'm always looking to add new people to my team. It's important to keep voices and ideas fresh. But I cannot tell you how happy I am that I have them in my life, particularly on nights like this, with that deadline looming.

And now I must go. There's a psychologist I need to email about an interview...

*I know this is out of numerical order, but I realised I forgot #2 in my list!

[image: Speaking of sticking, how cool is this wall decal from Urbanwalls?]


  1. I would LOVE to have a field of experts to call upon. It's not work related but I do have three or four chef friends that have responded to my frantic calls with their calm, expert advice. Many potential dinner disasters have been avoided.

    Good luck with your article x

  2. Keep calm and carry phone numbers. There's another use for that iPhone santa's going to bring you.

  3. True true true, Al Tait! Although I'm finding as the industry gets more fragmented, and people are becoming exponentially better at publicising themselves, that the "experts" don't need the exposure they once did. So finding and relying on good talent is getting harder!

    Well done you for keeping a contacts list, paper or otherwise. One of these days I should really organise my contacts so I store them somewhere other than "my head" and "Google".

  4. I've just sold an idea for a post that requires me to check some details with a professional, and I have a friend in the field I need advice on. So, I sent her an email yesterday about it and....still waiting....gah! It's been less than 24 hrs though, so... *deep breath*

    Hey, if you ever need information from a professional procrastinator or time waster, then you can call me any time, okay? ;)


  5. Love your advice as always Ali - I am just doing the Sydney Writers Centre short course on feature writing at the moment. Great info :)

  6. I must have missed this on its first outing, but very happy to have read it now! Some more very sage advice for me to keep to hand while I try my hand at the freelancing game.


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