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Sell your story

Updated on December 31, 2010

sell your story

Selling stories to the press for you
Selling stories to the press for you

Sell your story - safely!

So you want to sell your story - how do you know if you can trust a journalist?

If you have decided to sell your story and have a real life story to sell, which is suitable for a magazine or newspaper, you will obviously have to speak with a journalist. But how do you know who you can trust? Here's my top ten run-down of the main attributes any journalist will have:

1. Check you know who they are. This might seem a strange thing to say. But if a journalist turns up knocking at your door, how do you know if they are bona-fide? Firstly they WILL be nice - after all they want your story! - so the fact they are polite and pleasant means nothing. I would suggest if someone turns up at your door, you don't let them in until you have taken independent professional advice first. Otherwise, you should ask what their name is and which organisation they are with. Then google their company - any bona fide organisation will at the very least have an online presence.

2. So they are with what appears to be a genuine company. Now google their name. If they are a genuine and experienced writer for the national press and magazines they will have plenty of articles written under their byline. If they claim to write for a certain magazine or newspaper, go on the magazine or newspaper's own website and search their name or ring the organisation and check they really do represent them. Incredibly some journalists will say they work for a specified newspaper or magazine just to impress you.

3. How do you know if previous interviewees were happy with the way this journalist sold their story? Obviously it isn't always possible to sell a story twice. But if some interviewee's stories appeared at a later date in another magazine or newspaper then they were obviously happy enough to sell their story again. Many genuine journalist's websites will list the named publications one story was sold to (and it might include TV.) Look for testimonials where the interviewee is named and you can see where their story was sold to (or they could be made up!)

4. If the journalist is freelance or an agent, ask which publications he or she will sell your story to. Then, if you don't know what these newspapers or magazines are like, buy copies and check you are happy with the style of the publication before you sell your story.

5. Ask the journalist how your story will be sold. How big will your story be - one page, a double page, a smaller part of a bigger feature? Will they read back your article before it is printed? A journalist with nothing to hide will be happy to be honest and will read your story back.

6. How much money will you be paid? Do not accept 'around' or 'up to' sums of money. The journalist should be able to tell you exactly how much you will be paid on publication.

7. Insist on everything being put in writing before you do a full interview. Do not pose for photos until you have received written confirmation. Ask the journalist to outline your story in this contract so you know what you are signing up to. The contract should also name the publication your story is sold to.

8. Regarding photos. Many editors will want to see photos of you before they buy a story. So you will need to send some to the journalist selling your story. The copyright to these photos belongs to you and they cannot be printed without your consent. When you email copies (and never send hard copies that could be lost) and write on the email that they are not for publication unless at a later date you give your consent in writing.

9. Again, when checking out who you are dealing with - does that agent, journalist or agency cover 'whole of market'. Some journalists only really sell stories to magazines or don't deal with some newspapers or magazines. When looking at previous work, bear in mind where the stories have sold to. Ideally you want to find someone who is able to send your story to many magazines, newspapers and TV to ensure the very best deal.

10. Further checks on a journalist involve asking them what qualifications they have (they should have an NCTJ qualification, which is from the National Council for the Training of Journalists) and are they a limited company? A limited UK company will be registered in the UK and have a proper trading address - you can even download the accounts online. And the director of that company cannot have been a bankrupt.

Alison Smith-Squire has been a media agent and journalist for over 25 years. She now sells stories through her site, Featureworld and works as a consultant media agent.


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    • mquee profile image


      9 years ago from Columbia, SC

      Thanks for good advice. We hear a lot about scams regarding writers being victimized by the unscrupulous. I find this to be a very good guideline.


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