What do I do special as a writing coach?

I just woke up to a question/discussion on Linkedin’s Promocave:

Carrie Golden, Citizen Journalist/Poetry Consultant to film-makers at Motionpoems, Inc., asked:

Writing coach…
Not sure if this group [Promocave] is the right place to post this question but…what exactly does a writing coach do to help writers?


I wear two hats (on one head): (1) “court-of-last-resort” editor, providing a last-chance no-nonsense review of what the writer is about to submit (the final final draft) for book publication and (2) a first-step writing coach (before much writing). So here was my contribution to the discussion that defines my view of what different do I offer as a writing coach—and why.

[As a writing coach] I think of myself as a nonfiction “what” coach. I prod the souls [rather deeply] through six or so what’s (?), then the “how’s” make sense (and cents). I’m there if they need me later, more as an action guide and (sometimes) a silent co-planner of their future empire.

Here’s a longer explanation of (2), if you are interested and it helps you (sans me) do your own early nonfiction book planning, writing, and publishing.

There’s not much mystery about the steps a nonfiction writer can and usually takes to prep and submit a book for publication. See a hundred books in libraries worldwide that address that, and I have two books that address it too: How to Get Your Book Published in Minutes and Marketed Worldwide in Days and How to Pick the Right Kind of Publisher.

What distresses me most is the number of smart, organized, diligent would-be book writers who wander about, with perfectly good words and spelling, looking for something to say and, mostly, a reason to say it. Bewildered souls with hundreds of pages (at least it reads that way) of “what’s that?” copy that has no clear (or any) purpose (or buyers) presented in sweet-reading, grammatically correct prose. Their command of English is strong. (It’s worse if it’s not.) What’s missing is their grasp of elementary common sense about what a book must do to become a book…

The saddest thing is how easily that could have been prevented if they hadn’t been in such a damn hurry to see themselves and their brilliance in print (everywhere), with assumedly a fat advance almost in hand and many years of fatter royalties following assuredly behind.

About six questions will create the structure and map, plus point the writer to the most likely reader, why they would read it, what they would do with it, and how they just saved themselves about 75% in misdirected (or undirected) research, “what’s that?” writing, and the one thing they can’t get back, wasted time. Of course each question leads to deeper, related sub-questions which, in turn, lead to a dozen related books written (or waiting for you to write) that, combined with speaking, consulting, focus book series, perhaps audiobooks, and so on, can rather quickly create an empire based on their acquired expertise (which began with book one and is further proven and strengthened in subsequent products.)

So I guess that really makes me a pre-writing and empire-building coach (if being an emperor or empress is your thing).

That’s the longer overview of what my kind of writing coach does. (Most of the others start when the writing itself appears. Bless them.)

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

Leading your idea in print down its most profitable path…

So you’ve got an article or book idea that you want to turn into both big money and widely-seen expertise presence. That’s the way to think! I’d also add that the copy needn’t be completely rewritten again and again, so also think reprint, rewrite, reprint of rewrites, and more…

Let’s say you want to write about the 2016 Chicago Cubs and their playing in the coming National League baseball playoffs–and perhaps for the pennant, of all things! But, if you can’t tell, or wouldn’t want to tell, a baseball from a ball of wax, your idea and copy to sell again and again could be about the Trump-Clinton presidential election, kumquat delicacies from the kitchen, or driverless autos driving nonetheless on the streets!

Alas, I’ve been a baseball fan from/in Chicago almost since the Great Fire and the hapless Cubs haven’t won a pennant for 107 years. You know us by the fetching blue, red, and white “C” hats that we have had to hide in our cupboard for generations. Alas, this is our year, so we dusted them off and wear them on our heads for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and almost all the hours between—until October when we will know if the hex of the billy goat is true. So I’m picking the Cubs for this empire-building article writ long… (But if you’re reading this in the Philippines, on the Pyrenes, or in Peru, kumquat delicacies might be easier to understand…)

Let’s start with an article about the “plight of the Cubs” (or any fetching topic) for an American magazine. You do the usual things: some basic research to find the most interesting angles or slants, pick the best approach, and subject that idea to a two-pronged feasibility study—is it feasible to write and is it feasible to sell? (Go to the search box in the upper top right corner and type in feasibility study to see how the magazine approach works. The blog copy comes from either How to Sell 75% of Your Freelance Writing or The Travel Writer’s Guide. To read  those books, used and sold for a pittance, check the Amazon catalog.) The feasibility study tells how to test magazines vs newspapers, who are the most likely readers, the querying process, and (for magazines), should you get a “go-ahead,” how you best present the copy for sale. (If it fits newspaper freelance buying fields too, submit the written article in final form, without a query and sent in ready-to-go fashion.) If the idea is a “go” as feasible to write and sell, send your articles to the best markets in both categories.

If the magazine buys your submission, you can use much of the article’s contents again (at least slightly rewritten) two ways: as a reprint or a rewrite. Then if a rewrite is bought, you can send that off to a still-virgin magazine as a reprint. With cunning, you can have several of each of these three partially-completed masterpieces filled in (completed) and in print, all paying you! (Again, go to the Search box above and write in reprints or rewrites to see step-by-step blogs with more details.)

With newspapers, there are two paths: (1) you can literally sell the first copy to as many newspapers as will buy it as long as they aren’t “national” newspapers (like the New York Times, Washington Post, or the Wall Street Journal—sell them one at a time, and, after it is sold, thoroughly rewrite the piece before selling it to another “national”) and (2) don’t simultaneously sell it two or more regional newspapers within 100 miles of each other (‘distribution ranges”). Otherwise, you can sell the very same newspaper article(s) to any other newspaper (except the “nationals”) as long as they don’t overlap. Just tell the newspaper editor yours is a simultaneous submission and you are selling it outside of their 100-mile circulation orb.

What more can you do with reams of unused copy parts shouting to be read? Throw all the used copy into a cauldron, add the unused gems, mix them up again, and “topic spoke” them to find as many of the other potential eager buyers as will shriek and pay, delightfully, to use your genius and make you rich. Check the blog search for items about “topic spoking” in the 400+ blogs waiting to be used!

How many books can you pluck from that cauldron (adding in other sources still untouched)? You could write/publish a book for all kinds of Cubs’ aficionados: one for kids/young adults, one for the regular folk, another for seniors (some praying for the Cubs to win, others incredulous that they are anywhere near the top), another for the Cubs fans focusing on this year and the past two, another putting all 107 years in perspective, and so on.

And because each book requires a mound of research, interviews, anecdotes, photos, and more, you can turn this into new wealth of found and reworked copy and pluck out more articles, and thus more rewrites, reprints, and reprints of rewrites. You can also sell related photos where you sell copy (check photos in Search), often the same photo repeatedly since they are almost always sold on one-time rights.

Lost in this pile of print are the directly related spin-offs, like audiobooks of any or all of those books just mentioned; focus books about specific elements of baseball for the truly absorbed, of the past year or two or of all time, like the pitching, the records set and broken, ERAs, a projection of future years and records of new(er) players emerging in the 2016 excitement; even videos and movies, all being in print before being converted to other media. Then using the most visible of the platform builders, authors speaking about their (new) specialty from the platform: see rallies, speeches, how-to workshops, seminars, talks, and so on…

Every time your champion copy has your by-line attached to your super writing in a newspaper, magazine, or book, you are solidifying yourself as an expert in that field, building a following, and making yourself more wanted by information and product producers. They want to get more good items from you, a recognized “valuable and prolific source” of, in this case, baseball, Cubs, and sports ideas, information, and articulation.

The point here is that almost any word or idea has lots of legs (and ears) and can be multiplied very profitably many times by many means. The trick is to create interesting copy about ideas that others want to know more about that is spelled properly and has the facts, quotes, and anecdotes artfully blended into more good ideas. Most exceptional writers don’t stray too far from what others want to know, and they churn a fair amount of interesting text into many articles, then books, rather than just making one sale or two before wandering off to find unrelated subjects for articles that are also sold a few times. It’s wiser and fills your coffers faster by turning your related ideas and copy over and over.

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

[ More how-to writing, publishing, and speaking stuff at www.gordonburgett.com/order3.htm. ]

A very new format for a seminar workbook...

In a now very long past—decades—I must have literally copied and carted 40,000 seminar workbooks (sometimes a half mile, too often up stairs). Most of those workbooks were 12-20 pages long! Too late to complain: that was the way it was done. But yesterday technology finally removed my shackles—and perhaps my blinders!

Some fact-setting now, then a detailed explanation copy of the new format that you may be interested in modifying and using. Explaining the 40,000: I have given more than 2,000 four-hour seminars, most as college/university extended ed offerings, almost all in California. They rarely had less than 20 participants, which meant 24 or so workbooks in case last minute registrants were waiting at the door. Ugh.

But yesterday a different request opened my eyes. I spoke to the NSNC (National Society of Newspaper Columnists) in L.A. about “Publishing for Profit” and, even though I myself had been a columnist several times, I had no way of knowing what other writing experiences the veteran audience had nor which of the dozen or so suggestions I would offer and expand upon they might wish to pursue.

Nor did I want to schlep any workbooks nor published books to sell BOR. (The airlines made that impossible anyway by charging for baggage—and rubbing in more salt by starving me en route!) But I did slip a copy of eight different books into my suitcase to display on a side table so they could see that they actually existed!

I know, I could have run copies off of the workbooks once I reached L.A. But I’m doubly convinced now, the day after, that the new format is many times better and smarter for the future, it gives the audience more options, and it reduces or eliminates the burdensome task of hauling products for sale. That’s why I’m sharing it now, while the fire burns, in case it would help you too. (If you have already discovered this “new” workbook process, congratulations! I’m sure you double agree! Why didn’t you tell me?)

The rationale: I knew that all of my attendees were writers, they used computers daily, understood how to find websites, blogs, and could figure out the free-book code. Therefore all I had to do was explain the media or means needed, where the items could be found, the links or addresses for each, and what the resource references referred to. I gave them the instructions needed in the first two paragraphs, where the program was going in the next two, and the broadest of explanations of what the four sections to be covered in the text that followed.

That took a minute or two to re-explain at the beginning of the presentation, but then I could focus on the most important ways columnists might earn more and live happier. When appropriate, I could direct them to one or several of the references and, in some cases, tell them the best subtitles to the critical step-by-step details. There must be 600+ printed pages in the three free books and 200+ in the other items. Thus, by knowing where the information is at hand, almost immediately, they can pick, select, or reject it as they wish—or go back later, if they change their minds.

The workbook: The two-sided page is the workbook. In this case the program was designed to show U.S. columnists how else they can share, market, and expand their written gems (now or later) into other lucrative venues or ventures. That is what I talked about. If they need the application guidance, the resources would then send them to the “how-to” support material.

Enough explanation. What follows is the “workbook” they received.

Workbook as delivered to the NSNC presentation:



I’m Gordon Burgett. It’s 2016, we’re all experienced writers, and the airlines won’t let me schlep boxes of handouts as baggage anymore, so I’m going to use the Internet to let you pick what specific information you think will be useful to you later. At that point, you can download what you want or need, if anything. The most important material is free, there’s no shipping or tax, and it’ll be in your hands almost immediately!

Thus you have no workbook or piles of paper to lumber through. Just sit back for the first hour and let me explain a sort of strategy and ways that should help you considerably increase your writing income, then I’ll answer any questions you have during the remaining 15 minutes. If you have more questions later, please email me at glburgett@aol.com.

My task is to help you fill your coin bags and increase your second-life options by doing more of what you already do very well—and make even more money (heavens!) by doing it.

I think the more-mullah quest starts with you strategizing at whatever point you are along your moneymaking-by-writing trail. I’ll address that.

The rest of our oral trek today roughly follows the other four sections on these pages. I’ve posted lots of backup resources here that you can download if/when you want or need them. The most important material is free—three full core books, three helper reports, four website articles, and 400+ blogs to pluck from. To download most of that information, use our order page at www.gordonburgett.com/order3.htm


Here’s how to download or see the resources: (1) find and separately order each free book on the order form—but before you submit each order write the coupon number [      ] in the coupon code box on that order form. Then submit the form, the price will drop to zero, and follow the download instructions that follow! (The freebies expire on 8/20/16.) Other items, unless noted, are from the order form and can be ordered separately or together at any time. They are also available from Amazon but if you want the three books free you must follow the instruction in (1). How to get the three free reports is explained below. See blog.gordonburgett.com for the blogs listed. Once there, find the SEARCH box, upper right corner under the Twitter logo. In that box enter either the topic you want to see more about (like query letters or niche) or the word I will give you. The website articles are from the direct website link location.


(I) WRITINGTravel Writer’s Guide (free ebook)

Explains how to sell 75%+ of your freelance writing (mostly newspaper and magazine articles), how to triple your income by topic-spoking, how to earn more with sidebars, and how to organize profit-packed copy-, quote-, and anecdote-gathering trips…

Related resources:

“4 Proven Ways to Sell 75% of Your Freelance Writing” Go to blog, enter 4 proven ways

“How to Sell 75% of Your Travel Writing” (2 cassette program), $20 + shipping

“25 Professional Query and Cover Letters” (ebook), $4.99

“Reprints, Rewrites, Reprints of Rewrites, and Resales” (ebook), $4.99

“The magic of topic spoking.” Go to blog, enter topic spoking


(II) PUBLISHINGNiche Publishing: Publish Profitably Every Time (free ebook)

A huge percentage of the risk-free, market-guaranteed book money is found here. We made $2 million from dentists and are now following the same path from K-12 school administrators, supers, principals, and school boards. That process and business plan is explained in this book. If you write and publish, almost all the niche profits are yours. If you find experts in the field, you direct/edit, they write, and you publish, most of the profits are still yours but the fame is theirs.

Related resources:

“12-Step Pre-Test for Niche Publications” (ebook), $4.99

“How to Test Your Niche Book before Writing or Publishing” (ebook), $9.99

“How to Get Niche Articles in Print 75% of the Time” (ebook), $2.99

(III) PUBLISHINGHow to Get Your Book Published in Minutes and Marketed Worldwide in Days (free ebook). If you’re not niching, use the “open press” revolution plus Create Space/Kindle [Amazon] and Lightning Source as your first or major paths to building your own empire. Publish here, then (perhaps) try the major publishers.


Related resources:

“Open Book Publishing: Almost a Miracle! (ebook), $3.10

“When Would I Always (or Never) Self-Publish My Book?” Go to blog, enter self-publish

“12 More Ways to Turn Your Book into Many More…” Go to blog, enter more ways

“Focus books and Selling a Book by its Parts” Go to the blog, enter focus

“Sample Focus Book: Rights and Responsibilities of School Principals” (ebook), $3.99

“Sample Focus Book: How to Create the Best Staff Possible” (ebook), $3.99


(IV) BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHEREmpire Building (O.P., no replacement book yet.) Ultimately, for big money, expand the perception of your expertise through related information dissemination means, like speaking, seminaring, giving workshops or retreats, audiobooks, classes, consulting, social media venues, radio-TV, guest performances, and so on. Or create/sell little empires along the way. Or align your writing, researching, interviewing, and publishing skills with others’ empires. Or do it all.


Related resources:

“How to Set Up and Market Your Own Seminar” (4-cassette seminar), $40+shipping

“Six Special Tools That Get Speakers Booked First” (ebook), $9.99


Lifelong Wealth by Being Indispensable

Finding Indispensable Article Topics

101 Niche Marketing Topics

Just subscribe to my newsletter (seldom sent) at http://www.gordonburgett.com/free-reports and all three reports are immediately downloaded. Nobody else ever sees your address. Then if you want to escape my elist, just email me to be removed. I’m not offended—I forget names instantaneously.

That’s it. If it helps, go to it.

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

Writers: how to find more people to interview…

Sometimes you’re writing an article or story and try as you may you can’t think of or find another person to interview, other than your kids or some shlunk on the street corner. So what do you do?

Let’s start with an expectation that few new writers know about or think they might be able to tiptoe around: that almost every paying editor expects you to interview at least several (think three or four) people for your article—and what the interviewee is asked or says is directly related to what the article is about.

After I say that in my seminar about interviewing a rather bizarre question usually pops up: “Must the interviewee be living?” I imagine they are really asking if they can use quotes from someone who has passed or, perhaps, can they include interviews with aliens or ghosts or the like? In the second case, no. But quotes from the defunct, yes. Still, the quotes must come from a source that did once live–and the words must have been “captured intact” at that time, preserved, and passed down. Also, they can’t be “helped” to directly pertain to the subject at hand.

An example where this worked. I sold several articles about Dom Pedro II and his visit to the U.S. to open the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. All of the quotes came from a detailed diary that the King of Brazil kept during the visit that was published a few years after his death. I sent the editor a copy of the relevant phrases from the diary that I had translated from Portuguese. No problem.

Thus historical comments from the living or dead might provide background information and, sometimes, direct quotes that apply as said.

The best way not to get caught without interviewees is to read many other articles or accounts about the topic and note all vital information you can about their speakers or authors. The challenge is finding those publications. Your librarian will show you the “trace” books, if needed. “Google” will too, as will the company or college they work for.

Another way, if the topic is being actively discussed in the media, is to find all of the related interplay in print: who is taking part, their position, the group or association they represent, anything else that gives a clue. And if you only have one side of the topic, ask the speaker defending that viewpoint the names of the three most frequent (or best) speakers on each side of the issue—plus for phone or mail contacts.

Or delve more deeply into the topic. Specifically: a cure for Parkinson’s disease, how to get ahead (and stay ahead) of road deterioration, one-world currency, age-based income equity? Focus as much on the best brains and problem-solvers in each field. Mine their expertise. Ask who you should contact to get a solid exchange.

Said another way, ask the best informed expert(s) on the topic if they could (or would) identify the top minds in their field, the top three or so best informed people who would identify the most important questions that must be asked, then offer their thoughts about possible answers or solutions to each. Sometimes that works. Sometimes they laugh uncontrollably, step back, and stare at you like you’ve just overdosed on your own brew!

Another way is to simply ask the chosen person after you finish interviewing them, “Would you point me to another expert as well informed as you that I can interview so my editor will have two points of view for his/her pages?”

Or just ask the shlunk on the street corner and take your chances. I did just that in a piece about the huge Schloss in Heidelberg. Seems there was a giant crack in a wall large enough to march an army through. So I asked a fellow just standing next to me if he knew anything about that crack and why the wall didn’t just collapse or slide down? He smiled, then gave me an eloquent, point-by-point response! When finished, I applauded his knowledge (and clarity of expression). He smiled even more, then told me that he was a professor of architecture at the University of Heidelberg!

If in this somewhat rambling blog there is guidance that helps you, great.

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

P.S. You can’t just interview yourself, sadly. Such wit and erudite articulation untouchable! But if you have solid quotable comments in an article, book, or publication about the topic, you can say something like: “…in my 2016 book about … I mentioned that …” A bit awkward, alas, but better than just saying, “Somebody once said …”

I will be writing a book about interviewing soon. If that interests you, please stay tuned.

– – – – –

Selling one article topic to 5-8 different publications!

“Could you sell the same text, unchanged, to both magazines and newspapers?” is the most often asked question at my writing seminars!

I suppose you could, but I wouldn’t because I wouldn’t know how to unravel the rights issues. Anyway, it’d be far more profitable with a lot less work just planning five to eight sales from the same fact (and photo) pool.

Here’s how I might sell one topic (in this case, the Chicago River on St. Patrick’s Day) as widely as possible for the most yield and the least amount of additional research, composition, and jpg taking?

1. I’d first query the idea to the highest paying magazines (in order, one at a time). Then I’d write my lead article for the first editor giving me a “go-ahead.” This article might focus on a St. Patrick’s Day special, a big deal in the Windy City because at 9 a.m. that morning the Chicago River turns orange for a few minutes until (it’s said) the leprechauns switch it to green so lush it puts tears in every O’Brien eye—and stupefies much of the rest of midland America as it flows in reverse to the Illinois River and the Mississippi to and past New Orleans! Some 400,000 visitors a year line the downtown Chicago bridges, then watch the St. Patrick’s Day Parade march through the city that day at noon, rain or shine.

2. After that magazine article (sold first rights) appears in print, I could sell it exactly as is to any other magazine as a reprint. (If you sold the photos first rights too—or for one-time use—you could also sell them to the same [or other] reprint buyers!)

3. But since I’ve got a box full of facts and quotes, why not query, then write another main article about a similar happening that takes place the same weekend: the Flower and Garden Show at Navy Pier (nearby, on the same verdant river as it reaches Lake Michigan)? This is a loose example of a rewrite since you can slip in the key points about the concurrent St. Patrick’s Day festivities. All you have to do is rewrite that used text, which you’d have to do anyway because it must be in a different layout for both publications. Or you could call this rewrite “Chicago’s Greatest Gift: the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the Flower and Garden Show Side by Side!” (What a title!) Since this magazine piece is a first-rights sale, why not sell this distinct offering to other magazines seeking reprints?

4. We’ve still not sold to the newspapers! I would significantly rewrite either of the magazine articles (or mix and match) in newspaper fashion, give the result a different title, and maybe try for a national newspaper sale first. Since this is a major set-date activity (like Christmas or Easter), most major newspapers look for event-related special articles. So I would query here several months earlier so it can get scheduled, then work out the special submission process with the travel editor.

5. Or if the national newspapers aren’t enchanted by the Chicago Journeyman Plumbers’ river magic, I’d send it simultaneously to all of the Midwest newspapers 100 miles away from each other to see if I can spin the special event one last time (this year), before the emerald is long gone.

6. And, of course, I’d handle the photos myself so I could sell them as widely as possible without messing up their rights!

By March 1, 2016 I will release a brand new book about this topic where each of the resale means to magazines and newspapers are explained in detail. Those are simultaneous submissions, reprints, rewrites, reprints of rewrites, rewrites of reprints, modified reprints, sidebars, overseas sales, and shorts. Check Amazon Books under Gordon Burgett for the still-undecided title and release date–or email glburgett@aol.com for specifics and cost.

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

Author of Self-Publishing Manual, Dan Poynter, has died...

The author of the best-selling Self-Publishing Manual, Dan Poynter, has died. We were “in the trenches” writing friends and I already miss him, in part because it was Dan’s turn to buy lunch. So will thousands more whose lives he touched and changed. He had been quite ill for a while, seemed to be improving, but, instead, Dan passed away a few days back.

Poynter wrote almost 100 books but he was best known for his Self-Publishing Manual, now in its 14th edition. Many of us exploring the hinterlands of “doing-it-ourselves” publishing, with our starter books (rarely sought, even more rarely bought), pounding away on clunky typewriters and wading in rubber cement, wandering through the last days of the past century, when up popped his how-to gift. The SPM was a light from heaven. It answered questions we didn’t even know we should ask. As Dan learned more, the book kept getting better and bigger. In short order his grateful fans, hat in hand, too often bruised by the titans from Gotham and other bookstore bulk buyers, turned his manual into a huge seller…

Dan was a close friend of mine for lots of decades. We’re a few weeks apart in age (he would never admit it), I lived about 20 miles away, and we seemed to wander into the same ersatz gatherings and adventures, befriending many of the same odd people, and we quietly joined the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA)—Dan helped birth it—and the National Speakers Association (NSA).

He was a tall, quiet fellow who gave freely of his knowledge. Many know that he was President of the Parachutists Assn as well. He joked that he married the thrill of descent (he was a life-long bachelor), and was faithful to the end.

In fact, rather than using his law training Dan set up and ran a loft in Oakland. His publishing career (and life) started when he couldn’t find a book about parachute knotting that his clientele needed, to get licensed. “I knew as much about publishing as some poor soul tapping rubber trees for a living,” he told me. So he contacted every company however involved with knotting and made copies of the diagrams and instructions they sent back, pulled them into a $40 three-ring instruction manual, wrote the conjunctive copy, then bought a dandy house near Goleta (Santa Barbara) from the profits. It overlooked the Pacific Ocean east of the UC Santa Barbara. From his front porch you could see the only American mainland target attacked by the Axis in World War II, an oil tank sighted by the misdirected Japanese Navy.

I first met him at a free lunch where Xerox was showing their brand new copiers to a bevy of hungry writers (becoming publishers). We passed on the street a couple of times but we didn’t really meet again until he tried to kill himself (inadvertently, he claims) by falling 100+ feet straight down and almost impaling himself on a volleyball net pole on East Beach. He had written (or was writing) a book about Parasailing (or was it Paragliding? He also wrote a pile of other weird books). There was a slack in the tow rope and he found himself stalled in midair! Alas, the pause was miraculously timed–a gaggle of bone doctors taking a break from a convention happened to be playing volleyball when he dropped in on them! He was nearly killed. A few days later, in the weakest voice hearable, he called and asked if I’d take his newest book to the ABA in Los Angeles the next week. I did (when I found out what the ABA was), and that started a long string of lunches, Gold Coast meetings (a sort-of branch of NSA), and so on…

Dan had a sense of humor, much of it hoarded internally. He didn’t have time (or much patience) for editing would-be books sent for his help by adoring fans. He threatened to farm them all off to me, and rarely he couldn’t help himself: I would get a DOA bundle (with a spine) in the mail with a note daring me to make sense and save the soul of the hapless scribe of the offending manuscript. The note usually mentioned that I was the only person who could get the author in print since the bundle was so much like my own books!

A final story. Dan gave weekend gatherings for book creators at his palace. The couple of times I spoke there he would hold up one of my early books and tell the attendees that it was certainly not how to design your own cover–and that he had bought a couple of copies of the book so he wouldn’t run out of such a pitiful display. I told him I was hunting for some hole in one of his books, the table of contents lost in the index, upside-down chapters, or something equally egregious for revenge. But I never found anything out of place–and now he’s left before me and the fun is gone.

Dan Poynter was a smart fellow and already is a much missed friend.

Gordon Burgett

Using humor to sell your magazine articles

Funny you should ask!

One rule always: some editors/publications don’t use humor, so don’t even try. At best the editor may open her lips to chuckle (or groan), then reconsider and toss the query. I can’t tell you which such publications  to avoid because I don’t read them. But it used to be that the AARP magazines were humor dry. That getting old must be grim stuff. (So when I did write for them I kept surefire rip-roarers, even tepid jests, out of my mind lest one slide down to my pecking finger and be read by the paymaster.)

I can’t remember any editor who wanted truckloads of comedy dumped on their desk. They bought humor in measured bits deftly worked into actual (or near-) truths. Except the fillers editors who seemed to weigh jokes by the word so they could be squeezed into advertising holes. They actually did pay a pittance, when they stopped laughing–but I don’t ever recall them buying two jokes at the same time. I had a colleague who sold a joke to Reader’s Digest and included the sale in his credits in every query. One editor wrote back, rejecting his idea, and added, “I bet that RD joke was the only thing you ever sold.” Mean editors are rare, but they can be perceptive. It was about a third of his freelance bounty.

Puns sometimes worked, but if I used one I used two so they knew it was intentional. I’ve sold 1,700+ freelance articles but only once did I use a full-out joke in an article, and that was about 10 or 15 words long and the joke was the article’s lead! (Alas, it must have been far below my personal humor standard because I can’t remember a word of it!) On the other hand I wrote a travel short about 800 words long about eating guinea pig sandwiches that were cooked on the street in Quito, Ecuador. (At least they looked like guinea pigs.) I found out years later, through a Peace Corps kid stationed near Cuenca, that one of his projects was to help multiply the stock of domesticated guinea pigs to increase the meat available on the local table. (Whatever it was, it sure tasted good.)

Here was my system of weaving humor into an article’s otherwise deadly prose.

(1) Mostly I lifted deadly prose appreciably heavenward by keeping the tone light and the descriptions spry (good synonyms adorned with festive adjectives helped).

(2) I relied a lot on word play, but you have to spread it out and only do that now and then. For example, I might refer to Buffy, a wee, yapping dog, as a furry feral killer-companion or a drooling pet growler. Or a woman’s date as her knight of the night. That’s enough wit: the blog censors just told me to stop–they are thinking of your humor health.

(3) A funny, related thought to what is being said in a paragraph almost always ended that paragraph.

(4) It’s hard to give isolated examples. Find an article that intentionally makes you laugh and highlight every funny item in it with yellow underliner. You’ll see that the humor is discretely bundled in 93% topic-related facts.

(5) Just as the writer did in (5) above, if the subject had humor wanting to get out, I made the content worth reading, and let some of that humor escape.

(6) I always put some humor in the query letter, in the actual selling message, so the editor knew there would be humor in the copy that followed. I’m convinced that the humor helped sell the query. But you can’t overdue it.

(7) As a friend who teaches journalism tells his wards: if you can’t keep your humor in control, get a talk show!

Some loose how-to’s but I hope it helps. Life’s a whole lot more fun when you’re part of the wit and mirth. It’s even better when you get paid to share it.

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett






What do you do if a promised article interviewee finks out?

If you are writing a one-interview piece, a sort of bio plus, and the fink is the purpose of the article, apologize to the editor as soon as possible. You needn’t make excuses for the person but do try to reschedule it right away…

Since queries very often suggest interviewing three people to get differing viewpoints, if one backs out at interview time, find another person to substitute who is equally as well informed. Tell the editor what you did and why, and try to maintain the same pro-con-middle balance if that’s what’s expected… Do you tell #2 that he/she is second choice and the first choice ratted out? If it’s well known that there was a #1 choice, of course. They will find out anyway and wonder why you weren’t more straightforward. But if it’s still early in the planning stages, probably not. As usual, it depends…

You might ask the editor if they have a suggested replacement for the absentee if the piece is due far enough in the future–or if travel is involved. Or offer to find a substitute and check it with the editor–preferably before.

Don’t promise the editor that you will interview the Queen for your piece unless the Queen has agreed…any queen! Then don’t dawdle. But don’t panic unless the person is that caliber or is super reclusive. The world (1) will not stop spinning, and (2) is full of well-informed folk who love to talk and will be delighted to see their words and wisdom in print, even if that wisdom is questionable.

Sometimes editors get excited about a highlight series of interviews. Some years back I wrote about 15 articles related to animal orientation–dogs, cats, goats, and so on finding their way home over long distances. It was a new discipline and almost all of the top human experts in the field were alive and active. The author of a key magazine was enthusiastic too, and suggested that we pose about five central questions and ask each to reply, separately, in different articles. Unfortunately, once the schedule was ready, the questions were defined, and press drum rolls were an issue away from stirring up excitement in the readers about the coming special features, reality set in. They each wanted to know what the others were going to say first! Then Z wanted B (nobody knew who he was) included–if Z was going to participate. And C would only do it, with reluctance it seemed, if the pay was enough. At which point the editor shook her head (or so I imagine; we never met) and within months the leaders started getting too old, too forgetful, or too dead–and the editor and I were off somewhere else.

There’s another point worth sharing here. Figure out the best way to conduct the interview, for you and them. During most of my article days it was either by phone or in person, though now it can also be done by Skype or other visual means. I found that the more famous the person was, the more they didn’t want a one-on-one talk–unless TV or video were involved. So phone was it. Politicians were the reverse: true flesh-pressers. The wariest and prissiest were the academics, and the weariest were the athletes, often exhausted trying to find different, intelligible, clean answers to the two or three worthwhile questions you might ask them. And a personal bias, since I interviewed in Spanish and Portuguese too: in person, please. That was a double win, though, because I got to meet and see them laugh as well.

Just some scattered thoughts. Hope they help.

Gordon Burgett

P.S. I have several other “interviewing” blogs here. To read them, just write “interview” in the search box at the top of any blog–and all will probably appear. (In fact, you can do that with other themes or words too. A great time-saver for all.)

Why was your article query rejected again?

Who writes articles in 2015?

At least 1,486,000 writers had a journal article published in 2010. Some were written by two or three authors. And that’s just journals. And that was five years ago.

2,000,000 blog posts will be written today. Today. Another 2,000,000 tomorrow, and so on…

The difference is that articles must be accepted by someone to see light, while blogs can be your own and there’s no stopping them. But if it’s somebody else’s blog you want to be a guest in, ugly acceptance (the kind side of rejection) rises again.

I’ve had about a zillion articles in print (I tell my grandkids) and I’ve been rejected .5 zillion times (I don’t tell them). Mostly, from 40+ years, much as an editor, let me tell you why the editor wants you to go away.

1. 85 people contacted the editor wanting to be in the next issue of their publication. Only one will make it that day, or 8 in a magazine that month. For starters, the editor really wishes you’d just disappear.

2. But you probably won’t. You think you’re useless if you’re not on those pages, and damnit…  At least contact the editor the way she/he wants to be approached. If they want an old-fashioned query letter (“would you be interested in an article about…”) sent by snail mail, half the war may be won by finding a stamp and a mailbox.

3. Don’t think the editor will make an exception for you if you send a query by email. You have to get his email address for starters (you can’t just send it to info@publication), and if he/she doesn’t want emails from the unwashed, getting that address will be harder to find that Harry Truman’s middle name.

4. Have you even read the publication you are hounding? Did you wonder why the editor says (Read our publication first to see…) Read it to see what they use, how many words they want, do they use humor (if not, the joke’s on you)…

5. When was the last time the editor ran an article about the very topic you want to hawk? See if there’s an index you can find through Google telling what they’ve published. (Whenever I used a travel piece about Montana I got 10 queries in 10 days about Montana. We included Montana once a year because we had six subscribers from there. Did you wonder why there were almost no Montana articles in the index?)

6. If you did read the last three issues, did you get a sense of what the editor probably needed and wasn’t in the index? Make that topic leap off the query letter for two paragraphs like an O’Henry short story (but give the ending). Just don’t tell the editor that you know he/she needs that topic.

7. Rejections come from these things: no query, a query longer than one tight page, the editor has no idea what you will write about…or how you know that…or which three “experts” you will interview…if you’ve ever been in print anywhere…profanity and bad sex on their pages upset the advertisers…you forgot periods and commas…you signed, from your buddy!…there is clear evidence that you are insane…there is not a gota of appreciation for the editor giving your rantings full consideration…threats don’t work before (or after) lunch…and the editor doesn’t care (in fact, quietly applauds) that you will quit journalism forever if he/she doesn’t give you a go-ahead.

Just in case you were wondering.

But don’t give up—where will journalism be? There are still 1,485,999 article slots to be filled. (Also, spell the editor’s name right and if you don’t know about their gender, call them by their last name preceded by Editor… Editors need at least one laugh a day.)

Keep at it,

Gordon Burgett

P.S. You wonder what a legitimate professional query letter looks like? For $5 we’ll let you download 20+5 of them. Please at least rewrite these queries before you try to reuse them again!


A paid speech you can book at every association any year…

I call it the “state of the art” speech, but it could have lots of similar names. And if you do it right, the sponsor is very likely to ask (perhaps even beg) you to give it again and again! (You can even build your own empire around it.)

An example helps here. Let’s say there is a Lighthouse Management Association, there are 50,000 lighthouses, and twice as many members who are involved in keeping the light lit and the coal stacked. (You can see what I know about lighthouses, born in suburban Chicago!)

The core of your “state of the art” lighthouse management presentation would answer these three questions:

(1) How did lighthouses and their management get to where they are now? That’s mostly quick history, some “march of time” visuals, problems along the way, and their solutions. Call this IN THE PAST.

(2) It’s 2015. How are the managers and lighthouses doing today? Numbers, budgets, the most common or most serious 5 or 10 current problems, plus visuals of several model lighthouses. Maybe a summary of the best and worst job requirements for the chief honchos. A look at salary ranges, lighthouse-related courses in colleges, anything they want to know more about across the country (or is it shore to shore?) This is RIGHT NOW.

(3) IN THE FUTURE might be at set dates (5, 10, 15, 50 years from 2015), or in the near future and the far future (provide realistic time spans like 2020-30 and after 2030…). Here you focus on changes afoot now, possible need solutions likely implemented in the future, long-range needs decades away and how they might be met… If possible, maybe even some sketched visuals of how lighthouses might look in 50 or 150 years.

Compiling (1) is pretty much a history dig, some search tools, lighthouse history accounts and books, a few retellings of relevant “as it was” stories by the pioneers. Humor helps here, as does brevity. (Summarize it in the speech, but you might do full research and write “the” or “a” key book about it in the future. That’s another foundational brick in your empire.)

The association may be your biggest helper in composing and organizing (2). It’s always amazing how little most practitioners know about the larger field they serve. (They are busy doing what they do where they are at. To know more is probably why they are at the convention you would address.) Gathering the present-day facts is another blog. Lists are good: lighthouses and managers (or how to find them quickly), money in and out (global to wee beamers), personnel job descriptions, most common local and national problems (financial, political, directional, technical), equipment (present, problems, solutions), and so on. The listeners should know in 20 minutes the current state of the lighthouse art (where they are, why, how they are the same and different—you fill it in.)

Number (3), probably the last 10-15 minutes, is the testiest because it’s “maybe” stuff and usually anybody’s guess. Of course the listeners will wonder if you are just pulling the guesswork out of the air–or their leg. One way to handle that is to say that you contacted 100 scattered lighthouse managers with a questionnaire, plus of course you asked the associationfolk and a dozen recommended “big names” in this field (you actually have to do it!) and here are the 10 trends or innovations or areas of most likely change they saw in the future. List the 10. You might place them on a horizontal “future line” with dates every 5 or 15 or 25 years when they would most likely be started or implemented. Then you discuss all 10, most in some depth (with source links, if available), a few shorter “who really knows but…” comments.

Why would associations or related sponsors jump at the chance to book this speech or seminar? Because it’s exactly what the members want to know. And in a small part because you are objective and aren’t likely to be pumping some company line. (The questionnaire will help you see what they do want to know. Just ask, “What do you really want to know the most about…” and “How will your lighthouse look in 50 (or 100) years?—or “ideally, how might your lighthouse (or your job) look in 50 (or 100) years?”

Why would they hire you to speak if you can’t tell a lighthouse from a farm house? Because if you present yourself and the topic right, they need to share that information. It would be easier if you were a 40-year lighthouse manager, or at least a manager, knew lighthouses, were an association soul, were a federal officer dealing with lighthouses, were a futurist and you did “state of the art” speeches (preferably about lighthouse management), taught lighthouse history, and so on. But an experienced speaker with a long interest in lighthouses might be plenty. (Long might be relative. Perhaps long vertically, with book jamming your new passion.)

Where does the empire fit in for you? If what you say on speech day is a resounding (or even moderate with clapping) success; it was honest, instructive, and even (heavens) enjoyable; it made huge sense to all listening, and they want a follow-up in two or three years (with more emphasis on (2) and (3), that’s a warm roar telling you to write a book in the general lighthouse management area. And from that book you spread out with more books, more speeches (why not a next-year follow-up about technology, management, and lighthouses, another related need the following year, and on the third year, “state of the art” again?) By that time you’re an “expert” in your defined (“state of the art in…”) area and attendees eagerly fill your hall to hear about themselves again. Emperors or empresses open the door with expertise, then expand it (and add other information dissemination means to sell more of it, like books, a newsletter, blogs, workshops, public speeches (at lighthouses?), videos, and so on…) An excellent way to begin the financial fiefdom is by starting with “a paid speech you can book at every association any year…” (Just pick one you at least really care about!)

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

P.S. I’m half done with a how-to “state of the art” book. I will run an occasional blog on this topic too. If you want to know more or know a “state of the art” speaker whom I might interview, send an email (glburgett@gmail.com) or get on my free, every-two-month, easy-to-escape newsletter and I will add you to the “state of the art” elist and tell you when the book has seen light. You’ll get a discount too!