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One Person’s Cheesy is Another’s Soft Spot

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Our former minivan, above, jam packed for its last college venture.

After donating my 14-year-old minivan last month, I found myself becoming overwhelmed with emotion. The depth of my reaction surprised me and I decided to explore my feelings and the reason for them in an essay. I don’t often have the time amidst my many freelancing assignments to write personal essays. And I’ve had limited success with the few I’ve tried to sell. So after writing it, I showed it to my husband. He’s become my go-to person to bounce ideas off of over the many years we’ve been married. He always has good instincts about how a piece might be received and he’s been incredibly supportive of my writing. He often weighs in with valuable advice on how to improve my articles. But this time, his response and candor surprised me. “It’s so cheesy and cliche,” he said. “I don’t think you should try to sell it.” I shed tears while writing this piece and the subject moved me. I thought other moms my age would be able to identify with it. I wasn’t yet ready to accept his answer, so I had a close friend read it. “I’m sitting here in tears,” she said after reading it. Not comfortable accepting just her answer, I sent it to my sister, who is brutally honest. “I loved it,” she said. Buoyed by their remarks, I sent it to a few publications. I bet my husband that others would feel the same and that I would get it published. Within a few days, Real Simple accepted the article. After I posted it on Facebook, comments began streaming in, with numerous people sharing their stories of their attachment to their very old cars. It seemed I was not the only person who grew to love their vehicle and was reluctant to let it go. Jubilant that I had won the bet (unfortunately we never solidified any terms, so satisfaction was my only reward,) I told my husband that it didn’t matter so much to me that he didn’t like the piece, since he was not my target audience. This would resonate mostly with women, especially those with older children. And, indeed, almost all of those who responded favorably to my Facebook post were female. Other women were the ones who grew sentimental over the vehicle as I did. I find this division along gender lines interesting. Is it because more women tend to drive their kids around in the family vehicle, therefore cementing more memories behind the wheel? Why would men not feel the same? Or would they just be more ashamed to admit getting weepy at the prospect of parting with the family van? I don’t know the answers. But as I pitch stories, I always consider the audience of the publication I’m targeting to run my piece. As a freelancer, you want to make sure your stories — especially personal essays — land in the hands of those who can most identify with the subject of your article. It’s a key way to market your pieces and increase your chances of selling them. I knew a magazine with mostly female readers would be the right target for this essay. I’m glad my instincts were right.

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The Anguish of Reporting About Teen Suicide

In all the years I have been a journalist, the hardest interview I had to conduct was with a mother who had just lost her 16-year-old daughter to suicide less than a week before we spoke. As the mother of young adults, I could feel her pain as she sobbed into the phone, having to relive the horrific tragedy as she shared the intimate details of her daughter’s struggles. When tragedy strikes, journalists are often first on the scene. And it’s difficult to understand how we choose to pry into people’s private lives. But Cathy Housh, the mother of the teen, didn’t hesitate to speak with me. She realized that we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about suicide and that getting this subject out into the open will ultimately help to save lives. In fact, she’s made it her mission to push for legislation that will create programs to prevent it. I knew that reporting about teen suicide would be a tough sell for a woman’s magazine. And I applaud Good Housekeeping for running my article, ┬áin the April, 2016 issue. But it was a long journey, one that started when I turned in the first draft one-and-a-half years ago. Advertisers, the major source of revenue for magazines, typically don’t like to wrap their ads around an article focused on such a dark issue. Instead of the article being highlighted in the editor’s column as I hoped it would be, it was buried at the end of the magazine, surrounded by an ad for Clump and Seal cat litter and a promotion for heart medication. It would be ideal if the women’s magazines would give these kinds of meaty topics a higher profile. Still, it’s a start. And I feel gratified that my piece ran in a publication with a circulation of 24-million. It may be enough to get the word out about a tragedy that is becoming far too common among our teens.