Stating what you want (Mistake #28)

Usually, in a cover letter: “I want to share my story with readers…”

That much will be obvious, if you are proposing an article about your story to an editor. Besides, what about what the editor and readers want?

Rather than state what you want, state what you’re offering and ask the editor whether she may want it. Tell the editor why you think the readers may want what you’re offering too.

Not so good:

“I want to tell everyone about my triple organ transplant in order to make people understand what I went through and to give deserved publicity to the great surgeons who saved me…”

Much better:

“Would you be interested in an account of my triple organ transplant – the first of its kind in the country? I feel your readers would be heartened to learn about how I conquered my fear of going under the knife, and my story may help those struggling to overcome their own health demons…”

The related mistake which often follows in the completed article is the gushing thank-you ‘speech’, typically delivered in the final paragraph. “I would like to say thank you to the nurses who cared for me during my long convalescence – you were all fantastic – and I must send love to my husband for the support and…”

Stop right there, madam, your stitches might pop. By all means tell the reader how your carers looked after you, but if you want to thank your support team and speak to them directly then my feeling is a nice dinner, thank-you cards and boxes of chocolate are the way forward. The moment you start talking to certain individuals in an article (especially those who don’t fall within the target demographic and would not normally be reading), you are turning your back on the readers; you are no longer talking to them, and you are excluding them. I think it’s a mistake, as it suddenly puts them second – and I’ve already written about the problems of doing that in Mistake No. 8.

In a nutshell, then: it’s all about what an editor wants (to buy) and a reader wants (to read). Put them first. As I see it, what you want (to sell, to write, to say) generally stutters home in third. Feel free to disagree…

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